April 15, 2015

Iterating on Goal Setting

I spent today at a workshop in California along with my firm’s Human Capital leads from across the globe, and the discussions were fascinating. One of the topics we talked about at length was performance management, and how best to encourage staff to maximize their performance.

San Jose Office Views
My own performance was definitely maximized by the amazing mountain views from the office window.

We’ve recently switched from a traditional performance management system, where reviews are done and goals are set just twice a year, to a new system that emphasizes real-time feedback. It’s been a huge transformation, and one that isn’t quite complete yet, but it’s definitely taking things in a positive direction. But while we’ve been using the new real-time development system for almost a year (and of course smaller subsets of staff were piloting it long before that), today was the first time that I really thought about the implications of giving and receiving feedback, plus setting goals, so frequently.

One of my colleagues talked about how she uses an “agile goal setting” framework with her team (vs a “waterfall goal setting” framework, where you do everything in sequence instead of iterating and revising) – and as she described what she does, I realized that it was very similar to the 6×6 strategy I used with my team in Dallas. Although at that time the firm was encouraging us to set annual goals, my director and I found it more productive to have our teams draft a new set of goals for themselves every six weeks. Personally, I enjoyed always having a new challenge to face, and it was also a lot more effective to allow my goals to evolve over time rather than setting one goal from the year and never changing it. There’s no shame in abandoning a goal if it isn’t working for you anymore, as I’ve written about in my Lost Dutchman DNF race report from earlier this year.

Lost Dutchman Mile 14 (My Finish)
Also, while I didn’t know this at the time, it turned out that my quitting the race and instead getting lots of quality time with Adam had a lot to do with our decision to start dating – so I’m definitely glad I quit!

There is definitely a lot of debate over whether it is better for someone to self-select a goal, or whether it is better to have it assigned to them. In some studies, those who self-select their goals outperform those who have goals assigned, with the rationale being that self-selection of a goal increases someone’s personal value of the goal and belief in its attainment – which in turn increases that person’s commitment in trying to achieve it. (Corollary: if you don’t believe you can achieve something, you probably won’t.) However, there is also research to show that self-selecting a goal may not actually increase performance, because people who design their own goals may choose easier ones than if there is an assigned performance hurdle. The happy medium is in having guidance from others to self-select goals – so that you’re still choosing them yourself, but you’re not going too easy on yourself in doing so.

All of which led me to think about my own goals for the year – remember when I set those back in January? I’ve mentioned before that I’ve definitely dropped the ball on a few of them, and what better time than now to do a quick check-in… and perhaps reevaluate. (Because I’d rather do this check in on a random Wednesday in April when I’m inspired, then wait until the end of the month or another logical time when I end up putting it off until it doesn’t happen.)

1. Learning. I’ve gotten a lot better about reading books lately, although the unfortunately finite nature of time means that I’ve fallen behind on reading blogs (including all the interesting ones where I get my Links I Love) and also fallen behind on watching TED talks. I’m trying to reestablish the habit of watching TED talks daily, but I’m finding that it works better for me to do that while cooking than doing it while I’m getting ready in the morning – and I just haven’t been cooking that much lately!

2. Home. I bought a house, so that is on track! And I’m also feeling a lot better about all the work of being a homeowner, as I start to figure out my routine and realize that it is doable for me to take care of it. (Hey, remember what I said before about self-efficacy being half the battle?) I’ve also been doing a really good job of hosting people at my home at least once a week, even when it was closing day on my new house and I had people over for a picnic on the floor of my den. No shame!

3. Blog. Oops, this one has been quite a failure lately! I have really been neglecting writing lately while I focus on other parts of my life that are demanding my time, and I’ve been a little annoyed with myself that I’m mostly only managing to write personal diary-type posts instead of reflections on what I’m reading and learning. (To me, those are higher-quality posts, though I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on what you like best?) I’d like to say that I’ll try to improve in this area, but the truth is, it’s not nearly as much of a priority right now for me as other things in my life… and that’s okay with me.

I think the most important thing with goal setting and achievement is making really conscious choices. So, if you’re on a diet but you want to eat an entire cake – go ahead and eat that cake if you can honestly tell yourself that (in the long term) you want the cake more than you want to lose weight. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but let me use myself as an example. Frankly, I have about 15 extra “vanity pounds” that don’t hurt my health at all, but I’d kind of like to lose. However, I’m not interested in giving up the delicious food and drinks I love in order to lose that weight. (And let’s be honest, frequently I’m not even willing to make the small sacrifices to lose weight – because it’s not a goal that is terribly important to me.) I’m happy with that choice/tradeoff, and probably much happier than I’d be if I blindly said “I want to have my cake and lose weight too”, like so many people do (hello, Jenny Craig and other fake diet foods), then wondered why I wasn’t losing weight and/or was always feeling conflicted. I think it’s really important to evaluate what you really want but also, perhaps more importantly, what it would take to get there. You can then make your choices with that knowledge of the effort at the forefront of your mind. It may not be worth going after something huge/exciting if the path to get there require constantly doing things you hate, right?

