New Year’s resolution: focus on goals, not tasks

As we finalise PR plans for 2018, it’s a good time to set resolutions for the year ahead and set good habits in our working lives.

It’s easy to get into the habit when you’re busy of focusing on tasks rather than goals. So as a team we’re putting in place a series of processes that let us keep our big goals in focus, whatever we’re doing. This means getting better at challenging ourselves and our clients. Why is this task important? Does it help us reach a collective goal? If not, why are we doing it?

I think this is at the heart of consultancy. It means advising clients about what will help them hit their objectives and pushing back on activities that won’t. To do that, you have to have clearly defined goals, which means we’ll know if we’ve done a good job, and can measure it.

It shapes how we work every day, particularly how we run meetings. Instead of asking “where are we with this project” we have to ask “how is this project shaping up to meet its goal?”

It also means more responsibility for everyone. If every task contributes to a goal, then everyone has a clear role in achieving that goal. There is a collective responsibility and individual ones too.

That’s a much more motivating way to work than simply to follow a list of actions.

Understanding and setting goals

It means understanding different kinds of goals, too. We’re trying to think in terms of ‘lag’ and ‘lead’ goals.

Lag goals are those that you only know you’ve achieved once they’ve happened. They’re the big ones. For clients, they might include web conversion goals for a campaign, sales, inbound leads or numbers of people reached over a set period of time. For the agency, they’ll include things like client retention figures and sales. You can predict where you are and change campaigns accordingly, but there’s a lag between setting the goal and achieving it.

Then there are lead goals. They are the smaller pieces that help you reach the lag goal. They lead you to the overall goal. They’re the really important ones that you can review every week or month so you never have a surprise from your lag goal. And everyone contributes to them at every level and skill set within the business.

Re-focus thinking on goals

There are a few really easy things you can do to help focus on this way of thinking.

Here are a few of the things we’re doing this year:

  1. All meetings focus on the goals – every task will have it’s own contributions to a lead goal, which in turn contributes to a ‘lag’ goal.
  2. We already run daily team check-ins to make sure workload is manageable and support anyone who needs it.  But we’re refocusing them on goals rather than activities.
  3. We’re going to check our language, to make sure that “What’s the status of XX activity” becomes “Is xx project on track to meet its goals? If not, what can we change?”

Thinking like this really helps us be more consultative with clients. By bringing them into this process, we all become more of a team, and we all collectively change the language we use in status calls and meetings. That means getting tougher on why we’re chasing some things, and why we’re advising against others. But it’s a great way of focusing on the result, not the task.

It’s a great way to re-focus personally, too. “What do I want to achieve today?” is a far more motivating rally call than “What do I have to do today?”. And although in our job you can never go home with a clear to-do list, you can go home thinking “I achieved my goal for today”, or “I made a positive contribution toward achieving my goal today.”

Going home feeling as though you’ve contributed to something bigger isn’t just great for clients, it’s great for our motivation too.

Featured image by Mikito Tateisi on Unsplash

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