Goal-setting guidance for project leads and would-be jugglers alike
It’s time to make big, crazy things happen
Maybe you want to land a promotion by next year. Or finally launch your Etsy store. Or run a marathon and read at least two books every month. Is this the year you master water skiing while juggling a flaming baton?
There’s a smorgasbord of things you want to achieve for yourself, and likely for your team too. You’re all looking forward to launching a new product and/or overhauling your existing and totally-full-of-kinks workflow.
You may go on autopilot when you’re setting your sights on your next win, but what you’re also doing is goal setting.
What is goal setting?
Goal setting is a pretty broad topic, but if we had to boil it down to a simple definition, we’d say this: goal setting is the process of determining an objective that you want to work toward.
There are tons of different frameworks and theories out there, all of them geared toward helping you reach your goals.
Speaking of goals, spare us a moment to be a bit obvious here. There are two distinct types of goals: short-term and long-term ones.
A short-term goal says what it says; it’s something you hope to achieve in the relatively near future, generally within the next year. That could be beating your best five-mile run time by the end of this month or working with your team to roll out a new onboarding process by the end of the quarter.
Your long-term goals need more of your time. They’re things that you could be working toward for more than a year — or even several.
An example of a long-term goal could be running your department in the next five years, or opening a pooch-pampering studio by the time you’re 40. Maybe your team hopes to eventually stop outsourcing and pull everything you do in-house.
Juggling short-term and long-term goals at the same time really keeps you on your toes, but the good news is that the process for setting them is exactly the same.
Why goal setting is worth the sweat
Pop quiz: why is goal setting important? Way more than just a to-do or a motion to go through, goal setting has plenty of perks. Here are just a few of them:
1. Find your focus
It’s not hard to think of things you and your team want to accomplish. On any given day, you might want to show that day’s to-do list who’s boss, have a killer brainstorming session with your team, and decide on your group costume that’s bound to win your company-wide contest.
Your brain is jam-packed with the things that you’d like to get done. But, actually making all of those things happen is where the trouble starts.
That’s the beauty of goal setting. It makes you think through what you need and create a timeline for getting it all done. With this groundwork in place, you’re better able to focus your efforts and energy on the things you most want to conquer.
2. Stay on track
In our definition of goal setting, you’ll notice we used the word “process.” That’s because goal setting isn’t something that should be done haphazardly; it calls for a structured approach.
Most frameworks and theories say to get specific, consider important metrics, set an end date, and lay the foundation for making your goal a reality.
This structure allows you to monitor your progress and stay on the right path way more than you would if you just had a loose ambition rattling around in the back of your mind.
3. Motivate yourself
Setting a goal feels way more permanent and definite than just saying, “Oh, hopefully we’ll get to that thing eventually…”
That’s the point. Goal setting boosts accountability for you and your team, which means you’re far more inspired to follow through.
Kickstart your motivation by sharing that goal with someone you trust (yep, your team members count). In one study from Dominican University, 70% of participants who set a goal and then sent progress updates to a friend touted achievement.
How to set goals you want to stick to
You want to taste sweet victory too, right? Here’s what you need to do.
1. Pick a goal-setting program
In some ways, setting a goal could be as simple as downloading a podcast for your commute. If you follow a framework, you’ll make sure everything comes together smoothly. Here are just a few to consider:
- SMART goals: SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. When working SMART, your goals checks all these boxes. Find out more details about SMART goals, as well as some SMART objective examples to get started.
- Objectives and key results (OKRs): When setting OKRs, you’ll come up with high-level, qualitative, and aspirational goals (remember, OKRs are supposed to be lofty!) and assign a result and an owner for each. Then you’ll use OKR scoring at regular intervals to check your progress, detect objectives at risk of being unmet, and course-correct as necessary.
We use this goal-setting methodology here at Atlassian, and we even have a handy OKR template you can use to do this yourself. You can also check out this playbook for more OKR best practices and OKR examples.
- Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): KPIs often get confused with OKRs. But, an OKR vs. KPI matchup shows how they differ. Unlike with an OKR, KPIs require that you assign a measurable target to an existing project or process. For example, you want to improve the effectiveness of your customer support team. You could assign a KPI of a specific number of resolved customer tickets per week. KPIs also use things called “leading indicators” and “lagging indicators” to predict future success versus demonstrating past success in achieving results.
There’s no one right framework to choose. It’s all about what you need, and what easily gets you to water-skiing-and-flaming-baton-juggling master status.
2. Be specific
Regardless of what framework you land on, it’s important to get specific about what you’re trying to achieve. It’s hard to work with vague objectives like “serve our customers better” and “be a happier team,” and it’s even harder to track progress toward those nebulous goals.
That’s why you need to challenge yourself to dig deeper and drill down to a specific end game. Ask yourself, “What does being a ‘happier team’ really look like?” Maybe that means having more time for bonding outside of work projects. Okay, how? By hosting regularly scheduled happy hours and team-wide events.
By continuing to get down to the nitty-gritty, you might end up with a goal that’s way more clear-cut like, “Schedule regular team activities.” That provides far more direction than “be a happier team.”
3. Make it measurable
You’ve articulated what you want to achieve, but now you have to sort out when it’s time to pat yourself on the back. You need to know what success looks like.
