Many times we rely on intentions that don’t get us anywhere. There is something in many of us that makes us think we can skip goal setting and just get straight to execution when we want to accomplish something big. Too often our intentions are greater than our actions. Our ideas stay in our head or become the focus of some heavy conversations, but not much more happens. Three years later we may find ourselves still thinking or talking about the same ideas without any evidence of an attempt to make them tangible.
Sometimes it might be fear holding us back, or sometimes just plain laziness. Whatever the reason for not sitting down and plotting out our actions, the result is the same: nothing happens. I’m not sure that analyzing the cause takes us much closer to taking action, but analyzing the results should.
A common response to many tough projects is to try to save time by diving in the middle of it without thinking through steps or timelines. This may produce more than not taking any action at all, but it can also lead to wasted time and disappointment. Have you ever received a package of “easy-to-assemble” furniture? Did you start off by putting pieces together, only to find out that they don’t fit right? Did you then go back and read the instructions, only to learn you had put the pieces together backwards? Imagine how much easier it would have been and how much time would have been saved if you had just followed the directions.
A really big goal can be overwhelming. So much so, you may end up doing absolutely nothing. If you take your big goal and establish a very realistic time frame for accomplishing it, the first burden is now off your shoulders. The next step is to determine exactly what each action step is, from start to finish. This part of the process may seem tedious, but it is really the most critical. By listing each and every thing that has to be done, the reality of each step is visible and also much more doable. You can plan timelines much more accurately and track your progress to make sure your target dates for hitting key milestones are closer to reality.
A really big goal can be overwhelming
Goal setting is not really a complicated process. Making a change of any type includes a specific goal, and the process is roughly the same: take stock of where you are and compare that to your goal, assess your own behaviors, influencers and resources, determine where you want to be and set a goal. Then write the recipe (action steps) for getting there.
Let’s use weight loss as an example because the concept is simpler for many people to grasp than trying to imagine an as-of-yet undefined goal to make a career change. Needing to lose 50 pounds can be completely overwhelming when you focus on the total loss required. Losing one pound a week is a much easier objective to see and imagine, and a plan to accomplish that is much more doable. The process required to accomplish the weekly one-pound weight loss is far more sustainable than trying to imagine which new diet you can rely on to lose 50 pounds quickly. The following simple example illustrates how much easier things can be when they are thought out in advance and when simple step-by-step actions are defined.
- Record and examine your current status. Evaluating exactly what you are doing and where you are is a fundamental point for getting started. On one hand, tracking exactly what you eat each day for two weeks will tell you what you are currently doing. On the other, you will need to record your current physical activities each week (or lack thereof). It’s important to analyze your habits and record the actual number of calories you take in and the number of calories you burn to show you what you are currently doing to sustain your current weight.
- Evaluate potential changes. On your own or with a doctor or nutritionist, you can examine what can change; e.g., trading a handful of potato chips for a couple of carrot sticks to decrease calories. At the same time, on your own or with a personal trainer, you can examine your activities and determine what you can add to increase your calories burned. Making minor changes and plotting out exactly what you expect to do as an activity each week is much more likely to make the process doable and successful. Making small changes over a period of time helps you build new habits.
- Develop your plan. Outline what foods you will start incorporating into your diet. Schedule your activities. Set yourself up to succeed by making sure your activities are added to your calendar so you can be aware of how they fit with your work schedule and family time.
- Get started. The time to begin is when you can see exactly what you need to do, one day at a time. Record your results and recognize when your choices work and don’t work.
Instead of delaying your weight loss because it seems overwhelming or setting an unrealistic goal of achieving a 50-pound weight loss in three weeks, get started with a plan that allows you to sustain small changes that you develop into habits. Instead of eating only alfalfa sprouts and water and working out every day for four hours to lose 50 pounds in three weeks, you will have designed an actionable plan with a more realistic timeline that will allow you to lose 50 pounds over the course of a year. The change will be gradual and much easier than committing to something extreme. Your weight is much more likely to remain where you want it.
Whether you want to change your health or your career, enlisting the help of a professional is going to make the process smoother, and you will have support when your plan seems too hard to carry out. In order to make a career change, the same process has to be followed: record and examine your status, evaluate potential changes, develop a plan for making a desired change and get started. Looking at job postings expecting to find the perfect job to save you from your current plight is no different than expecting to find a magic pill to lose 50 pounds.
People who have been working continuously through this most recent recession have been impacted by it in some way, even if it is not obvious. Many of us have experienced earlier recessions (although they weren’t always officially called that) and learned firsthand how to make ends meet during tough times. If not directly, some of you may have parents or grandparents who have described how they weathered tough times in their lives. Through personal experience or through someone else’s, we can see there is no magic pill. There are skills that can be learned to survive adversity or financial downturn. Using planning, perseverance, willpower and grit, we have found a way to succeed.
