What’s Your Plan?

Admiral Josh Painter, "Hunt for Red October"

"Russians don't take a dump, son, without a plan." - Admiral Josh Painter, "The Hunt for Red October"

I can watch the film adaptation of Tom Clancy’s “The Hunt for Red October” over and over again, much to my wife’s chagrin especially when Cinemax decides to play it repeatedly (and you factor in the East and West Coast feeds) and one of my favorite lines comes from Fred Thompson as Admiral Josh Painter:

“Russians don’t take a dump, son, without a plan.”

Some people discount the value of New Years resolutions. Probably because few people follow through on them or from the standpoint that you should really be making those sort of self-analytical decisions on an ongoing basis.  That said, I don’t think that there is harm to them either.  The week between Christmas and New Years and the first couple of weeks of January tend to be slow, making it a perfect time to take a step back, look at where you are, and come up with some goals of where you want to go.

What’s a goal?

In his course EntreLeadership, Dave Ramsey defines goals as “bite sized visions” that convert those visions into reality, much in the same way that a tactic is a tangible element of a strategy. For goals to work, whether for business or personal, Ramsey suggests that “if you want to actually achieve your goals this year, then consider the following”:

  1. Be specific. If you’re vague, you are more likely to spin your wheels, which wastes time until you realize you need to narrow them down.  It can also cause you to feel like you’re not getting anywhere, which can cause you to give up.
  2. Make your goals measurable. How do you know you achieved your goal if it can’t be quantified? Measurable goals allow you to track progress and adjust accordingly. It also motivates you when you can chart progress.
  3. Are they your goals? Don’t let someone else set your goals for you.  If you don’t own them, your heart won’t be in it to achieve them.
  4. Set a time limit. Associating time frames to your measurable goals will help you pace yourself for success or make you realize that you need to step it up.
  5. Put them in writing. Written goals give you something to review and have the satisfaction of checking off.

Corporate, Team and Individual Goals

If your company or client have goals, how can you and your team meet them or set them for yourselves?  Similarly, if you suffer from a lack of goals in your personal life, the repercussions of that can spill over into your professional life.  The reverse is also true in that frustrations from your office can come home with you and have negative effects on you personally.  For these reasons, you need a balance of goals set at multiple levels.

Shared Goals

Developing shared goals at the corporate and team levels (both internally at your company and externally with your clients if you work in an agency setting) gives you a vision of where you want to go.  Communication is essential as the operative word is shared; whether it is between management and staff or between you and your client. Shared goals can’t be dictated from one direction only, which goes back to point #3 above.

Wise leaders and customers will recognize that they do not know everything and that for there to be “buy in”, those who will be executing the work need to have a voice and understand why the eventual shared goals have been chosen. If not, they may pull in different directions because they don’t clearly understand them.  Even worse they may resent the goals, giving them half-hearted effort, mutter discontent among themselves, or in the worst case scenario actively work against them.

During the American Revolution, the task of training the Continental Army fell to a Prussian officer who came to America as a volunteer by the name of Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. While he gave himself the title of baron, based on a falsified lineage prepared by his father, luckily this was coupled with real military experience. Realizing he was dealing with a different kind of soldier than in Europe, he recognized that he needed to appeal to their love and confidence” of the cause and treat them differently.

“The genius of this nation,” Steuben explained in a letter to a Prussian officer, “is not in the least to be compared with that of the Prussians, Austrians, or French. You say to your soldier, ‘Do this,’ and he does it; but I am obliged to say, ‘This is the reason why you ought to do that,’ and then he does it.”

If management and staff or agency comes up with their shared goals together and both sides buy into the reasons why they should be your goals, you’ll have a much greater chance of success.

Individual Goals: Professional and Personal

In addition to the goals that you share with your employer and/or client, you need to have individual goals as well, both professional and personal. These should include:

Career: “Where do see yourself in five years?” may be a job interview cliché, but if you don’t know the answer, what will your motivation be to do your best at work? You will simply exist, not strive to grow an excel, which does neither you or your employer/customer any good.

Social: If you don’t believe that “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” doesn’t have negative consequences, just watch “The Shining”. It also doesn’t mean that you need to descend into the self-destructive “work hard, play hard” stereotype either. As with all things, balance is the key. A lack of social success will lead to burn out which will manifest itself in your work. Socializing is also important in networking, which can generate new business for your employer, make connections that can benefit your client, or open career opportunities for you. Professional organizations like the Public Relations Society of America and International Association of Business Communicators can serve double duty, both getting you out of the house and helping to further your professional connections, and more informal social and professional groups can be found on Meetup.com.

Spiritual: Spiritual goals can take a variety of forms — be they religious in nature, philosophical, or self-reflective — but whatever form works best for you need to be a part of your individual professional and personal goals. Healthy spiritual goals will give you clarity on your other goals, help you with ethical questions at the work place, and give you strength when you may be slipping in one of the other areas.

Intellectual: Intellectual goals may be the most common area where employers do see value in supporting an individual goal, in the form of professional development. Motivational speaker Charlie “Tremendous” Jones was quoted as saying “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” Professionally, you’ll be the same employee you are today in five years except for the trade magazines/blogs you read and the classes you take. If your employer offers professional development opportunities, be sure to take them. Be sure to keep the fact that this is a goal though in mind.  Many people rack up thousands of dollars of student loan debt getting degrees because they think education will magically change things. If that learning isn’t in furtherance of a goal (which is specific, measurable, yours, with a time frame, and in writing), you may be disappointed.

Family: Family goals are often an area where employers are understanding, but some times they aren’t at all. In regards to your work, setting family goals for you personally and/or professionally may more of a case of setting boundaries. Those boundaries may go in either direction, a personal commitment to either not letting work negatively impact your family life or it may be the other way around.

Financial: Increasingly, employers are using credit checks on potential employees because they think it will give them an idea of how responsible that person is. Personally, I think this is really stupid. Studies have shown that 79% of the credit reports surveyed contained either serious errors or other mistakes of some kind. Credit scores only show whether someone borrows money and pays it back. They do not factor in income, debt-to-income ratio, or savings, just your debt history, debt level, length of time in debt, new debts, and types of debt. Financial goals however are important as worry about money can creep into to the office or affect your career. You may be mentally and spiritually downtrodden because of your finances, leading to poor performance at work. Bad finances may also cause you to make bad career decisions, choosing work based on how much it pays rather than how good of a fit you are. Taking a job that pays well but you’re miserable in is bad for both you and your employer. If you don’t realize this and move on yourself, your job dissatisfaction my cause your employer to make you move on. I quoted Dave Ramsey earlier because I took his Financial Peace University class and now I volunteer to facilitate it. I heartily recommend it or Ramsey’s book Financial Peace Revisited to help set your financial goals if you need it.

Physical: This is the area where I personally need to work on goals, as it spills over into other areas of your life. I think there is truth to the line from Office Space: “Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about about mission statements.” When working in a cubicle environment dominated by fluorescent lights, I do my best to get outside for lunch for some fresh air and sunlight and doing so makes me more productive in the afternoon. For 2011, I’m setting goals to become more physically active as well, which should support all of the aforementioned individual goals, such as increasing my mental acuity at work to a more confident spirit.

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