Let’s return to our team bonding example for some clarity. What does it mean to “regularly” host those get-togethers? How often? Lock all this down with a number you can stick to so that you can hold yourself accountable.
When you’re done, your goal might look something like this: “Schedule at least one team-wide activity per month.”
Now you know exactly what you expect of yourself and your team. But, remember that this isn’t a set-and-forget exercise. You actually have to follow through and track how well you’re doing. Here on the Confluence team, we use Signals and Measures to keep a close eye on our goal progress. You can find out more about those in this playbook.
4. Set a deadline
Goals usually don’t get to stretch out into infinity exactly as they are; they either come to an end or they evolve.
Here’s where your deadline comes in, especially for goals that don’t require daily effort. Set an end date so you know exactly how long you have to achieve your objective.
Your deadline can be a date, a period of time, a big hurrah in the future, or all three. For example, when it comes to getting your team out and about for some time together, giving yourself a deadline changes your goal to something like, “Schedule at least one team-wide activity per month and share the calendar of upcoming events by the first Thursday of every quarter.”
Having that firm end date keeps you on track because you know you don’t have forever to get it done.
5. Write it down
Take that goal you worked so hard on, write it down, and then put it somewhere you look at every day. Tape it to your computer monitor or your bathroom mirror. Add it to your calendar or smart assistant on your phone. Or, tell your team and ask them to help you stay on the program by checking in with you regularly.
Obviously, writing down your objective isn’t legally binding or anything. However, you might be surprised that, even without the threat of legal action, it can up your chances of achieving what you set out to do.
In that same study from Dominican University, participants were more likely to accomplish their goals if they wrote them down, even if they didn’t actually share them with anyone. A separate Harvard Business study found that 3% of graduates from their MBA who had their goals written down ended up earning 10 times as much as the other 97% put together, just 10 years after graduation.
When writing down your goal, you’ll want to keep all the details in one place: your deadline, action plan, and any supporting resources (think things like card trick instructions or a log of your practice time!) you might need. Using Confluence is an awesome way to document your goals, monitor your progress, and keep that supporting information together, as it allows for flexibility and growth as your goal evolves.
6. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize
You did it, you focused, driven, super-achieving goal maven. And that’s it. You’re done!
Now that you’re a certified goal-smasher, you’re likely to have many things you want to achieve at any given moment. Unfortunately, there’s only one you, and cloning oneself isn’t a thing yet. And trying to achieve too many things at once is going to feel a lot like trying to juggle flaming batons on water skis (while blindfolded, no less). Your attention and energy will be all over the place.
You’ll have better luck if you put all your goals in order of importance and value, start with the first one, and then chip away at the others from there.
A prioritization matrix can help you with this. It’ll guide you in categorizing your goals based on their urgency and their impact, so you can make sure you’re starting with your most important effort.
How to set goals you can achieve
If only setting the goal was the goal. That would make things a lot easier, but you won’t get very far with that approach.
This is where a lot of people and teams fall short. They assume saying the thing is the same as doing the thing. Avoid this trap by creating an action plan.
1. Take one step at a time
Have a goal that is so overwhelming you have no idea where to even start? We’re here for you.
Here’s the plan: break that big rock into more manageable, pebble-sized pieces. For example, if you’re launching your company’s open enrollment period for the upcoming year, you could break that project down like so:
- Determine what benefits changed since last year
- Edit documents and update charts
- Announce changes at company all hands meeting
- Schedule and plan open enrollment
- Update corporate website and onboarding materials
Breaking a behemoth goal into mini ones makes getting started way easier and less intimidating. It also keeps you motivated by serving up little victories along the way. It all ties back to the Progress Principle, which states that small wins can really light a fire under you to keep moving forward.
2. Sort out your resources
What do you need to reach each milestone and start your victory dance parties? What supplies, how much time, and what skills will move you through each step toward the end goal?
If you want to be ready to announce the changes at your next company all hands meeting, you know you need to be ready by the first Thursday of next month. That means you need to get moving — especially since you think it’s going to take your team at last a week just to nail down what’s changed and update all of the documentation.
Outline what you need right now, so you can start planning and lining up resources. That will hopefully keep you from running into any frustrating bottlenecks when you’re in the process of working toward your goal.
3. Set a timeline
You have your milestones and a solid grasp of what you need. But, your approach is still a bit fuzzy and you’re not clear on how to actually start doing the work. It’s time to put your milestones in a workflow.
Your final step in goal setting is placing those milestones in an order that makes sense. That can be based on things like importance or the amount of time each needs, or there’s already a set sequence that your leadership has asked you to follow.
For your company’s open enrollment, you know that you can’t update the website and onboarding materials until you edit all of the relevant, internal documents and charts. You can’t get that done until you figure out what’s changed from last year.
Once you move those pieces around, you’ve built a roadmap that you can follow to the end. Bust out your happy dance, and then get to work!
Make goal setting your not-so-secret weapon
Whether it’s running a marathon or overhauling an outdated team process, you have quite a few personal and team-wide ambitions to get moving on. Churning on them doesn’t help you take steps forward.
The goal-setting process gives you defined steps that you can follow to set a clear objective and motivate yourself to get moving.
Follow the steps and you’ll be well on your way to moving your objectives from “to do” to “done.” We’re rooting for you!
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