The economy is improving and the employment market is following, as is customary following a recession. Having an optimistic attitude about the future is helpful and must go hand in hand with an understanding that the employment market will recover far more slowly as businesses get their bearings. As you are considering making a change in your work or workplace, consider what you actually have control over, and put your mind to accomplishing it.
A handful of small projects can build a portfolio of successes that set you up for bigger and better projects.
To begin with, taking stock of what your real position is will help you get grounded. For example, if your expenses exceed your income, then there is a practical reason to consider the consequences of your actions. Consciously deciding NOT to spend money on anything unnecessary allows you to have more options than when you are tied to overhead you can’t afford. Going forward, creating an action plan with accountability features built in will keep you focused on what you are actually doing and what you could be doing. No mention of a magic pill in this recipe.
As you establish goals and set your sights on an improved circumstance, it is important to remember that nothing is perfect. Even the best laid plans can be set askew when changes in the economy occur or when you face stiff competition. The point to be made is that once you develop a plan and make yourself accountable for completing it, you must still be aware of when it is necessary to change course.
The improved economy makes things brighter but doesn’t provide a sure shot at anything. Many of the people who remained employed (perhaps underemployed) over the past five years are now in a position to move forward. Those entering the market expecting to make a leap into their “dream jobs” may be unpleasantly surprised by how steep the competition is. That’s not a reason to give up but more of a reason to persevere. It’s time to get in the game and position yourself. This may require deeper planning and some grit to work your way into the position you desire.
Looking forward, map out a path that is most likely to lead to success. Start with small steps. Set objectives that are connected to your long-term goals; e.g, identify roles that you are most competitive for now that are attached to your long-term goals. Or, if you are a consultant/business owner, identify business targets that may be small but easily attainable. A handful of small projects can build a portfolio of successes that set you up for bigger and better projects.
Whatever your challenges, build a track record of smaller successes that will give you confidence when facing the really tough challenges. Getting your arms wrapped around manageable challenges helps you establish habits that will support you in any endeavor. And weathering a small mistake can be a learning experience that doesn’t crush you. It can teach you what to do next time and provide you with ammunition for persevering. Practice behaviors that move you forward. Develop the willpower to avoid the old, negative habits that used to drag you down.
Willpower is a skill that can be learned. Grit and perseverance can also be learned. You can do it!
Do you have a mentor? With the start of a new year and an improving economy, it may be a good time to evaluate your current career path and make some decisions about where you are headed. Rather than assuming things are greener in other pastures, it might be helpful to get some advice from someone who has been there, done that. Asking for help from a trusted professional to assist you with developing and accomplishing your objectives requires some planning first.
Mentors can help you develop clear goals and realistic objectives. They can help you develop self- awareness in the assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. They can help navigate interoffice politics or understanding an organization’s culture. They can provide honest feedback, provide you with a fresh perspective on issues and help you grow professionally.
Making assumptions about who would be a good mentor or that someone will automatically agree to serve as your mentor can lead to disappointment. It is important be prepared for a meaningful conversation about what it is you expect. To ensure your needs will be met, there are several points to consider in advance:
1. What are your goals?
2. What is it you need to learn?
3. What are you hoping to gain?
4. What are your expectations from a mentor?
5. Can one person provide all you need?
6. Why are you selecting this person?
7. What are you willing to commit to?
8. How will you approach them?
Show respect for your potential mentor’s time by carefully thinking through what it is you want and need as you move forward. Being clear about your mutual expectations from the start will help ensure your relationship produces the results you desire.
Networking is typically the best way to learn about new opportunities, whether it is work related or otherwise. Being open and available to meet new contacts is a large part of what it takes to ensure those opportunities occur, although they may be unplanned or unexpected. In order to capitalize on every encounter, it is important to map out a plan, be clear about your expectations in advance, and prepare questions that will actually produce helpful and appropriate information. If you are not getting the results you had hoped for by attending events or “hanging out” with friends, then perhaps your preparation for those meetings needs a little attention. The following are some basic elements that are likely to result in more fruitful encounters.
Have a clear goal. If you are going into conversation or meetings with people with the idea that they will hit on a solution for you or read your mind, you are probably not coming away with much. Setting clear goals, then indentifying the objectives needed to achieve those goals, will provide you with much clearer information to help you determine what you actually need to know or learn from someone. Along those same lines, using Linked in or other social networking sites with intent beyond connecting to as many people as possible, is much more likely to produce favorable results. The connection alone won’t make things happen for you. Know what you need to learn and be clear about why you request an introduction to a new contact.
Know what you don’t know. While that sounds like a contradiction, it isn’t really. If you set out to identify a solution without thinking through what it might require, then you will be all over the map. You can pot shot potential options or perhaps miss the mark entirely. By developing target companies (or customers or projects, for that matter) and identifying what you would need to know to be able to have a successful exchange with them, (i.e, receive an offer of employment, or to sell a product or service), then it is easier to craft questions that will actually help you develop a strategy for approaching them.
