Becoming the Business Person You Were Meant to Be – Part 4: Setting Great Goals

Now that you have a vision of where you are going, it is important to set goals that move you in the direction of your vision. I like to make sure they are SMART goals. You may have heard this acronym before, but it stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound.

If your goal is to have a healthy body, for example, you might set a goal of losing 20 pounds by October 31st, 2010, or you might set a goal of reducing your soda consumption to no more than 8 oz per day by September 1st, or any other goal that helps you reach your definition of “a healthy body”. The exact goals you set will be very specific to you, and there is no “right” or “wrong” goal, just like there isn’t a “right” vision.

In a business context, your goal might be to improve effectiveness of your meetings, and the SMART goal could be something like: Have a clear agenda for each meeting 24 hours ahead of time and end each meeting on time and with a clear set of action items assigned to specific individuals with deadlines. Or: Have only one key issue per meeting, and keep meetings to under 1 hour. Or: Have meetings only when there is a need for discussion and decision-making or quick touch-base meetings, not just to “share” information better presented in writing. All of these are possible goals. The point is to make it specific to your image of what the goal looks like.

To start with, you need to get specific about what things would have to be present for you to feel you have attained your vision. If your vision is to have a healthy body, what does that mean to you? Is it about weight, body fat percentage, how fast you walk a mile, ability to touch your toes, how much you can bench press, how often you exercise, the kinds of foods you nourish yourself with, the measure of cholesterol or other blood chemicals? If your vision is to have effective meetings, what does that mean? Is it about wasting less time, enjoying meetings more, having fewer meetings, building accountability, increasing focus, or just about making clearer decisions in meetings? All of these are possible, and many many more. Sometimes it helps to close your eyes and place yourself in your vision and imagine how you will feel there, and what will have changed for you to feel this way.

Now that you have visualized it, what specific goals did you attain to feel that way? And how can you begin moving in that direction? If you have a specific business-related goal, what are some first steps you could take to work toward your vision?

While setting goals, it is important to remember to set Realistic goals (remember the “R” in SMART?). Too often, we set goals that are very ambitious, but perhaps too ambitious and when we are unable to achieve them as quickly as we planned, we feel that we have failed.

In order to avoid this feeling of failure, but still stretch yourself to push a little further than is “easy”, it is best to set yourself a series of smaller goals for the coming week or month. To stick with our health example, a set of first steps might be to have a physical, stop drinking sugary drinks, and start walking 30 minutes every day. While this might be possible, it might be challenging, so you might set a “minimum acceptable” goal of getting the physical, and walking at least twice a week for 30 minutes, and eliminating sugary drinks during the week. Finally, you might set a target somewhere between this minimum and your ideal, and aim for that. At least if you achieve the minimum, you will feel that you have made meaningful progress, and you may be able to do even more than that in the process.

For our business meeting example, you might start with small steps such as making a list of all the types of meetings you currently have, and identifying the purpose each is serving, and outlining which ones could be eliminated, which ones need to be improved, and what might need to be added. Your “minimum acceptable” goal might be to just have the list of current meetings and their purpose. And the target could be somewhere in between where you have the list of meetings and their purpose, and you identify which ones most need improvement. Again, you will at least be able to make the list, and feel you are “on the path” to making improvements, but also feel like there is some challenge in reaching for the middle and ideal targets.

If your goals are long-term, such a 1-2 year or more away, be sure to set up some interim goals. In most cases, it is hard to set a goal of getting a big promotion, getting married, changing your corporate culture or other multi-step challenges and achieve it in a couple of months, so break your goal up into shorter-term milestones that you can aim for and feel the satisfaction of making progress before you achieve ultimate success.

Now that you have established your goals, write them down. Track them. Review them at least weekly and see how you are progressing. If you find that you are slipping, think about what specifically happens in the moment you slip up, and how you might change your thoughts and emotions to break through the next potential slip and move forward.

More next time on developing strategies around each goal.