I always find it hard to get my head back into things as we kick into gear at the start of the year. The last two years have been challenging – usually, the year would start with coffees and catchups in the corridors; now, it’s filled with zoom calls and remote meetings in our metaverse. Has a change in our working environment necessitated a change in how we approach goal setting for the year? Is it useful, necessary or even contributory to set annual goals – new year’s resolutions, if you will?

When you mention new year’s resolutions, people’s responses range from excited and exhilarated to sceptical and cynical. For us, a new year brings a natural rhythm and reminder to reflect on and reset annual goals. Whether we call it new year’s resolutions or annual goals, and whether it’s set for individuals or teams, it doesn’t matter. The process is essential.

There is a reason why some carry a negative connotation to new year’s resolutions – why some would say they don’t work. We get that. Fortunately, there are usually a few (sometimes minor) tweaks to make in pursuit of goals, to significantly increase the probability of success for you and your team.

New year’s resolutions and annual goals: Why they fail

We’ve put a lot of time and effort into understanding what makes a team execute more effectively. We then distilled all the knowledge we gained into a set of 10 principles. These are some fundamentals that successful teams, and the underlying methodologies they use, have in common. Some of these fundamental principles are strategic alignment, effective prioritisation and communication.

Setting annual goals – and by proxy new year’s resolutions – could carry semblances of the slightly outdated strategic-breakaway exercise. Executives remove themselves from the business for three days, book into a high-end resort and close the door. When the door opens three days later, the strategy has emerged, and the business now has direction for the following year.

This might have been helpful a few years ago, but our environment changes way too fast to only address strategy once a year. Instead, strategy reviews need to be embedded into your execution process. Setting annual goals is helpful, but they will seem hopeless if they are simply set once a year and forgotten.

Here are four reasons why resolutions fail, and the principles that need to be highlighted to turn hopeless resolutions into something helpful:

  1. Unclear and ambiguous goals
    • Goals, specifically new year’s resolutions, are often ambiguous and open to interpretation. “Lose weight” or “be healthy” is not a clear goal – how much weight? By when? How do you measure your health?
    • Create clarity through being specific – ensure you have a metric linked to each goal, and focus on the result you want to achieve before focusing on the initiatives to drive.
  2. Goals set in isolation
    • Many studies show how being accountable increases the probability of meeting goals – making a commitment to someone is much more effective than committing to yourself.
    • Accountability should not be about finding blame – it’s about taking responsibility for your actions. So don’t keep your goals to yourself; find someone to talk to openly.
  3. Long term deadlines
    • Annual goals arguably have an annual deadline. However, it’s tough to imagine what the world would look like in 12 months.
    • Break your annual goals up into shorter sprints – quarterly work well, but sometimes a longer or shorter timeframe is also helpful.
  4. No regular rhythm
    • We are very vocal about the importance of healthy habits – by this, we encourage teams and individuals to find a regular cadence or rhythm of execution.
    • The rhythm needs to include regular check-ins, monitoring progress, resetting goals and reflecting on gains and losses. Without this, goals will disappear into irrelevance.

Where to start at the start of the year

We still believe in setting annual goals. But setting goals is not enough. There needs to be a system – a process – to back it up. An effective goal management methodology is the gap between strategy and action.

If you don’t have a clue where to start at the start of the year, here is our advice:

  • Open OKRs
    • When it feels like the world is rushing at you as you put your feet down at the start of the year, open your OKRs. OKRs should provide focus – they are the rocks in your diary that should receive priority, around which you can fit the sand and water of business-as-usual stuff. If you don’t have OKRs, set them.
  • Resist perfection
    • Then, start. Don’t expect your goals to be perfect or perfectly articulated.
    • Perfection is the enemy of progress. The maxim “nothing avails but perfection” may be spelt shorter: Paralysis. Winston Churchill
  • Implement habits
    • How do you start? Set up a rhythm to check in on your goals weekly, and plan your weeks accordingly. It’s easy to set goals. It’s not easy to achieve them. The mundanity of excellence is encapsulated in healthy habits.
  • Reflect religiously
    • Because you started with an imperfect set of goals, you have to schedule a time to reflect on those goals, reflect on your process, and reset them for the next cycle. So schedule a quarterly time to reflect – and do it now; otherwise, the quarters will fly past!
Resist perfection

New year’s resolutions are not a farce, and they are not hopeless. The start of the year is a time to take stock, gather ourselves, align to our purpose and values, and set shorter-term goals to move us towards that purpose. Use it wisely.

If you have questions, we’re always keen for coffee.

Get in touch so that we can brainstorm a few solutions together!

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