We don’t typically talk about setting goals in May. But there’s nothing typical about this May.
Many of you have set goals in January as part of your company’s performance management process or in your own personal goal-setting process. But as the pandemic persists and realities and priorities continue to change, many of you are questioning whether those business or personal goals still make sense.
Maybe you have formal goals in writing, or maybe you just have some aspirational musings in your head. Whatever form they take, it’s likely you kicked off the year with an intent to achieve something specific.
While January’s goals may feel tone-deaf today, goals in general remain important—for your motivation, your productivity, and your confidence. Well-designed goals keep you moving forward toward the future you aspire to. But when that future feels undefined and the targets move daily, how do you know what goals to set and stick with?
So let’s talk today about revisiting your January goals and giving them a facelift to make sure they’re keeping you on the path to productivity and success in this new normal.
Because sometimes a pivot is the key to achieving your goals.
What’s the difference between goals and priorities?
Priorities are your purpose. Goals, on the other hand, are the specific and measurable vehicles by which you strive toward the things that matter to you.
If your purpose is to be healthier, then your goals might be to exercise three times per week and eliminate fast food from your diet. Health is the priority. It’s the thing that matters; the outcome you hope for. Goals are the enablers. And they’re actions, not wishes.
So, start today by checking in with your priorities.
Priorities are your purpose. Goals are the specific and measurable vehicles by which you strive toward the things that matter to you.
What seemed important in January may not resonate today. Maybe your team at work was prioritizing customer growth and began building an exciting platform to better engage your customers. Your goals likely would have aligned to that growth priority—things like finding new business targets, attending and sponsoring industry events.
Or maybe you were feeling bored at work and had prioritized finding a new job. Your goals, in that case, may have involved hitting some recruiting conferences or attending networking events.
Take a look at whatever had you excited and motivated in January and ask yourself whether you still feel that way. Is this priority something you still want to wake up and strive for every day? And, equally important, does it feel achievable under your current circumstances?
Choosing to let go of, pivot on, or postpone a goal that doesn’t feel important is not a sign of failure—it’s awareness that times have changed and so should you.
Maybe at work, your focus needs to pivot toward customer retention instead of growth. And your goals may need to be reassessed to align with that priority. Great, that’s an insight! Do you need to renegotiate the goals with your boss? Don’t be afraid of this conversation. Let them know you’d like to reassess your goals. Put time on the calendar, and lead with confidence.
Choosing to let go of a goal is not a sign of failure—it’s an awareness that times have changed and so should you.
By approaching your boss with a fresh take on an old goal, you position yourself as someone thoughtful, insightful, and proactive. It’s all in how you approach the conversation. Never apologize for a strategic pivot. You’re not failing to achieve a goal; you’re paying close attention to what’s happening around you and making smart choices in response.
Rather than “unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be able to achieve, this – I’m so sorry” try “this was an exciting goal when we set it in January, but in looking at the current state of our business, I think our customers would benefit from my shifting focus from growth to retention.”
Let’s look at two ways you might approach this topic with your boss or colleagues.
I’m so sorry! Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be able to achieve this.
When you apologize, you sound as though you’re accepting personal responsibility for the problems causing the shifting priorities. But you certainly didn’t cause a global crisis. It’s not your job to fix the crisis; it’s your job to figure out the best way to navigate it. Try this, instead.
This was an exciting goal when we set it in January! But looking at the current state of our business, I think our customers would benefit more if I shifted my focus now from growth to retention.
See how insightful that sounds?
If you’ve had thoughts about changing your career or searching for a new job, the same guidelines apply. Is finding new work essential? If it is, then of course you’ll need to prioritize that process. But if you have a job and you feel more comfortable staying put, it’s okay to sideline the job search until the prospect of something new excites and motivates you again.
Turn priorities into specific goals
There’s so much you can’t control. That’s true all the time, but it’s especially evident during a crisis. Ultimately, despite striving for them, you don’t control outcomes. So here you focus on what you can control—your actions.
If you’re working to persuade your boss to focus on customer retention over growth, what goals can you set—and what actions can you take—in support of that?
Maybe your goals center around things like:
- Checking in regularly with existing customers to hear about their experience and get their feedback
- Reviewing the customer satisfaction report to identify opportunities to improve an experience
- Researching what other companies in your industry are doing in service of customer retention
These types of goals are linked to your refreshed priority, and they’re defined by actions, not outcomes. They’re doable even in the current circumstances. They are within your control to achieve.
If your priority is indeed to go after that new job, maybe your goals become things like:
- Researching industries that are hiring right now
- Identifying which of your skills are most critical in this economy and updating your resume to highlight them
- Reaching out to people in your network to ask for advice, introductions, or informational interviews
And if going after that new job doesn’t feel inspiring to you right now, let it go. Or choose a pivot goal—something gentler like starting to organize a portfolio of work so you’re ready to pound the pavement whenever the time feels right. This way, you’re moving toward something without putting pressure on yourself to achieve anything specific right now.
Focus on daily actions
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that 12-month horizons are too far out. You never know what’s lurking around the corner, so cut yourself a break.
Sure, maybe 12 months from now you hope to have that shiny new job locked down. But there are a lot of steps you’ll need to take to get there. Remember, goals are designed to motivate you and inspire you to act, to just keep moving.
Eat that darn cookie or watch that cat video, because you deserve to celebrate your own productivity and success.
So focus on the actions you can take daily. If you start your job search today, getting a new job tomorrow is unlikely. But can you write down five people in your network worth reaching out to? That’s a positive start. Make that your goal for tomorrow. And when you do it, check the box and write down the next goal. And then eat that darn cookie or watch that cat video, because you deserve to celebrate your own productivity and success.
When you stay flexible with your goals and focus on actions over outcomes, you’re always able to see your progress. You may not bring in tons of new customers right now, but you’ve kept the ones you’ve got by helping them feel satisfied and supported. And any time that new job is feeling too many miles away, you can look back at and celebrate the steps you’ve already taken and feel confident you’re on the path to achievement.
What matters and what motivates you or your company will always be evolving. So, too, should the goals you set for yourself.