Entrepreneur, coach to entrepreneurs, and HOF investor in entrepreneurs, specializing in self-awareness as a superpower. www.CoachSteveP.com
Accountability is a key ingredient for success with your career or business goals. Without it, the odds are stacked against you. Responsibility for your actions, behaviors, decisions and performance as they relate to your plan of action is linked to an increase in commitment to success, team morale and higher performance. The bottom line is you know what to do, and now you need to do what you know — all while remaining open to oversight on major things to do. Here’s how.
Starting Your Journey
To start, a specific set of goals and a clear plan of action is needed. The sample questions I’ve included in this article will help drive the accountability process, which can occur anywhere from weekly to monthly. This depends on the goals as well as the steps and actions to get there. Each action must be measurable, attainable, relevant and time-boxed. An action that spans multiple accountability sessions may need to be broken into more realistic and therefore attainable pieces.
Finding An Accountability Partner
The odds of success increase substantially with a carefully selected accountability partner (AP) and commitment to a rigid schedule for accountability sessions. Below are examples of 19 accountability questions you and your AP should address at regular intervals.
At the highest level, each session with your AP allows you to share wins, talk about your current challenges, hear valuable feedback and take action on problems or solutions quickly. Never fear feedback, as I’ve discovered that 95% of the time it’s either good news or fixable. If your AP is doing their job, they’ll share in your struggles. They will also provide solid input — that can sometimes make you uncomfortable — on where you’re at with your goals and the actions accomplished.
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Your AP should not be a family member or friend but instead someone else you can look up to and who won’t pull punches. If your AP is not giving honest, unemotional feedback and often asking uncomfortable questions then it’s time for a replacement. Some forward-thinking organizations will provide key staff with such an AP. There are even many AP apps available, but a human AP on major actions is best.
The Journey Itself
Here’s how it works, you answer the questions below in a file, send them to your AP prior to a meeting and then meet (in person or virtually) to go through each question and answer in detail. The more precise your accountably measurement — the questions and your answers — the more performance will improve. The questions below encompass the minimum ingredients to ensure success. They include a variety of questions to solicit the answers needed by you and your AP to fully assess your situation and progress.
Action-related questions below include specifics: Did you make progress and provide details on the three actions identified in your last session? The questions include those that can add to the understanding of why your performance is what it is today and whether it might continue into the future — e.g., state of mind, self-talk, conflicts. They stimulate discussion that can be a heads-up for things to come or indicate that a course correction may be needed.
I’ve used this form and these questions for years, finding them successful in helping me meet my own goals.
1. Based on the 3 or more actions that you identified in the last session (i.e., goal prerequisites), what specifically have you either accomplished or made noticeable progress on during the most recent period? Provide details.
2. What’s going great for you lately? The highs? This includes any successful Covid-19 adjustments.
3. What’s not going so great? The lows? This includes any Covid-19 challenges.
4. How would you describe your state of mind — aka mindset — on a 1–10 scale?
5. Are you feeling confident and empowered lately? If not, why?
6. Are you dealing with any negative self-talk? What is it saying? Can you handle it?
7. Do you have any big or troublesome decisions or deadlines pending? If so, briefly describe.
8. Are you feeling overwhelmed, having outbursts of emotion, or deep depression? If so, explain.
9. Do you have any conflicting actions, goals or priorities? What are they? Are they holding you back in some way?
10. Has anything happened that causes you to question your overall plan of action and its many steps/actions toward your goals? If so, explain.
11. How is your work-life balance? Can you give each the necessary attention? If not, why?
12. How are you sleeping lately? How long each night on average? Is it enough to re-energize you for the next day?
13. Are you getting regular exercise? What are you doing? For how long and how often?
14. Honest feedback from others is essential for professional growth. What have you done this period to make others feel comfortable and safe giving you constructive feedback? What feedback have you received this period? Have you given others feedback?
15. Are you smiling often? This can change everything about how others perceive you and how you feel as well. If not, why?
16. Knowing that most good things and great lessons in life are often hidden behind uncomfortable (anxious and initially stressful) moments, what have you done lately to get a little uncomfortable?
17. Knowing you likely spend most of your time on activities in the “Important-Urgent” quadrant in life, what have to done lately in the Important-Non-Urgent quadrant?
18. Answer these four GPEC questions: What am I grateful for in my life lately and how does that make me feel? What am I proud of in my life lately and how does that make me feel? What do I enjoy or gets me excited about my life lately and how does that make me feel? What am I committed to in my life lately and how does that make me feel?
