There are lots of ways to set goals, and lots of ways to get going on achieving them. It’s pretty much the same approach when you are setting your own personal goals as to when you are setting those for your organisation. The difference is in the circle of people you consult with (more professional overlap for the org goals!), and then how widely you share them.

Sharing your personal goals helps you commit to actually making them happen. It’s not vital, but it’s certainly useful. Sharing your org goals is vital! It’s the only way they are going to happen, and it’s the only way that people will know what you are trying to achieve as a group.

Banging them in a slide deck and calling it a day is not going to cut it. That doesn’t give the alignment that you need to have everyone pulling in the same direction to chase down these big goals.

Instead, you need to get your comms plan in gear, figure out the arenas you can sell your goals in. Present them to people, tell them why these particular goals matter and why they are more important than other things we could be doing. Take questions and answer them honestly. Record some sessions for people who are on leave. Share them in Slack, put them on the Intranet (woo!) and finally point people to the deck!

Then repeat this, and go again. Talk about progress towards the goals, share the successful steps towards them and keep them in people’s minds.

This multi-channel approach might get decent visibility and some good buy-in, and the repetition will help, but you won’t actually know how aligned people are to these goals.

Ask them!

As a leader you’ve got more context, you know what’s going on and you have more background than most people in the org. It’s all obvious to you, but it might not be to the Individual Contributors doing the work.

So, ask some questions:

  • What is our top goal for the year?
  • Why are we going after this?
  • What are we not going to do?

Look for patterns in what comes back. What’s missing, what’s wrong, what has actually landed with people? Take these themes, then use them to rework your comms. Address the misconceptions, dive deep into the gaps and celebrate the good understanding.

You build alignment with clear messaging, repetition and rework.

It’s not a one-and-done deck and presentation, and if you think it is you are destined to fail.


Bust the Jargon

When you are firming up goals and dropping the vague, you also massively benefit from busting the jargon.

The world is overwhelmed by synergy, thought-leadership and efficiencies. There’s still far too many rock-stars and even the occasional ninja in software development.

Most people who’ve been in business for a while will be accustomed to speaking the jargon. It’s easy to throw in a few more words and lose the meaning.

Try stripping it back and saying what you really mean. Take a statement that’s jargon heavy, and restate it into terms that people outside of your direct context could connect to and uderstand.

I’ve done it myself recently, and it can really take a few repetitions to get to something that’s really meaningful. Watch out for loops. It’s easy to replace a bit of jargon with something equally meaningless to someone outside of the bubble.

Imagine explaining your goal to a friend or family member. Would they understand what you want to do, or what achievement you are chasing?

Creating this clarity also lets you see how well the goal aligns to your values. Jargon can hide this, so strip it away and make sure you are doing what really matters to you.


Got Goals?

I’ve written a number of times about setting powerful goals. Going through a process of understanding where you want to get to, how you’ll recognise you’ve made it there and creating statements of accountability helps to shape your focus and purpose.

Once you’ve done this? What next?

Understand your options. Come up with some approaches that might help you achieve your goals. Think about what will be hard, visualise the steps you can take to remove barriers. Lay out a range of choices.

Then pick one, and do something that will move you closer to achieving your goals. Take that first step and start to build momentum. Keep on taking steps. There are no quick fixes, so you’ll have to keep going and going. Once you’ve started it will get easier, if you keep on putting in the work.

A sufficiently transformative goal will not be achieved in a single burst of effort, so build in a plan to review your progress. Some steps are easy, so might need reflection on a weekly basis. Some take longer to show progress, so you may look back monthly. Whatever you do, setup a regular cadence. Learn from what you’ve done and correct early, and you will progress more quickly.

Goals are great once you have them. Now you need to go and achieve them!


Down With Vague

If you set a vague goal, you’ll get a vague outcome.

It’s easy to restate yourself as succeeding if you don’t define what success looks like.

When your goals are well formed, you bring accountability to your desire to grow. You’ll know what will help you achieve your desired outcome, and you’ll have a great view on the things that will be less likely to contribute to that success.

Examples often help, so let’s consider the vague goal of “Get better at public speaking”.

We’ll strengthen this up, and make it a real tool to empower your growth. You can follow the same process whenever you discover a vague goal.

