Why do so many good opportunities never come to fruition? Why is it for all our genuinely good intentions we can’t quite lose that last five pounds, save that extra 5% in our budget, or execute that really good idea at work? January is likely considered as “hunting season” on plans and aspirations as the New Year’s resolutions so many have made often come to an untimely end. In fact, a recent article in Forbes cites a University of Scranton studies demonstrating only 8% of all New Year’s resolutions are achieved.

Only about 8% of New Year’s resolutions are actually achieved.

How is it that we seem to find ourselves at this point so often? Situations and context change. What was once a good goal may no longer matter (why make yourself miserable to ace that stats class if you’ve just changed your major to something totally unrelated?). In reality, the majority of time a goal dies it is because there really wasn’t a strategy to make it happen in the first place. My prior post shares why it is important to have a planning strategy behind your goals. It also introduces steps that will serve as both an effective guide and also may be used to communicate to a team you are leading exactly what the project is seeking to accomplish.

Before deciding and defining a potential goal you should make sure you have a clear understanding of these five items:

  1. A clear understanding of the goal.
  2. A clear understanding of the current circumstances.
  3. A clear understanding of the future circumstances once the goal is achieved.
  4. A clear understanding of the steps needed to get to that future.
  5. A clear understanding of the payoffs of getting there.

The first step may seem like a no-brainer but lack of definition and understanding at this point risks an end product that isn’t what you were looking for when you began. You may think it doesn’t take too much extra thought on a personal goal. If the goal is to run a 10K then that seems pretty clear, right? I would strongly argue, however, that if you don’t properly understand the “why” of this then your chance of not achieving it skyrocket. Why is this critical? Because when one understands the “why” behind something then excuses don’t hold up. Let’s go back to the example of running in a 10K race. If the goal is simply that then a cold and rainy season can let you off the hook. There’s always a later race, right? But if you understand your “why” (eg: I want to run a 10K in April because every step I take in exercise makes me more healthy and helps ensure I’ll be able to enjoy a high quality of life with my kids someday) then you become much less willing to accept excuses. Taking the extra steps of adding specificity (I’ll run a race in April) also creates a needed sense of urgency. When items have a good “why” then we understand they are important. Creating urgency keeps it in front of us. Important and urgent things simply get done in one’s life.

Creating urgency keeps a goal in front of you. Important and urgent things get done.

Understanding the why becomes even more important when you are leading a project team through the goal. Everyone has had the experience of a seemingly simply statement being read two different ways by two different people. If your team does not understand specifically what they are doing and why from you then they naturally will fill in the blanks themselves. This greatly increases the risk of someone hijacking the direction of the project, missing completely what you were thinking was going to be achieved, or worse allowing the scope of the project to grow beyond what simply needs to be done. In his recent book, Mission Drift Peter Greer does a great job of how losing sight of the “why” has caused entire organizations to lose what once was their central reason for existence. If not having a clear definition of your “why” can change the direction of organizations it can certainly wreak havoc on your personal goals and the goals of the teams you lead.

To recap, if you want goals to be achieved in both your personal and professional life you must:

  1. Clearly define and understand the “why” of your goal.
  2. Clearly define and understand the importance of appropriate “urgencies” in that goal.
  3. Clearly define and communicate the “why” to your team and keep it in front of them through the process.

Taking these steps not only keeps the you and your team moving toward the goal it also helps you know when the goal has been achieved. Not only that, understanding the “why” helps make the celebration sweet because all involved know significant and important work has been completed.

Next up, Step 2: Understanding the Present.