19. What are three or more actions you are setting for the next period that will be monitored for progress and reviewed in our next session?
Lastly, taking action and making some progress each day is also the key to having a positive mindset on your journey, as progress equals happiness. All this happens when you take action and remain accountable.
Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?
Many of us talk about the same problems for years. We deliberate about the best workout plan but don’t actually follow through. We complain about our boss and, years later, look back and say, “I should have left earlier.”
How do we hold ourselves accountable and stop procrastinating? One answer is to get an accountability buddy.
Think back to school. What motivated you to finally finish a paper? Was it a love of learning? Knowing how valuable this skill was going to be in the future? No. It was probably a looming deadline and the threat of a failing grade for turning it in late.
During school, we have built-in accountability. For grown-up goals like starting a business, losing weight or writing a book, there’s typically no accountability for us to get it done.
The solution for finishing things: Create accountability through a buddy.
Accountability buddies can help us make meaningful progress. Surrounding ourselves with people invested in our success is the best way to make progress on our goals. Follow these steps to set up an accountability buddy.
1. Create a schedule and commit.
Decide how frequently you’ll meet. Once a week is a good starting point. You’ll have time to get things done in between your meetups (either in person or on the phone), but not so long that you start procrastinating or forgetting what you agreed to.
Then set a time and commit. Put it on your calendar and don’t let anything get in the way.
2. Help your buddy (and yourself) set better goals.
When we have a broad goal like “get healthy,” the failure comes in not knowing where to start. What do we do this month, this week, today, to make that happen?
If we can’t answer that simply, how are we supposed to act on it? Create SMART objectives that follow these guidelines:
3. Be honest with each other.
My friend recently told me about an event he attended. A group of women were brought in to give direct feedback about how they perceived a group of men’s clothing and demeanor.
Try to imagine what happened.
“The guys were crying,” my friend said. “Nobody had ever given us this kind of brutal feedback.” My friend realized he’d never before received brutally honest feedback on how he interacted with women.
We should subject ourselves to uncomfortable situations where we take on the “beginner’s mind” and force ourselves to grow. An accountability buddy gives us the rare opportunity for brutal honesty.
4. Ask great questions.
Smart people ask questions because they know it’s the best way to get to the true heart of a matter.
When you say you were too busy to work out this week, what are you really saying?
Chances are you had time to watch Netflix or go out for drinks, so what really held you back? Maybe you were nervous about walking into a new gym.
By asking great questions, you and your accountability buddy can break through invisible barriers.
5. Gamify accountability with your friends.
I love bets. There are myriad psychological studies about public commitment, which is highly persuasive. If you tell a group of people you’re going to stop smoking, you’re highly motivated to hit that goal.
You can do this with your accountability buddy, too. If you each set a goal, bet who will hit it first. Or you can keep score of who completes more of their weekly tasks. Make it fun!
A number of techniques make the challenge of achieving ambitious career and job search goals easier. Here’s a list of those that have either helped me or my clients to overcome obstacles to goal achievement. May they give you the boost you need to reach your goals.
Picture your goal to get motivated: Use physical pictures or imagery you conjure up in your imagination. The reason this works – visualization connects the goal with your emotions, and emotions are the key to memory. You’re essentially experiencing the result before you’ve reached your goal, which makes you want it more. Closely related to visualization is the Picture Superiority Effect, which says that images are way more powerful than text or words in getting an idea to stick.
For example, if you’re looking to find a more enjoyable job, imagine what it feels like to get up in the morning actually looking forward to going to work. Or if you’re seeking more money, find a picture that represents the nicer vacation you’ll be able to take.
Be specific: If your goal is vague, it’s hard to know where to start; stating your goal clearly can help drive action. I’ve used the SMART Goals framework to gain the specificity needed to drive action: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-bound. For example:
- Not SMART — “get a new job” or “get promoted”
- SMART — get a new Marketing Director job in Healthcare in the North-Eastern U.S. within one year from today that will pay me at least $200,000 and reflect the values I’ve listed as important to me.
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Overcome mental hurdles hindering goal achievement: The most common mental hurdles include:
Procrastination — Sometimes you can overcome procrastination by simply understanding what’s driving it. And here’s the key insight: procrastination is not a time management problem, but rather an emotion-management problem. You procrastinate to cope with challenging emotions or moods caused by the goals you’ve set.
