Are they a good idea? Why or why not?
New Year’s resolutions are personal goals or commitments some of us humans make for the upcoming year. Eat less sugar. Work out 4 times a week. Say no more often. Stop over-committing. Tidy up the house every 2 weeks so we don’t end up with piles and piles of items nobody remembers what they’re for.
Resolutions can be a useful tool to reflect on our personal growth at an individual level, at least for some people. Then why not apply them in a business context, too?
Why New Year’s resolutions aren’t a great idea in business
There are a few issues when applying them to business matters:
1. Lack of specificity – New Year’s resolutions are often broad and vague, which makes it difficult to measure progress and determine if the resolution has been achieved. A different system, such as OKRs or SMART goals ensures you are working towards something specific and can more easily track progress.
2. Short-term focus – New Year’s resolutions are often focused on short-term goals, which may not be aligned with the long-term goals of a business.
3. Lack of accountability – New Year’s resolutions are often personal commitments that an individual makes to themselves (which, frankly speaking, often doesn’t work). In a business setting, it is important to have accountability and support from colleagues and management in order to achieve goals. Without this support, it can be difficult to stay motivated and committed to achieving business goals.
4. Lack of flexibility – New Year’s resolutions are often inflexible and do not take into account changes in circumstances or priorities. In a business setting and especially in the current VUCAH world we live in, it is important to be flexible and adapt to changes in the market or within the organization in order to achieve success.
So…not a great idea for a business. And, some would argue, for measurable, specific and timely personal development either, but each person should be the judge of that when it comes to their own circumstances.
What to do instead?
1. Systems and tools
If you’re repeatedly struggling with one or more specific goals at work or in your business (individually or as a team), my top advice is to stop and take a look at your systems, tools, and habits that support that goal, wish, dream or resolution.
Look at them through these filters:
✓ What’s missing?
✓ What’s unrealistic?
✓ What’s not working?
Often, you’ll find it’s a nice-to-have goal, but the system/tools/habits backing it up either aren’t there or aren’t working. And that’s what you need (systems and habits that work), not resolutions.
An example of systems/tools/actions rather than resolutions
Let’s use the example of aiming to “increase our team happiness and engagement” but simply having that on a wishlist. Ideas of systems/tools/habits/rituals that would help you actually take consistent action on this could be:
- implementing a tool to measure team happiness and engagement (if you don’t have one yet) like OfficeVibe, Peakon, 15five & more
- scheduling a task in your project management system or a reminder in your calendar to check the metrics
- setting a specific goal of improving the metrics by 0.5 points each
- adding the topic to your leadership meeting agenda to brainstorm ideas and creating action points once or twice each month
- committing to accountability in the team (who does what) on said action points.
But, how to figure out the best systems and habits you need to support a goal or resolution?
One great way of doing so is using experiments.
“Test” habits and systems for 90 days (1 quarter) and then adjust, rather than making 10 New Year resolutions and failing at all of them by, say, Feb 10th.
Example: if you’ve failed to implement a fitness habit for the last 5 years, ask yourself “What would happen if I simply download the app Seven (7) and try to work out at home for just 5 min a day, following the instructions from the app”.
In 90 days, you may find that you are now consistently doing a bit of exercise every day and it would be easy to “expand” the habit. Or you might find that didn’t work at all, and you may need to try something completely different (e.g. an accountability buddy).
Business-wise, a great way to innovate and run experiments with your team is OKRs.
3. Forecasting vs. backcasting
Forecasting or looking to improve on the past
I’m sure you’ve heard of forecasting but perhaps you haven’t yet used backcasting. Both are methods used to estimate, dream and plan for the future. But the two approaches are vastly different. Let’s see how.
Forecasting looks at past events and uses them to make informed guesses about what might happen in the future. It’s what our colleagues from finance and accounting do. They take last quarter’s results and hope to improve by 7% or 12%.
In forecasting, we:
- collect past and present data
- take future possibilities/events into account for estimation
- extrapolate or estimate for the future.
Backcasting or dreaming big audacious goals
In backcasting, on the other hand, we move opposite to forecasting. We start with an ambitious vision of the future, with a long-term vision or goal (that might even seem implausible) and work backward to identify the intermediate steps and short-term actions needed to achieve it.
Backcasting is what NASA did when they committed to putting a man on the moon before the end of the 60s. This was seven years before Neil Armstrong took that objectively small but metaphorically giant step for humanity. A fun trivia fact? At the time Kennedy made that promise in 1962, some of the metals needed to put a man on the moon hadn’t even been invented.
In summary, forecasting looks forward and tries to predict what will happen. The problem with forecasting is we can only improve on what we have already achieved. Backcasting looks backward from a desired future state and identifies the steps needed to get there.
These are my 3 favorite processes to use instead of NY resolutions, both for my personal life as well as for my business.
What are your favorite ways to set wishes, resolutions and goals?