Eight Keys to Driving Meaningful Change

This is the time of year for New Year’s resolutions. As the calendar turns, people think about how they are going to change their lives for the better. Gyms fill up, diets are started, people vow to be more financially responsible, teams talk about their objectives for the year, and organizations talk about how they can take big leaps forward in their effectiveness.

Studies say that more than half of us set goals for the year. Yet only a small percentage of us stick with our goals and see them through to completion. As anyone who has ever set goals can tell you, it is much easier to dream about the changes you want to make than to actually make a plan to change and to see it through. I know that is certainly true in my life.

In my day job, I’ve spent the last twenty-five years helping individuals, teams, and organizations get better at what they do. I’ve watched some individuals and groups make dramatic improvements and others not change at all. One thing I’ve learned is that goal setting is a skill, and like any skill, you can get better at it through coaching and practice.

With that in mind, here are eight keys for setting and achieving goals that drive meaningful change.

1. Get clear on what’s important

First you have to decide what’s important to you. As a Christian, God wants me to love Him and love others. So that’s important to me. I also want to be an excellent husband and father, and a worker that adds value to everything he touches. At the church where I work, we want to help people become fully devoted followers of Christ. That’s what really matters to us. As a result, we focus on goals that will help us to do that more effectively.

2. Assess where you are today

Once you’ve determined what’s important to you, it’s time to take an honest look at how you are doing in these areas. For example, I might ask myself how I’m doing as a husband and father. What letter grade would I give myself? Where am I thriving? Where am I coming up short?

One of my favorite techniques to help individuals and organizations assess how they are doing is to have them answer three simple questions:

  • What do I need to KEEP doing? What are the things I’m doing that are honoring to God, that are helping me to grow and move toward my stated priorities? It’s important to identify what is working so that you can make sure to continue to do those things.
  • What am I doing that I need to STOP doing? What activities, habits, processes, etc. are counter-productive or that are getting in the way of me becoming the person I want to be or are keeping our organization from focusing on the things that really matter?
  • What am I not doing that I need to START doing? What is one thing that if you started doing would make the greatest impact on your life and your team?
  • 3. Narrow your focus

    One of the most common mistakes people make in goal setting is trying to focus on too many goals at one time. Studies show that there is an inverse correlation between the number of goals you have and the likelihood that you will achieve them—that is to say, as the number of goals you have goes up, the odds that you’ll achieve any of them goes down. I like to limit the number of goals to three at any given time, while some experts recommend focusing on just one. So instead of writing down every thing you hope to move the needle on, take a step back and ask yourself, what’s the one/two/three things, if I did well, would have the greatest impact on my life and my team?

    4. Write down your goals

    Writing your goals down helps to clarify and focus them on what you really want to achieve. You can use the acrostic SMART to guide you in developing strong goals. Goals should be:

  • Specific: define the results you are aiming for and the process you will use to get there
  • Measurable: making a goal measurable will allow you to track your progress
  • Achievable: focus on areas that are under your control and where you have direct influence
  • Realistic: the best goals stretch you but are also objectives which you can achieve with effort
  • Time-Bound: goals need specific due dates. Deadlines help to focus you and create a sense of urgency.
  • A goal like “memorize more scripture this year” is really hard to track or determine how you did. Whereas “memorize one verse each week for a total of 52 verses in 2017” is clear and easy to track your progress toward.

    5. Make a plan

    Write out the steps necessary to get from where you are to where you want to be. Think through what specific actions you need to take, when you intend to take them, what resources you’ll need, and what the likely obstacles you’ll run into are. Have a plan for how you’ll respond if and when you do hit those obstacles.

    6. Take consistent action

    Make time to work on your goal every day, even if it’s just a small thing. The more time you devote to pursuing the goal, the faster you will make progress.

    7. Track your progress

    This can be as simple as writing down the actions you took each day toward your goal to setting up a regular meeting to review your progress with your team. Tracking progress helps you to focus on the goal and provides feedback along the way about how you are doing.

    8. Enlist support

    Share your goals with others in your life. Ask them to encourage you along the way and to provide accountability to help you do the things you need to do to become the person you want to be.

    Written by John Cox, former Executive Pastor at Watermark Community Church in Dallas. John holds a Masters of Divinity Degree from Fuller Theological Seminary and an MBA from Harvard Business School.