Saturday, June 14, 2008

Goal Setting - Six Steps To Keeping Focus

We ask every leader we work with what they would do more of, better, or more often when they look back on their career, and the top answer is "Focus." When asked how they would do that, they answer that they would be even more goal oriented than they had been. In their opinion, goals create focus that creates accomplishment. With so many demands intruding or attempting to intrude on their attention and energies, goals that create focus are their firewall, and their primary path to success.

Given that so many highly successful people look to goals for focus, why is it that so many organizations and people can't state their personal goals or the goals of their organization - let alone how their personal goals align with their organizational goals?

One reason given is time - "We don't have time for that - we're too busy. " Another reason (read excuse) given is the belief that an individual has no control over their future - too many things outside a person's control can cause things to change, so just go with the flow.

It turns out that most people spend more time focused on planning a two week vacation than they do planning their career. I suspect that's because planning a vacation is controllable, pleasant, and near term - it's easy to focus on it.

But to succeed and prosper, it's vitally important to have a personal set of goals. - they keep us in the game - whatever game is being played. And personal goals that closely align with organizational goals create a tremendous amount of energy, commitment and focus.

Personal goals are even more important when organizational goals don't exist, or aren't expressed, or exist in name only. It's very tempting in those cases to simply give in to the flow of the day to day, and go with whatever comes along - with little if any focus.

Goals help balance the very human tendency to be distracted by the pressing, in - your - face things that happen every day - it's called being "flexible." Flexibility can be a strength, but it can also be a weakness - when flexing becomes a habit and we look back and see that flexing took us far away from where we wanted to be or needed to be.

A friend shared a joke with me that illustrates that point - "Inside every 65 year old is a 40 year old wondering what the hell happened?"

Focus is the difference between wondering what the hell happened, and landing where you wanted to land. It's the difference between throwing a touchdown pass - or throwing a superball - and watching it bounce every which way - with high energy, but with no idea where it will land - and what good - or damage - it will do.

Here are six steps to create focus:

1 - Write down where you want to be in one month, six months, one year, three years and five years. I know, it sounds like a lot of work. It is. But I can tell you from personal experience that those time frames will blow right past you if you don't take the time to plan them now. And you'll end up like that 65 year old wondering what happened.

2 - Define how your source of income - your job - your profession - fits into your own goals. How do your work goals fit in with your personal goals? Are they the same? How can they come together in the near term to provide long term benefit? The closer your personal goals align with the goals of your organization or profession, the better your chances of accomplishing them. This is the key to focus - being convinced and directed to success through goals that embrace you personally and professionally.

3 - Start with short term goals, but with the end in mind. Weekly, monthly, quarterly. Define the top 3 to 5 things that you need to do now to get you to where you want to be. No more than 3 to 5 - and 5 is a stretch. Remember, you can only really focus on doing one thing at a time. There is no more powerful way to become discouraged than to "over goal" yourself at this stage.

4 - Express your goals in positive terms. Express your goals in terms of what you want to achieve as opposed to what you want to avoid or get rid of. Optimism loves positive outcomes - work to think in those terms.

5 - Define your goals using the SMART formula - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time - framed.

6 - Keep track. Hold yourself accountable. Review your goals at least weekly. Carry them with you wherever you go. Make them part of your thinking. Make a habit of reciting your goals and the outcomes of achieving them. Make them your way of life. And when they need to be revised - and that will happen often - just do it.

If you're feeling frustrated and busy and not sure where you're going, start this process today. It isn't easy. It requires personal discipline. It requires faith in yourself. But the rewards of a sense of purpose, focus and freedom are worth the effort. And when you look back in a few weeks to a few months, you'll be surprised at how far you've come, and making goals the cornerstone of focus will become a habit - a habit of success.

Andy Cox is President of Cox Consulting Group LLC. The focus of his work is on helping organizations and their people increase their success in the hiring, developing and enhancing the performance of leaders and emerging leaders. Cox Consulting Group LLC was started in 1995, and has worked with a wide range of organizations, managers and leaders - helping them define success, achieve success and make the ability to change a competitive advantage. He can be reached at

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