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When was the last time you heard of a championship-winning soccer team that never scored any goals?
Never. It’s never happened.
In the world of sports, you don’t need much context to understand that as a straightforward rule: goals equal success. But it’s not as different as you may think in the world of business.
Wandering aimlessly isn’t going to get you where you need to go.
That’s why we spend so much time on this blog talk about the importance of the setting the right goals.
But for many, the idea of the “right” goals can feel elusive—there isn’t necessarily a master list of goals out there for all of us to check off. But how lovely that would be.
The good news is that you don’t need a master list to know what the right goals are. The easiest way to start is to identify why the goals you have right now aren’t working.
And out of the goodness of our hearts, we’ve outlined just why that may be below. So let’s get started:
This may seem like a bit of a lofty topic for one blog post, but it’s profoundly important that we believe in the goals that we have for ourselves at work.
For starters, one reason you may not believe in your goals is that you’re simply disengaged at work, and that’s certainly something that you need to be listening to. But that’s a whole ‘nother conversation for a different time.
Whether or not you see yourself as an engaged employee, believing in your goals is about having goals that you think are achievable.
Let’s try that again: you don’t believe in your goals because you don’t think they’re actually possible.
Dropbox’s Ben Taylor puts it well: “Can you begin to picture a tangible series of calls, deals, or strategic changes that will help your team hit the new number? Great. Is it more of a general aspiration to “do better” as a team? Consider trying again.”
For goals to be “believable” they have to be grounded in reality, which often means grounding them in concrete numbers. For example, if you’re an inside sales rep, your goal should be oriented around making X number of calls per week versus “getting more prospects to pick up their phone.”
From there, you can dial it in even more specifically.
Once you’ve got your mind wrapped around believing in your goals, you can focus on making sure they’re goals you can actually accomplish.
Sure believing in yourself is one thing, but all the self confidence in the world isn’t going to mean that you, a human person, are now blessed with the gift of flight.
We have to make sure that our goals are not only concrete, but attainable.
That’s why we often emphasize the importance of realistic, actionable, attainable, short-term goals. These are things week in and week out that you can accomplish to help you feel like you’re on a path toward success.
Taylor also outlines this well in that same post: “When setting a goal, it’s important to look closely at past performance, and to think through what specific adjustments might help you achieve a better result.”
Take some time this week to go back through the last week, month, quarter, or even year. Look at your weekly behaviors and have a really honest conversation with yourself: What worked? What didn’t work? And what were the leading contributing factors to the weeks where you felt most successful?
Most often, you’ll discover that success was directly tied to specific actions. Map those out on a weekly basis to see how you can repeat that same success. Suddenly, you’ve got goals that are taking you exactly where you want to go.
Now these headings are starting to sound a little contradictory, aren’t they?
Small goals aren’t bad. We just made a pretty outstanding case to back that up. But sometimes when all we focus on are the small goals, that’s when things can start to get a little mucky.
Let’s put it this way: sometimes work sucks. Sometimes filling out expense reports sounds worse than just about anything you can imagine. That’s okay. We’ve all been there.
But that’s where big, long-term goals come into play.
Think about your life outside of work. What kind of lifestyle do you want for yourself? And how can your job—and being successful at it—feed into that lifestyle? Whether it’s working on more philanthropic goals, saving for a big purchase, or just being able to provide for your family—or even moving on up in your current career—long-term goals help us to look beyond the tough days and remember why it is that we work so hard.
Allow yourself to dream a little bit about those big goals, and they’ll make the small goals all the easier to accomplish.
Here’s the cold hard truth: sometimes we get a little lost in our own work.
You may feel like you have a ton of great goals for yourself, but for some reason you’re still not seeing success in your day-to-day—and you know what, neither is your boss.
That can be deeply frustrating, and totally demoralizing. We’ve seen it time and time again.
But the good news is there’s an explanation, and a way out:
For one, you may simply not be orienting your goals to the needs of the job you’ve been assigned. And if you’re not sure what those needs are, set some time this week with your boss to discuss KPIs, and then restructure your goals around those.
And the other reasons is simply that you may not want to be in the role you’re in, and you’re trying to work towards the goals of a different job altogether—consciously or without even trying to!
And you know what? All of that is OK. What it means is that you need to listen to that nag—pursue the things you love. And the first step to doing that is realigning your goals to get you where you want to be. It may in fact all be as simple as that.
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