When understanding isn’t enough, try this: take any tiny action towards your goal, even if only for just two minutes. For example, instead of saying “Today I need to figure out what I want to do next in my career,” say to yourself “I’ll spend just two minutes brainstorming career options.” You’ll often find that just by getting started in this way, you’ll be able to keep going way beyond the two-minutes you originally allocated.
PREcrastination — the opposite of procrastination, precrastination involves the tendency to move forward too quickly without taking a step back first to optimize your efforts. I see precrastination all the time with jobseekers. Many just start applying with dismal results; they don’t pause to strategically plan and organize their job search campaign before diving in. The same goes for my clients looking to move up in their organization.
Fear — for many fear is the action-killer, the key reason goals fall by the wayside. One excellent approach to overcoming fear comes from Tim Ferris. He flips goal-setting on its head to create “Fear Setting,” which involves getting your fears down on paper in a way that enables proper assessment (are they really warranted?) and mitigation. Check out his Ted talk on the subject, it’s well worth it, and download my Fear-Setting worksheet to help you get started.
Another way of overcoming fear and taking action: Tell other people about your goals, to create accountability (for my clients, I often serve as one of the people they’re accountable to).
Feeling overwhelmed – these two steps will usually do the trick:
- Break up big goals into smaller ones that are each more easily achievable. For example, a client wanted to land a new job that was more fulfilling. We broke this big goal up into: a) conduct a self-assessment to understand motivations and strengths, b) identify job targets based on assessment and research, c) write promotional materials (resume, LinkedIn profile, pitch), and so forth. We also made sure each of these smaller goals were SMART goals.
- Then take those goals and enter them into your to-do list. Creating to-do lists offloads the tasks from your brain onto the list, almost magically releasing you from that overwhelmed feeling. The list also helps you to be organized and efficient with your time. Plus, it’s well known that we humans enjoy checking things off lists! This enjoyment will help to counteract any fear that might be holding you back (there are many great free and paid online to-do apps). The key to success with to-do lists is to a) not be overly ambitious when scheduling your SMART to-do’s for a given day (just the ones you think you can really get done), and b) revisit your to-do list every day to reschedule items as necessary.
Perfectionism – You may have heard that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” From research, you’ll feel more satisfied if you just get it done, whether a decision or work you need to do, than if you had agonized over the task in the pursuit of the very marginal improvement you equate with perfection. Plus, you’ll have achieved your goal!
Personally, I live by the “80/20 rule” to prioritize, set goals, and combat perfectionism, and it’s served me well. The rule essentially says to focus on the 20% of your effort that will get you 80% of the results, and let go of the remaining 80% of effort that will get you only 20% of the results (search for “80/20 rule” and you’ll find countless entries documenting its effectiveness, here’s an example).
I t’s that time of year, when most of us are reviewing the past year and anticipating what’s to come — full of goals and resolutions and hopes and dreams for the new year.
When I was in high school, I was involved in the youth group at our church, and one of the buzz phrases that was thrown around a lot was “accountability partner.” For everything from spiritual growth and purity to healthy eating and studying, the key to any change was having an accountability partner.
Looking back, that idea might have been a bit overplayed, but there are some very real benefits in choosing to be accountable to another person when setting and working toward a goal.
Benefits of accountability
1. A little friendly competition
If your “accountability partner” has set the same goal as you, a little bit of friendly competition can go a long way. Last year, some friends of ours both decided they wanted to lose weight. They created their own Biggest Loser competition, and the one who lost the highest percentage of weight at the end of 8 weeks was declared the winner. Knowing they were competing for a prize (even just the prize of being able to say “I won!”) helped them both stay on track and achieve their individual goals.
Photo by Lululemon Athletica
2. Encouragement to keep going
Sometimes we attach so much significance to achieving a goal that when we experience a setback — which is inevitable at some point along the way — we just throw our hands up in the air and decide that the goal isn’t worth pursuing after all. An outside party can encourage you during setbacks and plateaus or when you experience a lack of motivation, helping you look past the momentary failure to see the bigger goal.
3. An honest look
If an accountability partner is just patting you on the back or nodding their head when you make excuses, then they’re not really holding you accountable after all. An important part of being accountable to someone is giving them permission to be honest with you. They should be comfortable telling you when you’ve gotten off track or pointing out areas where you may want to focus more of your efforts.
