Your Roadmap to Success: Results focused goal setting
Today, I’d like to share some thoughts on vision, values, priorities and goals. Though it’s a bit late in coming, a post like this is almost obligatory. Most of us who have worked in any sort of corporate or academic environments have engaged in goal setting. We’ve perhaps been subjected to or the beneficiaries of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound/Timely) goal planning methods. Theoretically, we should be experts in this and we should be doing this in our private lives, right? Perhaps, but perhaps not…
One thing I noticed in my previous career was that often we would set goals that technically met the SMART criteria but somehow did not connect to the person for whom the goals were created. That is, you can create SMART goals in a relative vacuum. This happens in part because people don’t understand who they are in the context of the organization nor do they fully understand the nature of the organization itself. Organizational psychologists have written extensively about understanding and evaluating individual values against those of the organization in order to ensure proper fit and mutual benefit over time. The question is, how many of us have codified personal values? How many of us have taken the time to understand our employers’ values and the real-world implications of those concepts?
This is not to say that SMART goals themselves are problematic. To the contrary, I personally find them to be the most effective goal type. Creating them simply takes a little more planning and intent than we may be willing to put into them. That said, this post is not about SMART goals for your job. This is about creating goals for your life that move you toward results. So, to get this going, let’s think about the following 5 questions:
- Why are you creating goals?
- What is the significance of the goals you are creating?
- What are your desired outcomes, really?
- What are you willing to do or sacrifice to achieve those results?
- How will those results change your life?
I suppose you could answer these questions off the cuff. Truly, however, one would be hard-pressed to answer these questions meaningfully without having first understood his or her values and priorities.
Values vs. Priorities
Conceptually, priorities and values are similar. That is, both reflect concepts that are important to us. As I see it, values are typically those concepts which we use to frame our understanding of the world and determine our place in it (something perhaps akin to a worldview or belief system). Priorities, on the other hand, are more concrete, short and actionable representations (and most importantly, ranked) of those values. Functionally, I believe one can view values as the “what’s most important to me and why” and priorities as the “what is the order of importance of these things to me.”
Values – Your values are a relatively stable set of ideas that most likely began forming during childhood. Vales tend to be passed from parents to children, disseminated through affiliation with religious groups and/or can be heavily influenced by our social circles. As such, the culture in which one is raised (e.g. one which values individualism vs. collectivism), societal norms and other influences can also have a bearing on our values.
As we grow and our personal worldview changes, we may either begin to converge or diverge from those values which were instilled by others. Over time, we develop our own belief systems and values that we can pass on to others.
Priorities – Your priorities should be what’s most important to you and what you will act upon to maintain. These should spring directly from your personal values. You can look at priorities categorically (one to two words such as: family, self, work) or using sentences that describe. In terms of how values lead to priorities think about this:
- Value > Having positive relationships with your family and building a strong home for your spouse and children because family is the smallest functional unit of the community and a critical component of personal success.
- Priority #1 (or wherever this falls for you) > Family
Furthermore, family is something you should be willing to set goals around in order to create and maintain the outcomes you desire.
So, if you haven’t taken time to think about your personal values and priorities, I would encourage you to stop, use this tool (or something similar) and come back to this when you are done. You really cannot create effective, life changing goals unless you know where you are, who you are and where you want to go. If you are married, in a relationship, have a family etc., not only should you think about your personal values and priorities, you should go through this process with the other people close to you.
So, we’re going to assume, you know what your personal/family values and priorities are (or you just want to go on so you can see what this is all about). Now we need to talk about goals. Setting goals (especially SMART goals) requires context. We need to start thinking about those 5 questions above. Why are we setting these goals? If we are beginning with the end in mind, what does the finished product look like?
Goals – Goals are specific outcomes relevant to our priorities and aligned to our values for which we create specific action items which will be carried out over a specific time-frame. The keys to remember here are:
- There is no point creating a goal that is not aligned to our values and relevant to our priorities.
- There is no point creating a goal without a method to achieve the goal (this may be a separate step)
- There may be limited value in setting a goal with no connection to our long-term vision
- Goals most often require accountability of some sort.
Setting a SMART goal (or any goal for that matter) is relatively easy. Creating a goal that will improve your life (or the lives of your loved ones) is not a small task or one to be taken lightly. Ideally, you want to create the goal, write it down and find someone (perhaps more than one person) who can both encourage you when you succeed and hold you accountable when you choose not to do what you said you would do. Pro tip: you may not want this person to be your spouse…
One of the most important factors in effective goal setting is to create a plan (a means by which the goal is to be accomplished). Most often (if you are setting SMART goals) this is embedded, to a certain extent, in the goal itself. The next logical step is to create space for it on your calendar (or list) as discussed in the previous post.
If you want to take this a step further, you can look at your goals through a project management lens. As project managers, we are taught to create milestones (interim goals) that lead to the completion of the project. So, you could (and probably should) look at much larger and more complex, long-term goals and create shorter (one month to one year) goals that align to those. This is where we start to think about vision.
Vision – Ideally, your vision was something you created before or alongside codifying your values. If you think about a vision in terms of how corporations look at them, your vision is your long-term picture of what you want to be. In other words, what kind of person, family, etc. do you want to be at a specific future time. Think about what that looks like. Think about it in a very tangible and real way. Now, write it down and make sure it aligns with your values. If it does, now you are in great shape.
Putting it All Together
This can be complicated if you’ve never done it before so let’s review.
Hopefully, this helps you on your goal setting journey and you take the time to be thoughtful about the results you want in your life. You can’t win if you don’t play in the game and you can’t succeed if you don’t try.
Happy New Year!
- Finding the Sweet Spot: Achieving Work-Life Balance - August 2, 2019
- Your Roadmap to Success: Results focused goal setting - January 17, 2019
- Get the Life Momentum You’ve Always Wanted - October 27, 2018