How to set goals that you deliver in 2016


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how to set goalsGoal setting is trending at this time of year, so let me share what works for me.

Amongst the many posts shared & goal-setting courses being marketed right now, most writers reference the average failure rate. Even the term “New Year’s Resolutions” is now synonymous with unrealistic goals, started with enthusiasm but probably abandoned within a few weeks or months. Why is that & can you do anything to avoid your good intentions coming to nothing?

I’m no expert, but what I do know is what works for me. Hopefully at least some of that will resonate with you & perhaps provide some new ideas to help you achieve more.

Before getting into more personal detail, it might help to share what I’ve seen over 25 years in corporate life. There certainly have been some common causes of failure that you see year in year out. As is often the case, these come down to a few simple points that everyone appears to know, but few organisations implement well. You can probably keep a dinner party conversation going with your own experiences of poor goal setting. Here are my recollections of why performance goals often fail:

  1. Goals are not Specific, often left intentionally vague to leave “wiggle room” in achieving them;
  2. Goals are not Meaningful, both the problem of the person not seeing the point of the goal ‘imposed from on high’ & not connecting with their passions (they don’t care);
  3. Goals are not Action-Orientated, here it can either be that it’s too big (they need help to ‘eat the elephant’) or first step is just not clear (the power of getting started);
  4. Goals are not Realistic, there are few things as demoralising to people than being lumbered with a goal they do not believe they can achieve;
  5. Goals are not Timely, either lacking a deadline or having all your goals set for end of year, that just encourages procrastination.

Of those common pitfalls, the one I’ve probably seen most is the second. Individuals or teams just do not see the point of a goal or target. We can only swim upstream against human nature on rare occasions and with great effort, so people will just not achieve a whole year of working at something they neither care about, nor are convinced really matters. So, can I share any good news, rather than just platitudes about the all too familiar ‘SMART’ system? Let’s try…

Since leaving corporate life, the challenge of setting up & running my own business has motivated me to find a system that works better. After a successful year, I feel I’ve found one that delivers. That journey included returning to systems that worked in the past, incorporating new ideas & establishing new daily routines. Key, to all three parts of that improvement, has been connecting with a purpose that is meaningful to me. Addressing that common pitfall, mentioned before, meant to be convinced the goal matters and to play to my strengths.

So, something old, something new & something everyday… 

First, the ‘something old’. This has been returning to using the Franklin Covey organiser system. Perhaps ‘Filofaxes’ have been gone long enough to now have “retro chic“, but perhaps they just show my age. Either way, the planning system within Franklin Covey organisers is one I find very helpful to review progress in my life & help set annual goals. With each new year’s set of inserts, you also receive a planning system that includes a “Values/Mission” section. This includes a set of 7 activities that help you take that step back to look at yourself, what matters to you in life & what you want to achieve with the time you have left.

The Franklin Covey system has been around as long as I can remember in corporate life & benefits from both the wisdom of Stephen Covey’s timeless classic “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and the approach to goal setting recorded by Benjamin Franklin. It’s a proven method, especially when you have some time to set aside for these exercises. These include capturing your:

  • Values = Writing positive clarifying statements about yourself & what matters most to you life;
  • Roles = Writing clear short descriptions of the different “hats” you need/want to wear in your life;
  • Starting Point Questions = Capturing your thoughts on what you most want to accomplish in both your business & personal life;
  • Be/Do/Have = Descriptions of the person you want to be, what you want to do & the things you want to have;
  • Tribute Statements = The classic exercise of thinking about the obituary you’d like others to say about you (but from multiple people who matter to you);
  • Evaluation Questions = Reflecting on what you’ve enjoyed most & what seems to matter most to you;
  • Personal Mission Statement = Hardest exercise to do, but the previous exercises give you the resources to make this specific & meaningful for you.

Completing such exercises at the start of a year can be invigorating and set you up well to be clear on where you need to focus for the year. One common pitfall I’ve also seen over the years though, is to focus too much on change & self-improvement. Too many wasted performance reviews, over years of corporate life, have spent more time focussed on how the person needs to change (to develop weaker areas) rather than motivating them by focussing on their strengths & how they can play to those.

For that reason, a key input I’ve learned to use whenever setting goals, is Strength Finders. The book review published previously will give you more details, but suffice to say that this handy little book helps you identify 5 strength areas. Think of these as skills you enjoy using & are good at. There is much academic evidence from the Positive Psychology movement, that more progress is made building on one’s strengths, rather than focussing on developing areas where we are naturally weaker. So, I use the output of Strength Finders to shape my answers to exercises above & thus the goals I set for the year. The Franklin Covey system has templates & systems for converting your above inputs into annual SMART goals & importantly then breaking those down into activities to be achieved within the year.

The physical act of writing these things down with pen & paper also works for me. Somehow the physiology of that activity causes me to remember them better than typed goals on an app. However, having sung the praises of both those systems, years of inadequate progress have taught me that they are not sufficient on their own. Even giving such time to clarity & clear SMART goals for the year, can still dissipate into failed resolutions, without a better system for weekly, daily & hourly progress.

Something new…

After many years of frustration with myself, the biggest help cam in the form of the book “18 Minutes” by Peter Bregman. Once again, the book review published previously will give you more details on this very practical system. For me, it bridges that gap between big annual goals & how to translate them into daily goals that you action. His thinking on the different roles for ‘to do lists’ and calendars is very helpful, as is his concept of a “to don’t list”. Another handy tip is the idea of hourly check-in (in response to chime or beep).

Perhaps I’m just a particularly lazy or tough case to crack, but for me even this big step forward was not the whole solution. This was the method I used while setting up my business, shaping services and delivering marketing that secured clients. But it was still too hit & miss as to whether I used my FC organiser or followed 18 minutes method each day. I needed something less conscious that would require less effort.

Something everyday…

Quite often I’ve found other parts of your life offer you potential solutions. That meant looking at aspects of my life where I had “stuck with it” and achieved the progress I wanted. For me those were running & reading. What was different about these, did I have some clever system that motivated & planned my goals for both? To be honest, no. But after previous planning exercises, I’d realised they mattered to me & what was different about them is I’d established routines. Running in the morning & reading before bed had become established as habits, things that were part of my routine at the start or end of the day so many times that they became unconscious. That had cracked persisting with my intentions, a pattern I found confirmed by reading Nir Eyal.

So, for me the final pieces of a system that works are:

  • building goal setting & calendar planning into my morning routine;
  • building review of progress and gratitude journal into my end of day routine;
  • accountability.

These have been done often enough that the are now just habits for me, which is the stage I needed to reach for reliable commitment. A quick word on that final part (c): Sharing with someone else who you trust can really help maintain motivation. For me, that’s my wife & a few trusted advisors. Perhaps for you it could be a trusted colleague, partner or boss. Whoever it is, there can be power in telling someone else your goals & your progress (as often as possible). Coaching is another great aid in that respect.

That’s enough about me. I hope the above helped & has wider relevance. What about you? Do you have a proven system that is working for you? Care to share?

Have a happy and productive 2016!

Image Purchased from iStock

Paul Laughlin
Paul helps companies make money from customer insight. That means helping them maximise the value they can drive from using data, analysis & research to intelligently interact with customers. Former Head of Customer Insights for Lloyds Banking Group Insurance, he has over 12 years experience of creating & improving such teams. His teams have consistently added over £10m incremental profit per annum through improvements to customer retention and acquisition.


  1. Every year I set goals, but I can achieve them yet. So I am very much disappointed. Now I understood, I need to change my goal setting method. Thank you so much Paul !


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