First off, you need to understand why you are setting this goal. What change do you want to bring about? Is this about speaking to small groups or giving keynote speeches? Do you want to improve in ad-hoc situations, or in more structured settings. Is the aim to share information better or to inspire your listeners. Is this about presenting to people who report to you, or to those you report to?

Running this process lets you shape that vague goal towards meaningful change.

Imagine we’ve refined to “Improve how I present to senior stakeholders to build confidence in my ideas and secure funding for significant programmes of work”. This is already significantly more powerful. It narrows the scope to something meaningful that you’ll be able to make progress on. For your own goals, you can refine further or be even more specific to really give it a defined shape.

Next up, add “by” to your goal, and how you’ll go about taking the smaller steps towards success.

This is your accountability power move. It’ll let you check-in and measure progress as you move towards a great outcome.

For our example, we say “by creating short evidence based presentations that focus on the problem, the value of the solution and how this programme will address it. By practising at least three times ahead of the stakeholder presentation with members of my group to tighten the proposition and build confidence in the structure. By recording my practice and reviewing it at least twice to find weaknesses and eliminate them”.

Again, you’ll know your own context and situation, so you’ll be able to be even more powerfully specific in your approach.

We’ve taken the vague and made it real.

“Get better at public speaking”

Vague and uninspiring

“Improve how I present to senior stakeholders to build confidence in my ideas and secure funding for significant programmes of work by creating short evidence based presentations that focus on the problem, the value of the solution and how this programme will address it. By practising at least three times ahead of the stakeholder presentation with members of my group to tighten the proposition and build confidence in the structure. By recording my practice and reviewing it at least twice to find weaknesses and eliminate them.”

Powerful statement driving lasting change

Make your commitments count, Down with Vague!


PURE Goals

Now that you are making sure your goals are stated in a SMART way, you should also check that they are PURE.

  • Positively Stated – Make an inspiring and forward looking statement of achievement. Switch or invert negative terminology and find a restatement based on growth or improvement. Drop out “not”, “won’t” and other limiting phrasings.
  • Understood – There’s a easily explained “why”, you know what the goal means and you have a plan to achieve it.
  • Relevant – It’s aligned to your current situation, or the situation you are moving towards. It will help you reach your End Goal and achieve your dreams.
  • Ethical – It aligns with your values. It’s not just positively stated but it’s also going to have a positive impact on the world. If you achieve this goal, then something will have gotten better for a range of people.

Sometimes, it’s hard to write SMART goals, but we get better at creating them and holding ourselves accountable by doing, reviewing and refining. It’s the same with PURE. Your first statement might not match the criteria and that’s totally fine. Look at what you’ve written, restate it and keep going.

If you want to grow and change in a positive way, then have ethical goals, relevant to your wider desires, that are well understood and that are positively stated will give you the best opportunity to have the impact you want to have on the world.


Personal Mental Training

Coaching is personal training for the mind.

If you are exercising alone then you might be doing a great job or you might be working at 50% effectiveness. Some days you’ll just think about doing something, and you might even feel good about the thinking, without getting to the doing.

Getting some one on one time with a trainer will quickly set you up for success. You’ll find improvements in technique, you’ll be motivated to show up and you’ll be accountable for your actions while you are with them.

Once you’ve finished a set of sessions, you’ll be able to be more confident in your abilities, you’ll have learnt enough to improve at your own pace and you’ll have massively accelerated your journey.

Coaching is the mental equivalent of the personal trainer. A Coach will help you formulate your thinking. They’ll hold you accountable and make you work at 100%, to always be your best. You will find the right framework to describe your goals, to make your commitments and to succeed now and in the future.

If you are ready to take that next step, then reach out, and start achieving your goals now.


Reset the 5 Year Plan

A lot of people have a plan in their minds for the next few years. For some, it’s pretty nebulous, with a lot of potential outcomes. For others, it’s a strongly worded set of Goals and Outcomes, it’s their 5 Year Plan.

Now is an excellent time to stop and reflect on that plan, especially if it was at the firmer end of the spectrum. Lots of things have happened in the world over the last six months, very few of them have been business as usual.

The shock of change may have been major, or it may have impacted you little. Either way, these large societal shifts give you the chance to reassess, and to decide if now is the right time to change things up and take a different path.

Firstly, you can reflect on your goals. Do they still resonate with you? Are they still relevant in the world as it is now? Will achieving them bring you the meaning that they had when you set them?