4. Ideas and inspiration
Sometimes, you may look for someone who is more of a mentor than an accountability partner. If they’ve walked the road before you and achieved the goal you’re striving for, they can share ideas, tips and experiences that will help you along the way.
When choosing an accountability partner, be sure you ask someone who is up to the challenge and who wants to invest in your life in this way. They should be willing to ask hard questions, check in with you regularly and remind you of your goals even when you don’t want to hear them.
Set aside time to meet and discuss your goals. Make sure the goals and milestones are clearly defined so that your accountability partner understands what you’re trying to accomplish as well as you do.
Finally, schedule regular appointments to check in, whether it’s over email, the telephone or in person. If possible, schedule these times in advance so that they’re not lost or forgotten in the busyness of everyday life.
At the end of the day, just knowing that someone is going to ask you how you’re doing with a goal or resolution can be the extra bit of motivation you need to stay on track.
Have you ever had an “accountability partner”? Do you think being held accountable would help you to reach your goals?
This post was first published on December 28, 2010.
Many entrepreneurs, especially new ones, make the mistake of not setting clear enough goals. Good intentions may give a general direction in which to head, but for everything from crafting an effective action plan to visualizing what success means, a clearly defined goal is a necessity.
So how can new entrepreneurs discover the goals they really want to reach? Below, 11 members of Forbes Coaches Council elaborate on their most effective steps for aiding clients in realizing their end goals — and creating the roadmap needed to reach them. Here are some approaches to consider, in order to see what works best for you:
Members share a few approaches you can use to establish — and then reach — your goals.
Photos courtesy of individual members
1. Write A Letter To Your Future Self
A powerful exercise for goal setting is to write a letter to yourself when you are 80 years old, while looking forward and visualizing your life. What goals did you set? What goals did you achieve? What are you most proud of accomplishing in your lifetime? Use the answers to those questions to define your goals and action steps from there. – Christie Samson, Capacity Worldwide
2. Use The ‘Five Whys’
Defining the right problem is challenging. Use the “five whys” to identify the real goal. Start with what they want, let’s say it’s a promotion. Why? More money. Why? Flexibility in my options. Why? I want to start a family? At this point you have gotten to your authentic why, the one that will keep you focused. It is what will guide your next steps. – Cynthia Howard RN, CNC, PhD, Ei Leadership
3. Establish What Will Motivate
Find something that your clients deeply desire. This will drive motivation and discipline more than anything else. Follow that with perseverance. – Gene Russell, The Corporation for Manufacturing Excellence, dba Manex Consulting
4. Create A Clear Vision
The first step to defining the goals a client wants to achieve is to develop a clear vision of what they want to achieve and anchor on why they want to achieve it. Their vision can then be broken down into detail around what “done” looks like and the corresponding action steps needed to achieve their definition of done. – Sabine Brandt, The Business Refinery
5. Set Goals Around What You Want
We set goals to solve problems and close gaps. However, this trains us to begin from a position of lack or weakness. Instead of goal setting around what you don’t have and don’t want, set goals around what you do want. Envision what life will be like once you achieve this state. What problems go away and what advantages emerge? And most importantly, visualize the sensation of achievement now. – Damaris Patterson Price, Working River Leadership Consulting
6. Commit To Two Or Three Goals
Pause to reassess your goals to determine if they are in fact your most important goals. Reconnect to what it is that drove you to do what you do. Ask yourself what you would regret not achieving in your work and life. Now ask yourself why this is important. Record a list of your values, needs and the way you would feel if you achieved your goals. Commit to two or three goals, and be accountable. – Jerome Zeyen, InsightHR Consulting
Read more in Three Steps To Overcoming Resistance
7. View Current Situation Objectively
One actionable step to help new clients define their goals is to view their current situation from an objective standpoint. By starting with the end in mind, the client is able to work backward until they reach their current position. Through this process, they will have identified the necessary steps that will allow them to ascend to their next levels. We have in us all that we need. – A. Margot Brisky, ELDA4U
8. Imagine A Well-Lived Life
Imagine yourself at the end of your life or career and ask yourself what accomplishments or measurable events will have happened in your lifetime that give you the sense that your life was satisfying and well lived. Now look at what steps would bring you there and what might get in the way. – Christine Pouliot, Evocent Coaching
9. Find A Mentor
A mentor is someone who can provide some realism to what you are planning. That person is probably not a family member (who might not be so honest at times). Treat your mentor as a colleague and professional, and seek them out to share your ideas, dreams and challenges. A mentor, especially one in the field you are aspiring to, can honestly critique your expectations. – David J. Smith, David J. Smith Consulting
10. Make A Commitment And Then Stay Consistent
Fantasizing about wanting something does not make that desire a reality. You can do anything that you really want to do. Commitment gets you started. Consistency makes you finish. Therefore, mostly what we get out of life is how much we are willing to handle to get through it. We want the reward, not the struggle; the result, not the process. We are in love with victory, not the battle. – Kasia Jamroz, Alyka Solutions
11. Develop Five Steps To Reach A Goal
I invite new clients to get very clear about their goals by summarizing the experience of their desired outcome in one word or a short phrase that will anchor their actions. Then I encourage them to develop five bold steps that they’ll take to embody that word or phrase. And finally, I support them to break it down into one daily action that will move the needle in the direction of those bold steps – Carolina Caro, Carolina Caro LLC
Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only, fee-based organization comprised of leading business coaches and career coaches. Find out if you qualify at Forbes Councils.…
Sometimes managers will let employees avoid accountability at work because they dislike confrontation. But a lack of individual accountability is bad all around.
