Goals? Or Just Dreams?

At the start of 2021, the Core Ventures team sat down and discussed ambitious plans, likely growth, and exciting opportunities for the coming year. Yet amidst all this dreaming, we could clearly see the gaps in our processes and the holes in our business that needed to be filled before we could actualize any of the things we wanted to do. 

We were haunted by the common adage that goals without plans or action are merely dreams, and as an organization we made a hearty commitment to not succumb to this common pitfall.

At our annual retreat, we put pencil to paper and each leadership team crafted quarterly goals that would help us move the figurative ball down the field in our work, to build a better business internally, and in turn, help us serve our clients more effectively. As we barrel into Q2 with the next set of goals in front of us, we can look back on the last 90 days and pull back the curtain on what worked, what didn’t, and how we plan to improve in the future.

  • Be ambitious, but not impossible: For our team, all of the quarterly goals aligned around a common theme, but they were definitely not created equal. Whereas one team made edits and tweaks to an existing client process, another team set out to create, from scratch, a new employee training program and curriculum. As February dawned and the first team had tied a bow around their finished project, the second team was deep in the trenches realizing that they bit off almost more than they could chew. Reality hit even harder when an onslaught of new clients hit early and forced a round of team hiring that expedited the project by two weeks. 

As you craft goals, aim high and challenge yourselves and your teams, but don’t set yourself up for failure. Similarly, don’t aim too low. If your quarterly goal can be accomplished in a single weekend of focused work, make that a single milestone in a larger goal. At the end of the quarter, we hope that our team members feel simultaneously satisfied and spent, encouraged by what they’ve accomplished and ready for a week or two of reprieve before diving into the next goal.

  • Announce it: Personal accountability is good, public accountability is even better. As humans, we all know the shared tendency to try to get away with it. We make big plans and then life happens and we make excuses. Without accountability, goals will forever remain wishful thinking and unrealized dreams. 

Fitness apps understand this psychology well, asking users to create and announce annual goals and then have public communities of followers and friends so activity (and inactivity!) are known and tracked. It’s part stick and part carrot where the incentive to not be humiliated is just as strong as the desire to be admired.

On our team, everyone’s quarterly goals live in a shared Google Doc, public to all and revisited often. Weekly calls lend the opportunity to discuss headway or enlist help in challenges, and monthly meetings require us to discuss actual progress. There is no place to hide inaction, and we are all better for it. The first step is writing goals down, the second step is sharing them, each one of those increases the likelihood that you will actually do what you say you will do.

  • Adapt, but only if necessary: This might seem counterintuitive to what I previously wrote, but the whole point of making goals is to make meaningful progress. If you get knee-deep in a goal and realize that it isn’t going to accomplish what you thought or isn’t worth your time, then by all means, evolve! Be careful (and self-aware) to not give up because something is hard, only adapt if something is ineffective.

One of our teams created an ambitious Q1 goal with corresponding metrics all centered around a new business model we were launching with myriad unknowns. The further they got in the process and more clarity they gained on the business, the more they realized that their Q1 goal would be impossible to accomplish without the results of what they had previously slated for Q3. 

Instead of throwing up their hands in inaction, they swapped quarterly goals and continued on their way. Like trying to do calculus without learning addition, they realized that they could keep spinning their wheels on Q1, or they could actually gain traction with a simple tweak.

  • Break it down; pace yourself: To employ cliche, we could simply say, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Sure it’s overused, but that doesn’t make it less true. So often the enemy of progress is believing that you have to do it all at once, like sitting down for a meal and consuming an entire whale. Every writer started a novel with a blank page and every movement toward a goal begins with a similar sense of nothingness. 

For our team, we make quarterly goals because it’s enough time to accomplish something big, but not so much time that you can put it off endlessly. I would be lying if I didn’t say that personal progress of my Q1 goal did not begin in earnest until February. Before that, I thought about it and broke down the component parts into bite-sized tasks and milestones, but the real action started when I could number the remaining days before April 1 and there were increasingly few. 

While there may be the exceptional people out there who are consistently paced in all they do, the greater majority of us need the opportunity in our goals to occasionally sprint, sometimes pause, and the rest of the time continue a brisk walk toward completion. This is normal, and healthy. Big goals become less daunting when we divide them into a sequential series of smaller tasks and give ourselves the freedom to pursue them at various speeds depending on the day.

  • Don’t give yourself an out: When I signed up for my first marathon, a good friend and veteran racer told me, “Excuses don’t make marathoners.” And it stuck. All too soon my enrollment energy was hijacked by long, lonely runs in snowy Midwest winters at subzero temperatures, but his words kept echoing in my head. I was constantly reminded that if I let myself off the hook, I couldn’t be what I wanted to be and accomplish what I had originally set out to do.

With goals, you will not lack for excuses. The urgent will always trump the important and will offer endless reasons why you should bail on your plan--and it will seem justified. When the necessary steps toward accomplishing a goal get hard, laborious, or just plain not fun, the temptation to abandon ship will be strong. By building in accountability and linking the steps to a desired outcome that is beneficial not only to you personally, but to your entire team and organization, you can safeguard against this very real temptation.

Whether you are looking to craft team goals for your organization, or individual goals to make professional or personal strides, don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress. Inaction is your greatest adversary, not imperfection. Be bold in the goals you claim and tenacious about their pursuit. Whether you are already rolling on goals for the year or looking for a catalyst to get the ball moving in 2021, the new quarter is upon us so make some claims and get to work.