Make your professional new year resolutions stick
Will you make a set of new year’s resolutions on January 1, like so many of us do every year? And more importantly, will you still remember them a month later?
The reality is that few of us actually stick to our resolutions and achieve the goals we set in the first flush of new year enthusiasm which results in a lot of unmet goals and disappointed expectations.
Next year is your chance to do it differently.
American educational theorist David A. Kolb has developed a four-part learning cycle that incorporates concrete experience and reflection into the learning process, so people can get the most out of their experiences and use these as the basis for forward planning. I think the first two steps of the process, in particular, provide a useful model for how to reflect on the past year and plan for the year ahead.
Separate fact from reflection
The first step is obviously to look back at the year and review what happened.
There’s two parts to this. First look at the concrete facts – what actually happened in factual terms. The second part is to reflect, make observations and draw conclusions based on the experience, which involves digging into the details and looking at your motivation and engagement levels – so it incorporates more of the emotional side of the experience.
The point of this exercise is to break down your experiences and pull together themes and learnings that will help you understand what you can do differently next time.
For example, imagine a finance manager whose major task for the year was to procure a new software system and manage the introduction of that system to the business. The first thing they did was all the analysis and research, which really engaged them and which gave them a great sense of achievement, motivation and satisfaction. They enjoyed the negotiation process of working with the different suppliers in order to get the best possible solution for the organisation, both from a quality and cost perspective.
In the implementation phase, however, where they had to bring stakeholders on board and use their influencing skills to gain buy-in and manage the change, they encountered resistance and found this challenging. This, in turn, affected their engagement and motivation levels because they weren’t achieving the sorts of results they were aiming for, especially as the new system seemed like such an obvious win for the organisation.
Reflecting on this experience provides insight into how this manager operates – they like the analytical side of things and external negotiation when in a position of power but struggle with managing stakeholder and peer relationships, especially when the influencing involves dealing with resistance and negative emotions. This insight identifies the need to work on relating and interacting with internal stakeholders and managing change, which could become a goal for this person in the following year.
Everyone has situations that they naturally enjoy and excel in, and others that they enjoy less. By reflecting on our behaviours and reactions in particular situations, we can see our underlying patterns and identify the areas that we need to work on.
Set specific, concrete, achievable goals
This brings us to goal setting.
Our finance manager might set a goal to simply ‘do better’ in people situations and manage change more effectively. But for many people, a goal like this is too broad to be of much use. It’s focused on the final outcome and doesn’t delineate the steps needed to get there.
You need to break the goal down into simple, specific and achievable steps that will help you meet your end objective. Importantly, you must set a timeframe for each step – for example, give yourself a deadline to complete your first step, such as the end of January or early February. So with the aforementioned finance manager, the goal by the end of January might be to get an in-depth understanding of the fears and apprehension people have around implementing the new software system through 1:1 interviews.
Only when you have achieved this should you proceed to the next step – in other words, do not pass ‘Go’ until you have completed each step! That way you won’t get caught up in an endless cycle of deferral, chasing an ever elusive end goal that’s too vague to reach.
I use this technique a lot with Hudson clients when helping teams with career management. Participants find the self-reflection process very useful. They go back and look at their different jobs, highlighting the highs and lows and identifying commonalities and patterns to help them get clarity over their next career step. There’s nothing like the ‘a-ha!’ moment when people say: “Ah! That starts to explain why I’m drawn towards certain jobs and move away from other jobs.” And it helps to keep them moving forward.
I hope this technique helps when you’re making those inevitable NY resolutions. Good luck and let’s all kick some goals in the new year.