Thursday, January 24, 2008

Resolutions That Work

The Working Life: How to Make A Resolution That Works

Every year, people make countless resolutions about losing weight, traveling to exotic locales, exercising more or finishing that novel. But few people focus on what is one of the most important aspects of their life – work.

People spend most of their time at work, or thinking about work, or looking for work, or worrying about work, and it stands to reason that there is vast room for improvement there.

But change is hard, as everyone who has tried to schedule 30 minutes on that elliptical machine every day knows. A resolution usually involves creating something different in your life or giving something up, and that involves changing something about yourself – your behavior, your actions, your thoughts and your values. It’s not the commitment that’s the hard part, it’s the follow through.

Every year I work with clients who have resolved to make a change in their work life, from finding a new rob, to getting a raise, being more organized, working less, working smarter, spending more time on strategy rather than putting out fires, etc. Most resolutions are aimed at creating a more satisfying and productive work experience.

Invariably, my clients get tripped up by the paradox of their resolution: If your resolution is to create something new and different, you must be willing to destroy something old. You have to be willing to let go of old ways of doing things. And this means truly getting out of one’s comfort zone.

Making the right resolution
Don’t make a resolution just for the sake of it. But if you sincerely want to see a change, creating goals and making resolutions can be a powerful way to focus your energy. There is something very powerful about creating goals.

While the best goals involve a stretch, it is important that some goals are realistic. Having one or two easily achieved goals can help you feel successful and can empower you to take on bigger goals. But by the same token, don’t choose goals that are not really a stretch and are nothing more than items on a to-do list. Resolving to buy a new outfit doesn’t count.

If you really want to bring about some change in your life then it is essential that some (if not most) of your goals are a stretch. Think of your goals as a continuum. One the one end, you should have a few goals that are realistic and easy to achieve. On the other end of the continuum, you should have some BHAG’s or Big Hairy Audacious Goals. These goals should really set out what your perfect vision of life would be. In a continuum, buying that new outfit may be one of the first steps in your overall goal of improving your professional appearance and persona, for example, a resolution that may also include taking new classes, improving your vocabulary and posture, updating your resume, etc.

I see a lot of unrealistic goals in my work. Don’t settle on a resolution that is impossible – going from intern to CEO, for example. Furthermore, too many people make goals or resolutions that aren’t really in their control to actualize. For example, saying, “I resolve not to spend most of my day putting out other people’s fires” may not be in your control if you work for an organization whose modus operandi is very much last minute fire-fighting. To accomplish this resolution would require wholesale cultural change in the organization, something that is enormously difficult and time consuming, and isn’t in your control. Setting unrealistic goals and resolutions can lead to cynicism and dysfunction. Be realistic and optimistic, but not crazy.

An effective action plan
Once you’ve established your resolution and goals, it’s time to develop your action plan. The proper action plan should start with clearly defined goals, stated in a way that you know when you’ve achieved it. Don’t be vague. For example, saying, “I am going to be more organized this year” is great idea, but kind of fuzzy. Be specific, with concrete steps and goals. Instead of resolving to be more organized, resolve to do the following:
  • My desk will be clear of paperwork every night before I leave the office.
  • I will return every phone call and email within 24 hours.

You have stated the goal clearly and concisely, now it’s time to create an action plan. First, break it down. Many people don’t accomplish their goals because the goal looks too big or the actions required are too daunting, so break it up into smaller bits. Determine which actions are needed and create a do-able strategy for accomplishing them. Your mantra should be, “Will this action bring me closer or further from my goal?

For example, if your goal is, “My desk will be clear of paperwork every night before I leave the office,” then your strategy might be to take the last 20 minutes of the workday to file and organize. Therefore, your action plan would be to stop everything at, say, 4:30 p.m. and use that time to clear your desk. The goal is to clear your desk by the end of the day; the action plan is to schedule a time to do it. The key is to keep trying strategies until you hit upon one that works for you.

Involving your company
Many forward-thinking employers help their employees achieve their workplace goals. Highly effective organizations and teams allow for the accomplishment of both ordinate (individual) goals and super-ordinate (organizational or group) goals. An organization that doesn’t care about individual workplace goals will not be able to attract and retain top talent. It behooves organizations to create processes and dialogue around its employee goals.

This is easily done through providing employees with an opportunity to create IDPs, or individual development plans. Managers should take a very active interest in helping their people create and accomplish their IDPs. This requires dialogue and feedback.

There are also some distinct and important workplace-related health issues and resolutions that both the employee and the employer should consider. Carpel tunnel syndrome, weight gain, stress, burnout and other maladies are all work-related, and people should resolve to take more breaks, move around, be more active, improve their visual environment and take other steps to improve their overall health. Generally speaking, healthier employees are happier and more productive employees. Everybody wins.

The goal is near
Now, you’ve made the right, meaningful resolutions, developed a specific action plan to reach your goals and are well on your way. Remember to:
  • Review your goals along the way.
  • Consistently choose the actions and behavior that will get you there.
  • Keep your mantra in mind: Will this action bring me closer or further from my goal?
  • Reward yourself, not just when you reach your goal but for staying on track, too. You can do it.

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