Why Your New Year’s Goal is a REALLY Bad Idea

Given my previous posts about goals and ability to pivot when things go awry you may be surprised by the title of this post. I’ve been setting annual goals for my direct reports for years (as has most managers across the world). Every year we look at what we want to achieve and then set key people goals to achieve them. More and more I’m coming to believe that they don’t work.

At the start of the year I posted the following goals that I’d set myself:

  • Read 21 Books
  • Write 52 Blog Posts
  • Pass my PSM1
  • Finish my new book
  • Finish painting my Stark and Lannister armies!

So where did I get to with two weeks to go?

  • Read 21 Books – currently sat on 100 books
  • Write 52 Blog Posts – So far I’ve posted every week (plus a few more for the junior developer series I wrote)
  • Pass my PSM1 – Actually I’ve passed my PSM-I, PSM-II, PSM-III, PSD-I, and SPS
  • Finish my new book – Done, published Donuts and Dragons which is for sale on LeanPub
  • Finish painting my Stark and Lannister armies! – Done, also painted my Imperial Knights and am putting the finishing touches to my Salamanders

So why if I’ve met all of these goals do I believe they’re a bad idea?

What is the problem with annual goals? Photo by Andres Ayrton on Pexels.com

In order to deliver these I broke each of these down into quarterly goals. Looking at where I was and where the next steps were, this allowed me to adapt more readily if I was ahead of behind. It also allowed me to introduce new goals (such as the Azure and AWS exams I’ve been doing).

I’ve also massively exceeded three of the five goals I set myself. I had no idea at the start of the year that I could read 100 books (even with Audible’s help). I set what I thought was an ambitious goal and then smashed it. The same happened with the scrum.org exams.

When you set goals over such a long timeframe you either complete them very quickly, they become irrelevant, or you want to bring in something new. With 2022 starting soon, or I suppose more relevantly Q1 this is a brilliant opportunity to look at we want to achieve.

In Scrum we have a Product Goal which is a long term vision which we then break down into incremental Sprint Goals. I’d recommend you to do the same. Draw up around five long term goals, they don’t need to have a completion date but they’re something you would like to achieve in the future. Next, look at what you are going to do between January and March to move yourself towards them (spoiler alert – you can do a LOT in 90 days). Then, when you get to the end of March take a look at the progress you’ve made and plan the next steps. Consider using Personal KPIs and Swimlanes to ensure you’ve got time and focus to deliver them.

A picture of some Imperial Knights… because they’re cool!

This has been my strategy for the last 6 months or so and it’s worked really well for me. In January I’m going to suggest it to some of my direct reports and see if they can come up with strong quarterly goals rather than daunting 12 months ones.

I have one final thought, if we’re working to a 3 monthly calendar now instead of an annual one. Do the quarters (Jan – March, April – June, July – September, and October – December) really make the best sense or do seasons work better? What are your Winter goals? What are you going to deliver this summer? I see some real opportunities here to tie your accomplishments into the weather and daylight hours instead of some artificial business calendar. I haven’t tried it yet but I’ll let you know the results if I do.

What are your goals for the next 3 months? Do you agree with my suggestion to ignore annual goals altogether?

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