This is the time of year when many people find their focus, energy, and engagement at work waning. And it’s perfectly understandable; from holiday activities to less sunlight to colder weather, it’s easy to lose some steam.
But for smart leaders, this can be a great time of year to make huge strides. While your competitors are hung-over from too many holiday parties, you can use this time to leapfrog them. I, for one, find this time of year is when I make the most progress on writing my new books; while others are resting, I get writing.
But why do some people use this time to charge faster and farther while others slowly cruise the holiday party circuit? Much of the difference has to do with goals. If you have a goal for which you feel passion, urgency and maybe even a twinge of anxiety, you’ll view the holiday season as an opportunity to crank out great work. But if your goals are more of the ‘meh’ variety, you’ll exert bare minimum effort.
Unfortunately, lots of people have very ‘meh’ goals. One of my studies, called Are SMART Goals Dumb?, tracked 4,182 workers from 397 organizations to see what kind of goal-setting processes help employees achieve great things. Among dozens of findings, we discovered that only 15% of employees strongly agree that their goals will help them achieve great things. And only 13% of employees strongly agree that their goals this year will help them maximize their full potential.
That’s pretty terrible. But there were some encouraging findings. For example, people who answered Strongly Agree to the question “I can vividly picture how great it will feel when I achieve my goals” had 49% higher employee engagement than people who answered Strongly Disagree.
Think about that statistic from a leader’s perspective; if our employees vividly picture their goals, they could be 49% more engaged at work! For all the leaders reading this article, that data gives us one big managerial to-do.
More than 5,000 people have taken the online test “Do you set SMART Goals or HARD Goals?” Respondents answer nine questions about their goal setting processes, rating such factors as their emotional commitment, urgency, anxiety, number of goals and goal difficulty. One such question asks respondents to choose between these three statements:
• I use lots of visuals to describe my goal (pictures, photos, drawings, mental images, etc.).
• My goals are mostly built around numbers (like in a spreadsheet or on paper).
• I don’t generally write long descriptions of my goals (maybe just one word or one number).
After test-takers answer questions about their goals, they’re asked to complete a few research questions, including “How do you feel about your current job?” And when we combine those responses with the aforementioned goal question, a disturbing finding emerges.
41% of employees who use lots of visuals to describe their goals love their job. But only 32% of people whose goals are built around numbers, and 27% of those who describe their goal with one word or number, love their job.
If someone told me that people that people who use visuals to describe their goals are approximately 50% more likely to love their job than people who describe their goal with one word or number, you can bet that I’d immediately make every employee use visuals to describe their goals. (Which is exactly what I do).
If you’ve ever looked for a simple, cheap and easy way to get your employees to feel more love for their job, this is it. First, have every employee write down their goals. Describe them in as much detail as possible, including:
• Exactly what they’re going to achieve
• How they’re going to achieve it (with specific descriptions of the activities they’re going to start and stop doing)
• How they’re going to feel when their goal has been achieved
•Why this goal is important to them
Once they’ve got this detailed description of their goal, turn that into a visual. Now, this
may seem a little hokey, but it really does work. Pull out a pencil and paper and transform that detailed description into a picture. (If you really hate the idea of drawing freehand, use a graphic program or clip some images, but just note that nothing is quite as powerful as drawing your goal freehand).
And then, when you’ve got that picture, stick it on your desk and look at it every single day to remind yourself what you’re working to achieve while your competitors are out hitting the holiday party circuit.
Now, I will offer a caveat to everything I’ve just said. If your employees have been ‘killing it’ all year and they’re mentally fried, they may benefit more from an extended rest period than a big year-end push on their goals. But that means a true rest period, not dragging themselves into the office for busy work and showing up simply to while away their days. If you’re going to be at work, then be at work with visualized and robust goals. Go after those goals 100%. But if you’re going to rest up, then be out of the office and truly get rest.
Whatever you do, whether it’s resting or charging after hard goals, do it fully. But do not commit the mistakes of so many companies when they force their employees to come into the office and waste time for the next 3-4 weeks.