It’s bad for the employees who likely know they aren’t performing well. For instance, a salesperson will probably know he is the only one who didn’t meet his sales goal. Without the encouragement and push to improve, he may feel ignored, discouraged and devalued, which may lead him to quit.
A lack of accountability at work sends a message to the rest of your staff that lower standards are OK. The team may begin to resent the low-performing employee and his or her manager because they have to shoulder more work to make up for their teammate’s deficiencies.
And if you don’t address the problem employee, the team may perceive it as favoritism or weakness, which can be demotivating for everyone.
But you can turn this trend around. Here’s how you can make sure everyone on your team is pulling their weight equally.
1. Have the difficult conversation
While holding employees accountable may sound confrontational, it doesn’t have to be. Just remember to focus on the performance, not the person. Assume that most people genuinely want to do a good job and aren’t being difficult on purpose.
Start with a specific example: “John, I noticed that XX happened. What’s your perspective of what went wrong here?”
Throughout your conversation, seek to understand why certain actions were taken or tasks were performed. Examples include: “Can you walk me through the process you followed here?” or “Did you experience a technical issue we need to fix?” or “Would it help if I sat in on your next meeting?”
Employees may not understand how their behavior affects other team members. Other common reasons for inadequate performance:
- The manager didn’t give clear instructions
- Extra training is needed
- There’s a technical issue
- A personal issue is seeping into work
- Conflicting priorities
2. Address the poor performance as soon as possible
Deal with the individual one-on-one and as quickly as possible. After all, nothing is likely to change unless you confront the problem. You also don’t want your frustration to build to the breaking point or for an employee’s non-performance to become a big issue.
You need to figure out the why behind the poor performance. This is where you’ll need to find a way to make your leadership style match the situation.
For example, a new employee may just need additional training, while an experienced employee has too much on their plate. A highly conscientious employee may do well with some coaching while a lazybones may respond better to heavy authority. Regardless, you need to be clear about the action or behavior you expect from the employee going forward and have suggestions for how to make that happen.
If you are dealing with a truly bad employee, don’t rely only on verbal communication. Written goals and instructions can help you both remain accountable. As a manager, you will be forced to think through what is really needed for performance to improve, and the employee won’t be able to make the excuse of “I didn’t understand” or “I didn’t know.”
3. Consider your employees’ feelings
Start with the assumption that people sometimes don’t understand the impact of their behavior. It’s your job as supervisor to be kind, find the root cause of the problem and establish a mutual way forward.
For example, Jasmine shows up late 30 minutes every day. After talking with her you’ve learned the reason is that she has to drop her child off at school before heading to work. In her previous position, her 8:30 start wasn’t a problem, but in her new position, it is.
First, explain why it’s important for everyone to start at 8 a.m., then seek to help her address the situation. Jasmine either needs to change her schedule, or you need to let her work a flex schedule. Based on her position and your company’s policies, you should be able to find a solution.
Throughout your conversation, concentrate on maintaining the employee’s self-esteem by showing concern for the individual as well as for the company’s needs.
4. Set SMART goals
When things are busy it may seem like a pain to stop and write down procedures, goals and policies. However, employees need to know what is expected of them in order to perform well and stay motivated.
If you find a consistent lack of accountability at work, it’s likely you need to create some written SMART goals. SMART stands for:
Developing SMART goals are a whole topic in itself, so there’s much more to learn than what is mentioned here. Just know that this tactic leaves little to the imagination and provides clear communication between employee and supervisor.