Next, look at your reality. Are you still on the path to achieve these goals? Have you lost impetus or opportunity? What is different in your situation now as opposed to six month ago? How about compared with when you set out these goals?

This process might tell you to carry on, to double down or to totally switch track. Any of these options are great, so long as it’s the right choice for you. For a big, long-term, commitment it’s worth spending the time to make sure this option is the right choice. Sleep on it, see how you feel in the morning. Talk it through with trusted people in your life.

When you make a conscious choice to review your goals, then you’ll be re-energised and set-up on the path to success. Certainly a worthy endeavour for an afternoon or two!


Losing it hurts more

The pain of losing something we have is about twice as great as the pleasure that comes from gaining something new.

This idea was first formalised by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky as Loss Aversion. It’s the idea that we prefer to avoid the loss of something, over achieving an equivalent gain.

This limitation in thinking can quite easily cause us to baseline our position badly. It may stop us making a valuable change as we hold on too tightly to something we already have, or it might stop you going after a valuable opportunity because you fear losing something you already have.

You can run through a number of experiments to see how much you are affected by Loss Aversion. For a simple test, think about an item you own. Pick something that doesn’t have a large sentimental value, and that can easily be replaced. Maybe think about a TV or other electrical utility item. Imagine losing it or breaking it. How do you feel?

Now imagine that you win a new version, modern, up-to-date and better than your current model. How would that make you feel?

If you feel worse with the Loss, then that’s an example of a type of Loss Aversion. It’s very common. I’m happy with my current TV, and I’d certainly feel worse losing it.

To escape from the effect, you can frame goals and outcomes differently. Looking at the cost of things as an example. Would you prefer a £10 discount or would you prefer to avoid a £10 surcharge? Most of us prefer to avoid the surcharge, as we see that as a loss.

When you’re being coached, you’ll find it’s a lot more powerful to phrase your goals in positive terms. If a goal might cost you something to achieve it, try and baseline the goal so you don’t phrase it as including a loss.

As an example, think about investing time and effort in yourself, rather than spending money for an uncertain gain, or giving up your weekends. Don’t be forced to exercise (losing free will), but be thankful for the opportunity to improve your fitness.

Framing in this way will move you away from Loss Aversion, and give you the tools for success in your chosen endeavour.


Big Goals, Small Steps

Set yourself a big, scary goal. Something that’s truly transformative and impactful. Go big, shoot for the Moon, change the world. Say it out loud.

Now pause. Examine the statement you’ve just made. What are you feeling?

It’s probably a mix of things. Scared. Uncertain. Overwhelmed? All of these feelings are natural, by stating a goal you’ve built some commitment towards it, invested yourself in it.

We have a dozen different sayings around tackling tough challenges, because it’s a constant enduring theme of the human condition. Pick your favourite, whether it’s eating Elephants (one bite at a time!) or going on the longest journey, starting with that single step.

These ideas boil down to the same basic premise. Break down the goal. Find a small initial action to take. Reward yourself for this achievement, then do it again. Keep going, keep improving and eventually you’ll look back on a great success.

What’s your big scary goal? What’s the first small step you are going to take to achieve it?


The End Goal

There’s more than one type of goal. There’s two types in particular that are especially useful to differentiate between. These are Performance Goals and End Goals.

The End Goal is the outcome that you desire to achieve. It’s a big significant change in your life, and it’s likely to be something outside of your full control. It may be gaining a promotion at work, it might be making a large sale or it may be winning a competition or award.

These types of End Goal are a form of recognition or measure of success that it bestowed from the outside. As this achievement is outside of your control, then there is often little benefit to focusing on achieving them directly. You limit your potential because you are handing off your measure of success to a third party, you are losing agency.

Performance Goals are thing that are within your control. These are areas you measure against yourself, that you can recognise when you have achieved them and that you can control the progress towards that achievement.

Setting great Performance Goals will help you to reach your End Goal. If your aim is to win an Olympic medal, then your Performance Goal might be to consistently improve on your personal best. This takes something that’s out of your control, and ties the achievement to something in your control.

Set your outcomes up in this linked way. You don’t control getting the promotion, but you can control your performance, focusing on and improving the skills that will put you in a great place to be the easy choice for the next job that opens up.

Confusing an End Goal for a Performance Goal will set you up to fail. Setting great supporting Performance Goals will start you on a powerful journey of change, and give you the best possible chance of reaching your End Goal.