As small business owners and company leaders, big ambitions and lofty dreams often drive our hard work and dedication. But whether starting a new year, new quarter, or new initiative, it’s important to first tap the brakes, pull over, take a look in the rearview mirror, and chart the course ahead with savvy goal setting.

You would never set off on a road trip without a roadmap in hand or GPS on deck. Even the most adventurous among us know the best exploration happens when you have a clear idea of what you want to experience and what you’d rather avoid.

I recommend thinking of your work as an adventure with a clear destination in mind and roadmap to guide your steps. But when it comes to goal setting, here’s what may surprise you: the goal is not the destination, but rather a roadmap to get to where you want to be.

Start the goal-setting process by considering exactly what you want to achieve, improve, or maintain (AIM). Do this by looking back over the obstacles you’ve overcome, the detours you’ve taken, and the progress you’ve made. Assess where you are now and how you got here before considering where you want to go. Then, you’ll be ready to create goals that will help you find your way.

Get started by asking yourself the following 3 questions:

1. Is your goal meaningful?

Each goal should be something important to you. From the outset, the goal on its own should feel worthy of pursuing — something that will truly make a difference or move the needle for your organization or for your career.

When you set arbitrary goals or goals that are not attached to any meaningful change, there’s a good chance you will lose interest or lack the incentive to keep up your efforts when the going gets tough.

When you look at the goal and envision achieving it, it should trigger a feeling of excitement, sense of relief, or another emotional reaction. As you’re setting your goal, keep asking yourself “why?” until it strikes a chord.

For example, if you want to hit a new revenue, commission, or salary goal, think of specifically what you will do with the additional money, like building an in-law suite for aging parents or paying for riding lessons for your kids.

Remember, you are going to be working towards your goals daily, so make sure it’s something that will motivate you, even on your most trying days.

2. Is your goal setting SMART?

You’ve heard this before, but I encourage you to take the time to walk through the exercise of evaluating your goals and ensuring each one is actually SMART.

Specific – It should be clearly defined, not vague or general. (Ex: Reduce turnover among employees with less than one-year tenure. Not “fix the turnover problem.”)

Measurable – You should be able to set parameters, apply metrics, and asses your success. (Ex: Reduce turnover by 10% each month.)

Attainable – There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, but the best goals are ones that can actually be attained. If last year’s revenue was $200k, setting a goal to hit $10 million this year, will not motivate you as much as challenging yourself to reach $300k.

Relevant – There are a number of ways to consider this, but I like to think of relevant goals as the opposite of random goals. Is this goal a distraction? How does this goal fit into the big picture? Does it align with or advance other company or team goals?

Timebound – Give your goals a deadline and encourage yourself to work with a sense of urgency. Rather than aim to reduce turnover one day in the future, you will reduce turnover by 20% by the end of Q3 2019.

3. Is your goal powerful?

Achieving your goals is going to take hard work, dedication, and tenacity, so I recommend infusing your intentions with a dose of confidence that will carry you through. Rather than phrasing a goal as something you hope to accomplish or something that will be passively accomplished by someone, word it as an action you are going to make happen.

Each goal should start with “I will” statements. For example, read both of the following statements aloud:

A. Reduce turnover by 20% by the end of Q3 2019.
B. I will reduce turnover by 20% by the end of Q3 2019.

As you can see, statement B instills a sense of ownership using positive psychology that will inspire you and keep you motivated. You can also say, “we will,” but it’s important to focus on the role you will play in the process because you’re holding yourself accountable while also leading your team.

Words are powerful. Writing goals down makes them tangible. Reading them out loud often will remind you what to work towards and help you believe getting there is possible.

Once you’ve determined your AIM (what you want to Achieve, Improve, or Maintain) and created your roadmap of Meaningful, SMART and Powerful goals, you’re ready to put an action plan in place.

Does your company need help with goal-setting or facilitating goal planning meetings?

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