5. Follow through and follow up
After every conversation, write down what was said. You don’t have to report every issue to HR, but it helps to send an email to yourself and the employee to outline the problem that was addressed, the solutions you both agreed upon and the expectations for future behavior. This helps clarify the conversation for everyone involved, and gives you a paper trail should additional action be necessary.
Finally, follow up with John or Jasmine to see if they are performing as expected. This doesn’t have to be time-consuming. You can stop by the following morning to ask if the employee had any other questions or ideas after a night’s sleep. Then, follow up again in a week or so and ask how things are going. Or, ask the employee to follow up with you after a set amount of time.
You may need to help them make midstream adjustments to reach their goals. Best of all, praise them when you find them doing things right. Nothing encourages great work like focusing on the positive.
Find even more tips for improving your management skills. Download our free e-book, How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.
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Recently, one of our clients asked us how she could improve the culture of her business. She wanted her employees to be more engaged and to take “ownership.” We told her that, in simple terms, she was describing a culture of accountability.
What do accountable employees do differently? For one thing, they quickly acknowledge their mistakes and failures and focus on correcting the situation and learning from the experience. In addition, accountable employees don’t pass the buck or blame others. They keep their word and honor their commitments even when they would prefer not to. Finally, accountable employees push through and find a way to get the job done despite the various obstacles and setbacks.
Clearly, then, a culture of accountability is desirable — in any organization. And accountability, as we recently wrote, comes from the top. To create accountability at your own company, make sure you have solid, consistent leadership that demonstrates and rewards accountable behaviors. Have your leadership model the accountable traits you desire in your employees. To do that, build the culture you want using the following three important steps:
Hire people who will take responsibility.
You need great material from which to build your organization. Therefore, hiring the right people is important. You have probably heard that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Most HR professionals would agree that for hiring, it is important to probe for past behaviors and actions, and their results, to have a better idea of how an employee might perform in similar circumstances.
We suggest looking for people with a history of accountability. What types of roles have they held in the past? Did they seek out leadership positions in school, in personal pursuits or in previous jobs?
Ask interview questions about specific situations where an employee demonstrated accountable behaviors. For instance, ask about a time when, despite planning, the employee failed. Follow up with questions like, What did you learn from the failure? What did you do to resolve or fix the situation? What did you do differently the next time you were confronted with a similar situation?
Alternatively, you could ask about a time when this person chose to honor a commitment or do the right thing despite the fact that that action caused personal hardship. Again, follow up to get specifics. Listen carefully. Does the candidate blame other people, or make excuses, or does he/she take responsibility for the outcomes? Does he make disclosures? Does she focus on the problem or the solutions?
Set clear and measurable goals/expectations.
If you are going to hold employees accountable for delivering results, be explicit about exactly what results you expect. It can be helpful to involve the employee in the process. When employees feel they’ve helped in setting the goals, a sense of buy-in results. While SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused and time- bound) have been around for more than 30 years, they are still an effective management tool. With this tool, goals or expectations should be:
- Written — If you don’t write your expectations down, the chance for a misunderstanding of exactly what the goal is, increases exponentially.
- Specific and measurable — Broad generalizations such as “Improve performance” are not helpful. “Achieve sales of $1.3 million” is a much better goal. It is a specific, measurable goal, not open to interpretation. There can be no disagreement regarding whether the employee achieved such a goal.
- Achievable with effort — Goals that are too easy to attain aren’t useful. They will not drive performance. Goals that are unattainable will frustrate rather than motivate employees. Employees should see the goals as a real stretch, but achievable.
- Relevant — Ensure that goals are aligned with one other. They should also be aligned with the company’s overall goals and with the goals of other employees.
- Time- and resource-constrained — Be clear regarding when the goal must be achieved and the resources that the employee can use. Growing annual sales by 10 percent may be a wonderful goal, but if the employee achieves this by hiring six new salespeople or spending a million dollars on advertising, the cost may exceed the benefit.
You should delegate to specific accountable employees those key decisions that will affect results. For example, we often see well-meaning business owners attempt to hold an employee accountable for delivering results, but those owners don’t give the employee the authority to choose his/her team.
This is a mistake. Nothing impacts results more than the choice of who will do the work. If you are going to effectively hold people accountable for results, empower them to make the decisions that impact the results.
Measure and review results.