…which is not at all to say that I hate blogging, because I actually love it and wish I had time for more of it! But right now, there are other things demanding a lot of my time, and my leisure time is taken up with escaping into a good book. I wouldn’t necessarily prioritize that goal over my blogging one, but I deprioritized reading for so long that I think it’s fine if I play a little catch up on that 🙂

Which brings me back to what I was initially thinking when I started writing this post – how should I adapt my goals so that I’m focusing on my top priorities instead of getting bogged down in things that are no longer as important to me? Perhaps it’s time to be more realistic about not having too many conflicting goals for learning, like I do right now? I don’t have time to read interesting blog articles, watch fascinating TED talks, and read engrossing books – at least not with all the other things going on in my life. That’s okay with me, but I want to find a way to reshape that goal so it’s concrete without being conflicting.

And then on the front of new goals, I think one thing I need to add to my current priorities is something around budgeting and financial planning. I haven’t been doing very well on that lately, and with my new mortgage, it’s much more of an issue than it was when I was a renter. I also need to figure out how to better balance my time so that I’m getting quality time with my friends in Colorado even when I’m jetting off to Arizona – which is an issue I wasn’t facing back in January when I made my goals.

Thoughts? Ideas? Want to propose some goals for me so that I’m not going too easy on myself? 😉


7 thoughts on “Iterating on Goal Setting”

  1. I’ve been lurking on your blog for a while now (and it is one of my favourite reads) and this post really struck a chord with me not least because I work for the same company that you do, albeit in the UK (I thought we probably did work for the same place based on some of the language that you used and I recognised the branding in one of your previous posts). At the moment though, I’m working with a team from the US and so I’ve had to use the real-time feedback system to manage their performance. It’s such a huge contrast to the way that we do things in the UK and I think has a lot of real advantages in the way that it encourages a constant dialogue about performance, goals and development rather than, as happens here and as I’m sure used to happen in the US, waiting until the end or months after the end of a project to gather feedback when it’s much less useful. I really like the way that you’ve applied that to your life as well.

    1. Kathryn, thank you so much for the kind words – and how exciting that we work for the same company! I agree with you that the constant feedback encouraged by the real-time development tool is awesome, although there are definitely still some challenges to work through with ensuring that even though most feedback is oral, enough is documented that year-end reviews can still go smoothly. I am looking forward to see how this year goes!

  2. here is a [short] TED(x) video to add to the queue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYWLfPmnJSI

    Balance and goals isn’t about finding the middle or the optimal whatever….
    ….the best balance and goals are things that put us way out on one end of the see-saw….

    ….but how do I expect to play and have fun on the see-saw? Watch the video.

  3. I’ve found that the agile form of feedback is too heavy of an administrative burden to do correctly. For it to mean something, you need to spend time to write/set realistic near term goals, have (manager) feedback on them, hold yourself accountable, and…assuming you set your goals correctly, totally rewrite them in 4-6-8 weeks. BLAH. Although, As I read bad on that, it sounds like I’m just lazy (which, could very well be the case).

    It is funny how my blog is the first thing to go when I get busy. I’m finally getting to the point where I’m okay with that.

    Challenge accepted on eating an entire cake. Bring insulin next time you visit.

    1. I’d agree with you on the administrative burdens of constant feedback. Our current model has been doing that really successfully as far as encouraging the real time conversations, but very little is documented so it will be interesting to see how robust the support for year end conversations will be.

  4. How about changing your Ted talks goal to one per week? That seem sufficient.

    To get more reading time in, you could try audio books. It will allow you to “read” while in the car, working out, etc.

    Right now I am (slowly) working my way through Time’s 100 best books list, which gives me a goal.

    As for financial planning, I find that using cash helps. I take out a certain amount of cash each week and for the most part, that is what I can spend that week. If I want to take out more, I think long and hard about whether it is necessary. I also think about whether something I am purchasing is really necessary – do I really need this? Will I really use this? That is often the case with clothes and shoes. I may want another pair of shoes but I ask myself if I will really wear them when I have so many other pairs and a lot of the time the answer is “no.”

    As for entertainment, try doing more things that are free or inexpensive. If you go for a run with a friend, try getting coffee or tea after instead of a full blown meal. Go to museums and botanic gardens when they are free or pay what you wish. Things like that.

    Houses are money pits as my coworkers like to tell me, so you may need to start reevaluating how you spend your income if owning a home is important to you.

    1. I like the once per week goal – I am definitely hitting that! I think I am going to keep striving for daily, though, and just try not to beat myself up if it’s less than that. Gotta dream big, right?

      I am actually not a fan of audiobooks, but I use my car time for podcasts, so it’s definitely not wasted! I did try audiobooks a LONG time ago (2007?), and my big issue with them then was that the speed was too slow compared to how fast I listen/comprehend. With podcasts, I listen to them at 1.5x speed, so maybe now that the technology is there I should give them another try (ugh, I feel like a dinosaur because I know fast playback technology has been around for a long time and I am just slow to think of using it for audiobooks).

      I think I might do a post or two on financial planning, since it’s definitely something I’m thinking a lot about lately. I don’t like carrying cash, but I monitor my finances pretty closely and, like you, have a set amount that I can spend for the week. I think the problem is I’m not being as diligent as you about sticking to it! But I have completely cut out clothes/shoes spending since I started looking for a house, and I feel good about that – those are areas I tend to think I’m “wasting” money, whereas something like going out to dinner with friends I consider to be pricey but worth it. Definitely all about priorities! But YES to doing more inexpensive activities.

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment!

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