With new year’s resolutions and business goals, we need a way to regularly audit progress.
Did you make any plans for change in 2018?
Even this early in the year, many such goals and resolutions have already been abandoned. Or, at least, they’re at severe risk of being discarded. These failures are often not due to lack of desire. Most people who make resolutions do so earnestly, trying in some way to improve their lives, careers, personalities, or communities.
And yet why is it so tough to stick with our resolutions?
One reason is that we often embark on unguided resolutions. We lack the mechanisms to measure and monitor our progress toward our end goal. We strive for a marathon without running a mile. Even the most ambitious resolution has a fighting chance if accompanied by a system to break it down into incremental actions and outcomes.
To achieve a year-end result (usually some form of a lag measure tallied at the close of the year), we need intermediary metronomes to keep us pacing toward the sought-after ending (lead measures). If we’re looking to lose weight, our weekly frequency of exercise and daily intake of calories will likely predict the 12-month outcome long before the new year rolls around.
For example, I’ve dabbled in watercolors for decades, and have a drawer of unfinished (and unappealing) paintings to prove it. When I told my friend Jack, a distinguished painter, about my inability to finish a work, he matter-of-factly said that I need to practice finishing. So, with a resolution to improve as a watercolorist, my plan is to finish a painting twice a month. With each finished painting, I should move closer to reaching my resolution.
Some improvements and some resolutions may only require a “just do it” approach — you don’t need a future-state map to put out a fire — but most require time and long-term effort. Here, we can take a cue from lean practitioners.
When pursuing strategic goals, lean organizations establish routine monitoring throughout their operations to understand lead performances on an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis. With a regularly scheduled cascade of meetings up and down the organization, teams share and review this information, take corrective actions if necessary, and escalate problems beyond their control up to the next tier of meetings. It is an endless whirl of many connected PDCA cycles (plan/do/check/adjust) that keep all aligned on the end goals. These companies may not always achieve their yearly targets, but they’re rarely surprised when they don’t. We, too, can regularly review progress as well as engage others in helping us to achieve our goals.
We also can’t underestimate the need to actually do something: merely tracking our path toward progress won’t cut it. In order to accomplish a goal or in some way change our behaviors, we also have to act. This necessary cycle of actions, audits, and outcomes reminded me of a homily I heard decades ago: A parishioner prays weekly to God to win the lottery. After years of disappointment and winless, he lashes out and asks why God would refuse him. The voice comes: “You need to buy a lottery ticket.”
If we regularly buy a ticket — i.e., do the work to change — and have the means to periodically check the results, we at least have a chance to win with our resolutions.