Goal-setting and resolutions – five top tips and five probing questions

Posted 07 Jan 2015 by Claire Bremner - Senior Consultant at OPP

It’s that time of year again... having reflected back on 2014, many will now be looking ahead to 2015 and identifying their self-improvement resolutions and goals for the year ahead.  Although I don’t personally set New Year’s resolutions, goal setting helps focus my intention, effort and actions.

It seems timely to reflect on how we set goals, as many in organisations will be in the midst of reviewing performance against targets or key performance indicators (KPIs) and engaging in personal development planning for the year ahead.

Goals are about mobilising energy for change. I observed this recently when working with senior leaders during a modular development programme. Development planning (including goal setting) was a fundamental part of the work. For the two goals they identified as being most significant to them, I asked them to consider the following five probing questions:

Working through this process enabled them to prioritise what they really wanted to change, and to make a start on ringing those changes while the programme was still underway.

Goals should be about learning as well as performance. Our ability to learn from experience is influenced by our tendency to set both learning goals and performance goals. A performance goal emphasises the performance outcome to be obtained and is about seeking to demonstrate competence. A learning goal focuses on discovering the strategies or processes required to perform a task successfully, and seeking to develop competence by gaining new skills and mastering tasks.

To illustrate this, an example performance goal would be: Go jogging for a minimum of twenty minutes three times per week, starting next week. Reframed as a learning goal, this becomes: Discover what physical activities I most enjoy and can engage in regularly to improve my physical fitness.

Goals need to be specific without being too narrow. For example, let’s say I want to improve my physical fitness. A very specific goal might be to go jogging for 20 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday (as per the performance goal detailed above). If that is what I focus on, I may actually overlook other beneficial and enjoyable (and therefore sustainable!) opportunities to increase my fitness, such as going for walks during my lunch break, walking up the escalators when using public transport, taking the stairs instead of the lift, etc.

Goals should be about the means and the ends. How you get there is just as important as whether or not you achieve your goals.

So, here are those five top tips I promised you in the title of this blog post:

  1. Frame your goals in the positive – state what you will do rather than what you won’t do.
  2. Motivation is key – articulate why the goal is important to you. Distinguish “ I want to...” from “I need to...” as these may well have quite different underlying drivers.
  3. Be honest with yourself – is the goal related to something you genuinely want to achieve or something you or someone else feels you should/ought to change? If the latter – how likely is it that you’ll do so?
  4. Visualise what you’ll be doing, thinking and feeling when you achieve your goal and write this down as part of your goal-setting process. This can really help spark the impetus for change.
  5. Focus on the one or two goals that are most important to you. Resist the temptation to spread your energy for change too thinly.

So, as you create your KPIs and development plan for the year ahead, work out what you really want to change, identify the specific practical steps you can take to help you do so, and don’t forget to include what you want to achieve and learn. 

And if you are going to come up with New Year’s resolutions this year, make only one motivating resolution and focus on what you are going to do rather than what you intend to stop doing!

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