The only goal-setting framework you’ll ever need.
Whether you work in the private or public sector, one thing is certain: Change is inevitable. Those who struggle against change – who strive to maintain the status quo or, worse yet, try to go back to some imagined idyllic time – are destined to fail. On the other hand, a friend once told me, “Only dead fish go with the flow.” She wasn’t saying that constantly fighting the current was advisable (though it’s sometimes required). Her point was that YOU need to choose where you want to go and don’t rely on the river – your environment – to take you to the optimal destination.
In a similar vein, Marshall Goldsmith said, “What got you here won’t get you there.” And as I pointed out in Monday’s Masterclass (Do You Suck at Goals?), that’s exactly the reason we fail at our personal goals while the goals we work on for our organizations or businesses tend to succeed.
We manage to change at work because the speed of business is getting faster and faster. If our company or organization knows what’s good for it, it’s always looking forward and trying to understand where it should go next. (If that’s not the case at your company or organization, I suggest you dust off your resume and start polishing up your interviewing skills.)
Why it matters:
Goal setting has been proven to make a significant difference when done correctly. So before we dive into today’s topic, let me take a minute to remind you of my three key take-aways from all the “science of goal-setting” stuff I’ve read over the years:
Having a goal is better than not having a goal.
Having a specific goal is better than having a broad, generic goal.
Having a difficult (and specific) goal is better than having an easy goal.
And while you’re spending 2.5 seconds considering whether or not to keep reading my advice on how to tackle your goals, keep this in mind: If you don’t have a goal of your own, you’ll end up working towards someone else’s goal!
What that usually means is, like the dead fish, you’ll just go with the flow… toiling away in obscurity for decades doing shitty jobs for lackluster managers. Someone else much further up the org chart will be raking in the big bucks while you’re left living paycheck to paycheck, barely making ends meet. And in case you’re wondering, that is NOT how Relaxed Leaders live their lives!
How to think about it:
Correctly and effectively setting goals can’t be done in a vacuum. In order to ensure your goals will keep you inspired and motivated while moving you in the right direction, you need to start by knowing what “the right direction” means for you. As I’ve discussed before, you need to start with a clear vision of where you want to go and who you want to be. It’s this clear vision of your future self that provides the context necessary to correctly and effectively set goals.
[If you haven’t bothered to actually do it yet, then I strongly encourage you to spend a couple hours going through the exercises I shared on how to create your Personal Vision Statement.]
Your VISION is the destination – the end state – so you need to know what that looks like in order to set good goals.
Your GOALS are the major milestones – the interim steps you must take along the way – in order to end up at your vision.
Your STRATEGIES are the methods – the way you will approach things – in order to reach the goals you’ve set for yourself.
Your TACTICS are the activities – the specific tasks you must do – to execute your strategies and achieve your goals.
Intro to the BSQ Framework:
In his book Trajectory: 7 Career Strategies to Take You from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, author David Rooy, PhD, shared a strategy for career advancement that he called “Think Big, Act Small, Move Quickly.” Over the years, I’ve found that it’s an indispensable way to approach goal setting, both for myself and for the teams I’ve led.
Here are the basics of the framework:
Think Big - Set your sights high and create an ambitious vision for where you want to be in 3 to 5 years. Generally speaking, don’t think too “near term” and don’t sell yourself short by thinking too small. Go big or go home!
Act Small - Determine what the significant milestones need to be in order for you to reach your vision in the time allotted. These goals must be clear and measurable, so that you can identify specific tasks and know when those tasks are complete and the goal has been achieved.
Move Quickly - Create a time-line of actionable tasks that must be completed in order to achieve each clear, measurable goal… and start executing! Start completing tasks and crossing them off the list. This will increase your timely goal attainment because you’ll know immediately if you get off track and can quickly course correct.
How to practice:
Step 1: Think Big by creating your Personal Vision Statement. (To use the BSQ framework with your team, simply take the visioning exercises and tweak them to focus on your team or organization instead of you as an individual.) Your vision is where you want to be in 3 to 5 years and you can think of it as your ultimate goal.