You should measure, track and review results with employees. Too often, we’ve seen goals developed, written down and put into a file. Either they are never discussed again or they are discussed a whole year later at the annual review.
Systematically reviewing an employee’s progress toward achieving a goal is much more effective. We believe that weekly one-on-one meetings work best to keep employees on track. However, in positions where progress toward goals naturally moves more slowly, you may decide to meet less frequently.
In this same context, however, we believe that meeting less than monthly defeats the process. Remember, what you measure and what you pay attention to is what you will get. If you focus on the most important goals and make them a priority, so will your employees.
During reviews, you may need to state that an employee is not on track to succeed; in that case, require him/her to develop a plan to address the deficiency. Berating the employee is not helpful. Instead, ask her/him what actions will correct the problem. If the response seems insufficient, coach the employee. Help develop a set of action steps to allow her/him to achieve the goal. Remember, as the manager, you are accountable for ensuring that your employees succeed. At the end of the day, if your employees fail to achieve their goals, you have failed as well.
The message, then, is that to create a culture of accountability, where employees are engaged and seek ownership, you should start by practicing what you preach. Once you are leading the way, you can use the steps outlined above to work with your employees to create the culture you desire.
Joint planning makes balancing work and home easier.
Joint planning makes balancing work and home easier.
Do a quick Google search of “work-life balance” and over 260 million results will flood your screen. But the current conversation often treats “work” and “life” as separate and, all too often, in tension. We make annual resolutions, detailed daily plans, and to-do lists, but we do so as individuals — generally not sharing those plans or planning jointly with those closest to us. And we often think of our personal and professional goals as occupying distinct and separate spheres. But what if the work and home “spheres” could merge and actually improve the odds that we’ll achieve our goals?
Research shows that it’s easier to achieve our goals when we’re not trying to go it alone. One recent research paper found a positive correlation between participation in digital communities and reaching fitness goals. Similarly, a study of rowers found that their working together in training heightened their threshold for pain.
For many of us, our closest and most trusted companion is a spouse. Couples in committed, long-term relationships often see each other every day, but rarely plan or set resolutions together. By not doing so, couples may actually be making it harder to achieve their goals. This January, we fully integrated our personal planning for the year for the first time. We’ve always informally mentioned our goals to each other, but this time around, we talked with intentionality about why we were chasing those goals, and how we planned to get there. By including each other in the process, we invited the other to not only be aware of what we plan to accomplish this year, but also to hold us accountable as we strive to reach these goals. And our experience combined with research we’ve evaluated and other couples we’ve consulted with have led us to a few tips for effective planning as a couple.
First, start with an annual board meeting. Several years ago, we attended a seminar where speakers Rick and Jill Woolworth introduced the idea of an “annual meeting” for families — taking time at the end of each year to evaluate that year and plan for the next. Establishing this as a family norm assures that goal-setting happens on a set schedule rather than haphazardly or in isolation. For us, this happened over the holidays between Christmas and the new year, and included a discussion of the past year, how we performed against our goals, and how we felt about life as a couple and individuals. We wrote out our specific goals for the year and the habits we hoped to develop. Then we discussed them and how each of us could help the other achieve each goal. These annual meetings provide accountability, but more importantly, lay a vision for the year ahead. Then, as so many have advised, break these annual goals into habits, monthly and weekly goals, and daily to-dos.
By talking about your goals with your spouse and writing them down, you’ve already improved your odds of success. In Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive, authors Robert Cialdini, Noah Goldstein, and Steve Martin explain how making an active commitment directly affects action. In one of the studies they reference, researchers found that of a group of individuals who passively agreed to participate in a volunteer project, only 17% showed up to participate. Contrast that with those who agreed to volunteer through active means (writing it down, signing a contract, etc.), 49% appeared as promised. Writing down specific goals and sharing them with your partner is like signing a contract. This not only increases social accountability, but it also allows your partner to think about specific ways in which they can act to support you in achieving your goals.
The second essential component of annual planning as a couple is setting joint goals. What do you hope to achieve as a couple or (if relevant) for your children? What habits do you hope to develop together? According to one source, for example, only 30% of people surveyed felt they had achieved work-life balance despite it being second only to compensation among factors that lead to job satisfaction. The person with whom you share your life is likely the best person to help you plan for balancing it. And joint goals can assure that your personal and professional pursuits are more fully aligned.