Strategize. Developing a strategy and working a carefully thought out plan typically produces a better outcome than wishing and hoping. Sure, miracles can happen. Great timing can look like a miracle. But if you haven’t had your miracle happen yet, then maybe it is time to develop a plan to get where you want to be, before too much more time goes by. Information is power, and the more you know about your target, the more you will know about how to position yourself to get where you want to be. Just ‘knowing’ someone or ‘being acquainted with’ someone isn’t likely to turn into something. What do they need to know about you? What do you need to know about them or the target to ensure that what they know about you is appropriate and relevant to further your efforts?
Set the stage. Introduce yourself with a prepared statement that gives them enough information to act on without putting them to sleep. Memorize it. Know what you need to say, in words that exactly relate what you would want someone to remember. Too much info will result in them forgetting most of what you said. Funny, cute and clever may get someone’s attention, but unless they have more time to learn the rest, they won’t know what they need to remember about you that can help you.
Prepare thoughtful questions. Take the time to prepare thoughtful questions of the people you encounter. Practice them enough to ensure they are on the tip of your tongue, so that you are not blurting out “do you know of any openings” or “can you refer a customer to me” before the person even knows anything about you.
Follow up. Meeting new people, but dropping the ball by failing to follow up can end up wasting everyone’s time and energy. Make sure you take the time to follow up after every meeting or conversation in a professional and timely way, even if it was a casual or social event. Leaving a lasting impression through genuine interest and responsiveness is a good way to develop productive relationships.
What successes have you had with new contacts?
There is a tendency for people to get very complacent once they have landed their new job. After months (sometimes, years) of searching, many people think their work is over once they land their new job. Or, that once they have nailed the offer, it is time to let down their guard and relax. After all, the pressure is over, isn’t it? And, strong performance will ensure positive recognition, and surely, promotion opportunities, right? The short answer: No. That isn’t the full picture and sitting back at this juncture might lead to outcomes that are far less than a person hoped for in a new employment situation. Although the road to where you are today might have felt like the biggest challenge you will face, it isn’t over yet.
Now that you are where you want to be (or perhaps, you only think this is where you want to be), whether it is in a “foot in the door “ role, or your “A” job, it is necessary to ensure you start your new job on the right foot. Showing up on time, being enthusiastic, and showing willingness to learn are basic, good beginnings, but there is much, much more involved. Securing the job is only the beginning. Keeping it and growing within it, or positioning oneself to grow to places beyond the initial role, requires thoughtful planning and the establishment of time lines.
Key elements to an auspicious beginning involve a thorough understanding of your role in the organization and your value to the company. It involves the development of allies and planning ahead, using specific time lines to ensure you make the most out of this opportunity. Keep in mind, in the company’s eyes, this “new beginning” is about what you can do for the company, not what they can do for you. You will be scrutinized closely, and someone will record even the smallest behavioral aberration. What happens next is based on the company’s needs, not necessarily yours.
Keep in mind, the company doesn’t need to know all aspects of your plans for your future. They only need to know/see what is relevant to them. Whatever your agenda is for your time with them, or for after your employment with them, it needs to be managed by you. It is important to take responsibility for your growth and development from the beginning. Take charge – do not assume they have your best interests in mind, or frankly, that you are even on their minds at all.
Assuming your professional growth and recognition for your accomplishments are your supervisor’s or the company’s responsibility is an old school notion that went by the wayside decades ago. It is important that YOU have a sound plan and time lines for growing professionally, and for maintaining or increasing your value. It is important to know what your value is not only to the company, but also in the industry as a whole, just in case the company faces lay offs, or becomes involved with a merger or acquisition. Careful planning in the beginning is far more likely to set you up for success in the long run. Don’t wait until you are midstream.
If you have recently accepted a new position, please share how you will be approaching your first year.
Too often, people establish career goals the same way they make New Year’s resolutions. The problem with resolutions is that they fade away, are forgotten, and are only a distant memory by February. To actualize your desire for a change, exchange your resolution for a COMMITMENT to action.
Why a commitment and not just a wish?
Achievement of a goal doesn’t happen overnight. Job seekers are confronted with many issues beyond their control–economic conditions, competition, HR, and internal politics for a start. These issues can be very daunting and discouraging. The fact is you can’t reach your goal until you choose to face these challenges head on, with a plan of attack. Making the COMMITMENT to do so is within your control. Your goal becomes more than a “wish”.
Don’t rely on your employer, market conditions, or your family obligations to dictate what happens to you (or doesn’t). Make a decision about what you need to do, commit to it, then adjust as events occur. Commitment to your goal and acting on it is more likely to produce the results you want than sitting idly as you wait for things to change.
Make a commitment to reach your goals by first being committed to the process, no matter what.
- Keep yourself in check for things you can control. Recognize that you can make a choice each and every time something comes up that presents itself as a challenge.
- Write out your goals. Make them specific and measurable.
- Proceed through your outline of specific actions that lead to your specific goals.
What kind of resolutions were you planning for the New Year that could more effectively be treated as a goal?