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Effective goal setting for stellar business leadership

Marker pen highlighting 'leadership' - Mary-Rose McLean

Good business leaders understand effective goal setting. And they never give up.

If you’ve ever made a new year’s resolution, you know how easy it is to drop it by February. Vague ideas of what you’d like to do, or what you should do, rarely translate to effective change. And it’s the same in business.

To progress in business and be a great leader, you need a vision. But more than that, you need a plan to turn that vision into reality.

Effective goal setting is achievable goal setting

Don’t forget that the journey matters as much as the final goal. Let’s take an example. If your goal in 2019 is to make a profit of £100,000, don’t just focus on the end result.

What’s just as important as getting to your goal, is how you get there. Think about your goal and why you want to achieve it. What’s behind your motivation for success? How can you make it happen, and how can this journey improve the way you work and live? If you grow and learn along the way, that’s part of the success.

Is your goal realistic?

Let’s take a look first at what we want to achieve vs what we can achieve. So many people give up their business and personal goals because they realise that they’ve set the bar too high. Don’t overestimate what you can really achieve this year. Set your sights on goals that can be reasonably achieved in 12 months. This will lessen the chances of becoming overwhelmed, missing your goals or losing yourself along the way.

If your business goal is something that will obviously take longer, think about setting a benchmark at 12 months. Nail down the best steps to take to achieve a long-term goal to give you a foundation to build on.

Be SMART

You may have heard of SMART goals, but do you employ them in business every day? Effective goals are always SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time Bound).

Business acronyms are often thrown around in planning meetings, and they’re not always useful. But SMART goal setting is a good foundation for your plan. Here’s why:

SPECIFIC – your ultimate business goal should be well defined. Ditch the vagueness. Remember that goals such as “I want to make a lot of money this year” are unhelpful. This is because there’s no direction and no plan, just a vague overall aim. By defining the specificity of your business goals, it becomes simpler to plan how you will get there.

To properly set the specifics, think about ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘why’ and ‘how’. Include details of the targets you’re aiming for, put a time limit it on it, remind yourself of the drive behind the goal and spend some time working out the how.

MEASURABLE – be precise with your goal setting. Include exact dates, amounts, deadlines and accountability measurements. If your goal is to ‘reduce unnecessary expenses’, without setting deadlines, you will have no way of knowing how you’re progressing. If you have no defined way to measure successes, you miss out on your own achievements.

By making your goal properly measurable, you’re holding yourself to account. You’ll also know definitively when to congratulate yourself on achieving it. If you reach your initial goal earlier than you planned, adjust it along the way.

ATTAINABLE – it’s got to be feasible to reach your goals. By setting impossible goals, you will lose confidence and demotivate your business. Conversely, you don’t want to set goals that are too easy to reach. Achieving something that wasn’t difficult is anticlimactic and unhelpful.

You want to hit the sweet spot between ‘difficult’ and ‘impossible’. This might take you some time and practice. If your goals are too easy, you’ll likely lose motivation. If they’re impossible, you’ll shoot yourself in the foot and stop trying.

RELEVANT – don’t cast your business net too wide. Your business plan forms the overall direction for your business or career. Keep your goals in line with the direction you want to take, and you will automatically develop the focus necessary to move forward. If your goals are too scattered, you’ll waste time and lose focus.

By keeping your business goals realistic, you will avoid burn out or trying to go too fast too soon. It might seem counter-productive to turn down work or limit your goals, but to be realistic, you might need to do that.

TIME-BOUND – you must put a deadline on your goals. Deadlines increase your focus and sense of urgency, allowing you to reach goals more quickly. Look at ways you can break down your overall goal into smaller sprints to keep you on track.

Write goals down to make them stick

Physically writing your career, business or even personal goals down makes them tangible. The words will stop you forgetting or allowing difficult achievements to slip. When you write, watch the language used. Frame it positively and powerfully to help you envision success.

There is strong statistical back-up for making a habit of setting goals. A Harvard Business School study discovered that while just 3% of MBA students interviewed wrote their goals down, they also wound up earning ten times more than the other 97% just a decade after graduation.

Making your SMART goals visible activates different brain synapses. Try sitting down and drawing your goals or using colours and different materials to construct them. The creativity of this goal-setting method helps you break out of purely rational thinking and helps to make your goals stick in mind’s eye.

Feel your goals

If you’re thinking that writing down goals consists of dashing off a quick list and then leaving it on one side, think again. Rather than writing simple statements, try writing a few paragraphs on what it would feel like to reach your goal. Imagining you’ve already achieved your goal allows you to begin mapping out the steps you need to take from here to there.

Take decisive action and share goals

When you’re happy with your carefully considered goals, take action immediately to kickstart the process. Even if all you do is take a small step towards your goals, this is significant. By getting out of the blocks straight away you will foster a sense of forward momentum and immediate progress.

Successful change follows lots of small steps, so don’t feel intimidated into drastic action. When you’re on your way, don’t forget to acknowledge every win and regularly review your goals.

Lots of people worry about making business goals public in case they fail to achieve them. But sharing your goals will keep you focused and accountable. When you say something aloud to another person, you are making a commitment to achieve. It’s now bigger than you and you must work to make it happen.

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