HBR Guide to Getting the Right Work Done
Once you’ve made your plans, help hold each other accountable. When you invite someone to join you in setting and striving for goals, you are not only asking them to cheer you on when you reach certain landmarks, you are also empowering them to point out when you are unfocused or off track. This requires recognizing that constructive feedback can be hard to hear from a partner, and letting go of some ego and pride.
Finally, in addition to conducting an annual meeting, check in on progress at the end of each month. While it is admirable to set aside time to do annual planning as a couple, this isn’t enough to really make things happen. Allow yourself regular checkpoints throughout the year in order to see where you are in developing habits and reaching your goals. Make it fun. Schedule a babysitter and go out on a date night. Keep the focus of the conversation on the progress and setbacks of the month and how you might continue that progress where things are going well and intervene where a goal or habit is off course. Some couples might be tempted to do this weekly — but often monthly feedback is about the right balance for a couple to bear.
Planning for both professional and personal goals with your partner can help you better care for one another, assure that you’re both focused on the issues that matter most, and enlist your biggest supporter in helping you to achieve your goals and get things done.
How to Achieve Your Lifelong Dreams
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Don’t let your goals and resolutions fall by the wayside. Chances are that to achieve your dreams and live a life you love, those goals and resolutions are crucial. Goal setting and goal achievement are easier if you follow these six steps for effective and successful goal setting and lifelong resolution accomplishment. See how effective this recommended path is for you.
Deeply Desire the Goal or Resolution
Napoleon Hill, in his landmark book, “Think and Grow Rich,” had it right.
“The starting point of all achievement is DESIRE. Keep this constantly in mind. Weak desires bring weak results, just as a small amount of fire makes a small amount of heat.”
So, your first step in goal setting and achieving your dreams is that you’ve got to really, really want to achieve the goal.
Visualize Yourself Achieving the Goal
Lee Iacocca said, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”
What will your achievement feel like? How will your life unfold differently as a result of your achievement?
If the goal is an object, a trip, or anything that can be visual in nature, some gurus of goal setting recommend that you keep a picture of the item or destination where you see and are reminded of it every day. If you can’t picture yourself achieving the goal, chances are you won’t.
Make a Plan for a Path to Follow to Accomplish the Goal
Create action steps to follow. Identify a critical path. The critical path defines the key accomplishments along the way, the most important steps that must happen for the goal to become a reality.
Stephen Covey said, “All things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation and a physical or second creation of all things. You have to make sure that the blueprint, the first creation, is really what you want, that you’ve thought everything through. Then you put it into bricks and mortar. Each day you go to the construction shed and pull out the blueprint to get marching orders for the day. You begin with the end inmind.”
Commit to the Goal by Writing It Down
Lee Iacocca said, “The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.”
Many professional consultants and coaches agree completely and recommend this step to accomplish your goals. Write down the plan, the action steps, and the critical path. Somehow, writing down the goal, the plan, and a timeline sets events in motion that may not have happened otherwise.
It is as if you are making a deeper commitment to goal accomplishment. You can’t fool yourself later. The written objective really was the goal. People have pulled written goals out of their desk drawers years after writing them down only to discover that they have achieved them. Written goals are powerful.
Check Your Progress Frequently
Whatever you use, a day planner, an online calendar or notetaking system, a smartphone, or a handwritten list, make sure that you check your progress frequently. People have been known to start their day by looking at their goals and then, scheduling time or action steps to move closer to the end they have in mind. If you’re not making progress or feel stymied, don’t let your optimism keep you from accomplishing your goals.
No matter how positively you are thinking, you need to assess your lack of progress. Adopt a pessimist’s viewpoint; something will and probably is, going to go wrong. Take a look at all of the factors that are keeping you from accomplishing your goal and develop a plan to overcome them. Add these plan steps to your calendar system as part of your goal achievement plan.
Adjust Your Plan if Progress Slows
Make sure that you are making progress. If you are not making progress, hire a coach, tap into the support of loved ones, analyze why the goal is not being met. Don’t allow the goal to just fade away. Figure out what you need to do to accomplish it.
Check the prior five steps starting with an assessment of how deeply you actually want to achieve the goal. The more deeply you want to obtain it, generally, the more motivated you will feel in the face of both optimism and pessimism.
The Bottom Line
This six-step goal setting and achieving system seems simple, but it is a powerful system for achieving your goals and resolutions and even living your dreams. You just need to do it. Best wishes and good luck on your journey to accomplishing your life goals and resolutions. Enjoy the journey.