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Your Best 2016 Starts in 2015 – Thoughts on Annual Planning

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The end of each year is marked by a period of reflection and anticipation for the coming year .  The most common output of this reflection is a list of “New Year’s Resolutions.”  Diet companies, health clubs and countless other business models are built on this natural inclination to doing something different / better at the start of each year.

Yet, I think we are all familiar with how poorly we perform in terms of keeping / realizing the fruits of our well-intentioned resolutions.  At our core, it is hard to change habits, and we are all poor at deploying our limited self-will to implement change.  Moreover, 12 months is an extremely long period of time, making it even more difficult to make the best choices today.  After all, I can always go to the gym tomorrow, right?

Instead of this cycle of resolution / failure, I would like to share my own personal process for annual goal setting, which is perhaps more like an annual strategy planning process for a business.  I have been developing it over the last 5 years and have found it to be a useful tool personally. Hopefully it will spark a few ideas in terms of how you can best implement change in your own life.

Annual planning for me begins in early/mid-December, when I try to carve out a day or so to reflect and plan.

Key Inputs

Before even attempting to review a year’s performance and work and think about the future, I am a firm believer that each person needs to establish a personal mission statement and an articulation of the core 6-7 values that matter to you most.

No doubt, we all have been stuck in long, never ending meetings surrounding mission, vision and values.  The output of these meetings is a highly sanitized and whitewashed statement of values that are so generic that largely any human on the face of the earth could support them.

Here is your chance to change that and articulate what matters to you.  I would start with values and lay out a list of 6-7 things that are your core values.  Next to each value, I would add a quick statement (not a full sentence) that defines what it means to you.  This additional statement frames the context for the values and makes them applicable in real life.

Next, I would work on a personal mission statement.  Recall, a mission statement is the core purpose, the reason you exist.

Mission and values in my mind provide the boundary lines for planning.  It tells you what sort of activities / opportunities you are willing to pursue and what you will chose to avoid.

Now we are ready to begin.

Step 1:  Set the Right Mental Framework for Review

There are three seminal articles that help you get into the right mindset for annual planning / strategizing.  Each year, before doing anything else, I re-read each three.

Drucker’s piece is an absolute classic and helps remind / walk you through the basic self-analysis that a career is built upon.  Christensen, a premier corporate strategist, lays the case for keeping the long-run in mind.  This article from the Harvard Business Review has recently been turned into a book as well.  Collins, of Good to Great, inverts traditional career planning by creating a ‘stop-doing’ list.

Step 2:  Review the Prior Year

With the right mindset (and assuming you have a prior list of goals / resolutions), it is time to make a sober accounting of what went well.  I draft a separate document where I answer these questions:

  • What went well last year?  Begin on a high note and observe and make a record of your successes.  After a tough stretch, it is often easy to forget the great things that have happened.  I sub-segment this analysis by looking at the major categories of my life: Career, Family, and Personal.
  • What could have gone better?  Same categories, but a different question.  In this section, don’t problem solve – just log the major areas of struggle and be descriptive in what occurred.  We will look at root-causes and possible solutions later
  • What will I stop doing next year?  What are things that I am doing right now that are holding me back from achieving my goals?
    • This may be a great opportunity to go to your boss and / or personal mentors to solicit some honest and candid feedback.
  • What will I do differently?  What are things that I am doing, but with some refinement and improvement will be much more effective in driving me to accomplish my goals.

Step 3:  Let the Planning Begin

If you have done the first steps correctly and come armed with the key inputs, you should be well prepared to begin thinking about the year ahead. Here is what we bring to this phase:

  • Personal Mission Statement
  • Personal Values
  • Successes from last year – to build upon in the year ahead
  • Opportunities for improvement – along with the stop list and the do-different list
  • Long-term goals – I didn’t mention this earlier, but for the truly compulsive, I find a list of long-term goals to be helpful.  This is a list of goals that may take decades or a life time to realize.  But better to have them written down than lost in the back of one’s mind.  I organize my list in the following categories:
    • Professional goals, family goals, personal faith goals, learning goals, events to attend, travel goals, people I would like to meet, and ownership goals

Before I draft specific goals, I always draft a Vision statement for the year ahead.  A well formed vision statement articulates the lofty objectives that we want to pursue.  The mission statement defines what we are about, and the vision statement defines what we want to do.

Honestly, a 1 year vision statement is probably too short a time period to be really “visionary.”  But I find that life has too much change to think much beyond that time horizon.  By having long-run goals that are multi-decade in scope, I feel like any risk of not thinking longer term is likely mitigated.

After completing the vision statement, I take the various input items and work through the three major categories reference above.

  • Personal Goals – I sub-segment personal into goals relating to personal spirituality, physical health, and enjoyment.  Go ahead and laugh that I schedule my ‘enjoyment’ – but I have found that unless I specify in advance how many rounds of golf I want to play in a year, I never seem to have the time to get the rounds in.
  • Professional Goals – I look at goals related to my work specifically, desired skill development, and service goals of where I want to give back.
  • Family Goals – I try to define goals here related to my spouse and kids.  I also layout out financial goals here as well.

As you articulate the specific goals, it is of paramount importance to focus on process steps and not outcomes.  As you review your opportunities for improvement list, stop doing, and do differently lists, dig deeper and look for the root causes that underlie the item.

A few examples of this.  If in 2016, I say that I want to be a good husband to my wife.   This is a nebulous goal that is fairly difficult to determine.  So I look at what does being a good husband mean for my wife.  What does she value as being most important to her?   Maybe this is spending a certain amount of time together each week or having regular date nights.  These are the key inputs into the ultimate outcome and are much easier to target a specific goal around.

Professionally this could look like any number of things.  If you need to drive more revenue, work to determine what the precedent steps to that are.  Do you need more new clients? Do you need to keep in touch with folks more regularly, etc.  This could lead to specific goals of making X number of phone calls per day, targeting Y meetings per week, etc.

Metrics – The Forgotten Step

Once you have completed your specific goals by section, you have to specify what the metrics are for measurement.   It could be a certain frequency for dates with your significant other, a specific number of books you want to read, or how frequently you want to work out.  For each goal, put a metric beside it that allows this tracking.

“Set it and Forget it”

Ron Popeil was correct with his Showtime Rotisserie Oven, “setting and forgetting” really is the easiest way.  Drafting the goals is the first step, but to stay on track with your goals, you need to close the loop on all this by creating two re-occurring calendar invites.

First, schedule a monthly review.  I typically schedule 15-20 minutes late in the afternoon on the first Monday of each month.  I use this time to compile my metrics data and log the results into my goal tracking spreadsheet.  This does not have to be super time consuming.

For example, I want to work out at least 3x a week.  I keep an old school paper calendar at my office, where each day that I work out, I write an ‘e’ on the calendar.  During my review, I total up the ‘e’s and divide by 4 – giving me the frequency of how frequently I worked out this month.

 

Second, schedule a quarterly progress report – this may be more like 30 min to an hour. Schedule a calendar invite for once every three months on a Friday afternoon.  With that time, review each category and the progress along each goal.  You may add to your goals, remove, or mark them complete.

Conclusion

Ultimately, your goal setting process is about creating a system of tools that help you drive towards and complete your goals.  There is great research that supports that the best way to change habits and accomplish things is to simply start doing them.   Creating prompts and reminders that automatically occur will gently nudge you to do the things you already want to be doing.

 

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