With the New Year inching closer, you’re probably starting to come up with some good ol’ New Year’s Resolutions. In the workplace, these goals usually involve getting a promotion or performing better at work. You’ve kind of slacked off achieving these throughout the year, but next year will be the year you’ll blow their socks off. New year, new me.
But wait – did this even work last year? Take a second to see if you call to mind one person you know that has accomplished their New Year’s Resolution. It’s hard, right? Well, it’s not surprising. It turns out only 8% of people who set New Years Resolutions actually stick to them. So what are people doing wrong? Looking at the research, we found the top 7 ways people set goals wrong.
1. You Don’t Write Them Down
The second you want to start on a goal path, first thing’s first – write it down!
This can be by hand, in an app, or on a note on your computer. Merely thinking about a goal actually tricks your brain into thinking you’ve already achieved it because you only use the right side of your brain – the imaginative side. Writing it down, however, also triggers the left side of your brain – the logical, planning, side. Using both sides of the brain solidifies the goal across multiple neural networks, making it a more concrete concept.
Writing things down helps after you’ve set the goal, too. Keeping a list of your successes not only lets your brain put a mental “checkmark” on any completed tasks (known as the Zeigarnik Effect), but also keeps you accountable. Accountable to whom, you may ask? That brings me to the next mistake you’re making…
2. You Keep Your Goals to Yourself
Share your goals! Especially in the workplace, let coworkers, team leaders or management help you achieve your
goals by keeping you on-target and accountable for completing them. In a study conducted at the Dominican University of California, 70% people who set goals and sent weekly progress updates to their friends accomplished their goals, compared to only 35% of the people who kept their goals to themselves. The researchers in this study proposed that it because it prevents you from procrastinating, since you are being monitored.
The added benefit of finding this “goal buddy” is that they can provide coaching and help you identify your strengths and weaknesses in your goal achievement process.
3. You Don’t Define Your Goals Properly
Every time you set new goals, remember the three ingredients to well-defined goals: they are specific, measurable, and time-bound. This will make it easier for you to figure out how to achieve them, keep you organized, and motivate you.
- Specific – you need to drill down and get specific as possible. You can’t just say “be more productive,” but rather outline how you will go about being more productive. “Decrease time spent preparing presentations by x minutes” is a much clearer statement for you to conceptualize.
- Measurable – like in the last example, attach a measure to quantify your success. Whether by minutes, hours, level of satisfaction, pay, number of projects, etc., attaching a value to your goal will help you track success much more easily.
- Time-bound – add a deadline! Make this a bit earlier than what you think is likely so it will motivate you to work faster. This also helps let anyone involved in your goal process to know when to check in on your progress, keeping that accountability going.
4. You Don’t Personally Endorse Your Goals
What’s the point of setting goals you don’t actually want to achieve? Of course, lots of companies set expectations for their staff, but it’s important that you also set goals that help you grow and improve in your career.
When companies empower their employees to set their own goals, it helps them stay engaged with your work and reduce the likelihood of burnout. This is because it makes people feel competent and autonomous, two fundamental psychological needs, which have been shown to foster intrinsic motivation.
If you find you or your employees are feeling unmotivated to set or accomplish any goals at work, you may want to take a step back and reevaluate the problem. Consider whether the job is posing enough of a challenge and providing enough autonomy, and find out new ways to leadership and staff can promote growth and achievement.
5. You Set Goals That Don’t Align With Your Organization’s Goals
Your work goals should always align with your company’s goals. Say your company’s goal is to reduce costs by 25%. If you’re the head of HR, you can contribute by setting your team goal to decrease employee turnover by 15%. Then, your staff can create individual goals that help achieve your team goal (e.g., increase level of internal communication; restructure budget towards 5 more annual staff excursions).
Having cascading goals requires leadership to set transparent, well-defined (see above) company goals and make sure they are communicated and understood throughout the company. Research shows that when people can apply their goals to a desired end-state, their brains are more motivated to approach the goal with eagerness. In contrast, setting goals without an external “relevance signal” hinders the mental accessibility and activation of the goal, thus making goal pursuit harder. If you find that you or your employees aren’t feeling motivated in their goal pursuit, consider if it’s because it’s how management set their goals.
6. Your Stretch Goals Are Too Stretched
Stretch goals are goals that are slightly out of reach, but not unrealistic. For example, if your company is currently at a 75% customer satisfaction rate with a customer support staff of 3, an attainable stretch goal might only be 85%, whereas a team of 10 support staff may be able to get that number up to 95%.
Companies must be aware of the resources they provide to their staff to achieve their goals, and help them operate within them. According to a study at the Harvard Business School, when goal expectations are too high, it reduces intrinsic motivation and dampens self-confidence. Even worse, it may lead to unethical behaviour or risk-taking (we all have that coworker that cheated their way to a promotion). In contrast, if you set goals too low, you’re likely to get bored in the goal pursuit.
That being said, it is then the employee’s responsibility to acknowledge their personal strengths and resources to achieve the goals, and set their own goals accordingly. Get someone else involved in this process (find that goal buddy!) to help you assess the goal for any weaknesses.
7. You Set Too Many Goals
Keep your goals to a minimum! Having too many goals makes you lose track on all of them, and you’ll find yourself jumping around too much and making little progression on each of them individually. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research showed that we can stick to one goal plan quite easily, but it is much harder to carry out an implementation plan when working on multiple goals. Trying to achieve more than five goals at a time undermines commitment because it draws the attention to the difficulty of executing them all at once. It’s great to be a go-getter, but don’t pretend you’re the king or queen of multitasking – it’s better to shine on a few things than do a lacklustre job on many.
You may even feel overwhelmed with less than 5 goals. When you have any more than one goal, make sure the goals don’t conflict with each other in order to effectively multitask. This is because conflicting goals puts stress on the frontopolar cortex, which is in charge of organizing pending goals while the brain completes another task. If you find your goals conflict, consider putting some on pause until the others are finished.
So if you plan on setting some new goals in the new year, keep these 7 things in mind so you don’t fall into that 92% of people who give up. Click here to print an infographic you can print and hang in the office to help you and your coworkers set better goals today.
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