Step 2: Act Small by starting at the end and thinking backwards. What needs to be in place for you to achieve your vision? What will you need to have learned? What will you need to have accomplished? These interim goals are critical to the effectiveness of this approach because they give you very clear, specific checkpoints along the way. If your vision is your ultimate goal, then think of these as critical sub-goals.
HINT: Chunk things up into relatively small goals with shorter time-frames. When you do this, you’ll start crossing things off the “to do” list more quickly, which helps you build momentum and increases your self-confidence.
Step 3: Move Quickly by breaking each “Act Small” goal into actionable tasks with specific deadlines and then get your ass to work! You can focus your attention and energy on execution because you’ve laid out an actionable, measurable, time-bound path with clear milestones along the way. And if you try accomplishing a task one way and fail, don’t fret about it – move quickly! Try something else. Iterate. Move, move, move.
HINT: At the end of each day, determine your “TOP 3” tasks for the next day. These should be the three most important things. Not necessarily the most urgent things – but definitely the most important. Ask yourself, “If I could only accomplish three specific tasks tomorrow, what would they be?” Make sure the list is right in front of you when you start the next day and try to focus on those tasks first, before you get sucked into all the urgent but less important matters!
What to watch out for:
Your vision must be crystal clear!
The BSQ Framework is most effective when you have a clear vision. I recommend a vision that is 3 to 5 years from now but the time-frame is less important than the clarity of this ultimate goal.
For example, a few years ago, I created a vision for my Branch that was too vague and too far down the road. I was “thinking BIG” but not thinking well. To “act small,” I set clearer, time-bound sub-goals and the team began executing effectively. However, we had to frequently regroup and re-examine both the vision and the goals along the way. It was as if we were constantly having to reassess whether or not the sub-goals were actually moving us closer to my rather vague vision.
On the other hand, back in the fall of 2019, I created an incredibly ambitious, crystal clear, 9-month vision for my new team… and it was amazing! We were heads-down for 9-months, cranking through tasks, checking off goals, and moving with lightning speed towards achieving a vision that other Federal agencies had been working towards for years. Why? Because the vision was crystal clear, so we knew that every goal, every task, and every action we took was moving us forward and helping us pick up momentum.
Your goals and tasks must be well-defined!
Think of a goal as a destination along the way. It must be a clearly defined and measurable state, so you can definitively say, “We’ve done it!”
I would also caution against “relative” goals. When we’re trying to reduce remediation requests, a weak goal would be, “Reduce remediation requests.” By how many? During what time period? A slightly better goal might be, “Reduce monthly remediation requests by 50%.” Okay – by half… but half of what? A much better goal would be, “In Q3, remediation requests will average 10 per month or less.” At the end of Q3, you take the total remediation requests for the quarter and divide by 3. Is it 10 or less? Then you met your goal. Cross it off the list and move on.
The tasks for getting to the goal must be clear and actionable too. “Train end users on accessibility” is sort of actionable but it’s neither clear nor measurable. Who will you train? What will you train them on? How will you assess whether they’ve turned the knowledge into actual skills?
HINT: If you must really think about whether or not you can cross an item off your “to do” list, then it’s poorly defined. Sharpen your pencil and get more precise.
The bottom line:
There are a plethora of goal setting methodologies from which to choose but I prefer to keep things simple. A basic framework like BSQ – Think Big, Act Small, Move Quickly – can help you front-load the planning and allow you to be heads-down on the tactical execution.
Relaxed Leaders who use the BSQ goal-setting framework in both their personal lives and their careers will find that they’re able to accomplish much more in far less time than their peers. But don’t just take my word for it – go ahead and give it try!
Have you had luck with another goal-setting framework? Let me know in the comments what you use and how it’s worked for you. And if you have any tips or tricks related to goal-setting, go ahead and share those too!
If you haven’t created your person Vision Statement yet, I walk you through the entire process in a couple past articles. I encourage you to take the time to do it: