Big Goals Are Good, But Good Habits Are Better

Did you resolve to make a major change in 2021? Now that we’re several weeks into the year, how is that going for you? 

If you’re like most people, your big goals and dreams have probably come into direct contact with the big, unexpected life disruptions that seemingly tend to surface just to stifle our greatest endeavors. But hey, you’re not alone, and perhaps there’s a better approach… 

A friend of mine is a personal trainer who told me, several years ago, that she was no longer going to accept clients who signed up in January. I assumed that trainers must reap huge business around the New Year; why wouldn’t she strike while the iron was hot? 

She replied that, sure, she used to go crazy with sign-ups in January…but it proved to be temporary and frustrating. New Year clients are very committed early on, but by the end of Q1, most of them ghost her. Resolutions, as she came to see them, were literally bad for business.  

When she gets the annual deluge of New Year’s resolution calls, she politely gives them free advice, because they are then more likely to come back to her later when they’re really ready to make permanent lifestyle changes. Her free advice is simple: Do a little every day 

A regular routine like a 10–15-minute walk or a few dozen sit ups a week, when you maintain those consistently over time, is always going to outweigh that month of two to three weekly gym sessions in January. She prioritizes good habits and small bursts of productivity over big promises that no one ever keeps. 

That says a lot about the importance of good habits. Namely that, when you set them and maintain them, naming lofty and unattainable goals isn’t just a waste of time and resources. It’s unnecessary.  

Big Goals Can Be a Bigger Problem Organizationally 

The challenge with large goals is that they are attached to an endpoint (“get in shape this year!”) rather than small, concrete actions that you can take every day (“go for a 20-minute walk”). Rather than feeling guilty for missing the mark on the big thing, we need to do the smaller things that will actually get us to that big thing…eventually.  

It’s easier to manage something that you’re already paying attention to in an organized, proactive, and structured way. When you’re more in tune with reality, you make goals that are more in line with that reality. So, for example, if you’re already observing those healthy habits that my trainer friend encourages, you probably already know that your weight bobs up and down by a pound or two and might even be taking steps to manage it.   

There are very few healthy companies, for example, who only take a look at their books at the end of the fiscal year. It would be impossible to maintain cash flow if you didn’t regularly analyze burn, income, budgets, etc. It’s so critical, those reports are all automatically generated. A quarterly meeting is already scheduled.   

Swap Out the Big Project for the Right Features and Smaller Steps 

It’s very seductive to look at projects like one grand vision. The problem is, especially as it relates to software, those grand visions often become bloated messes with an even more bloated budget. It’s even harder to manage schedules when you’re pushing out a massive release. Let’s revisit our analogy: Anyone can drop a bunch of weight quickly, but will it stay off if you don’t reintroduce healthy, manageable habits?   

How will users feel about your Big Project if it includes a bunch of stuff that they don’t need and it’s harder to find the features they actually want?   

So, building on that, you need to make sure that everyone in the company shares this vision of small, manageable goals. How do you get everyone to tune into each other so that everyone shares not only the same perception, but has the right framework around them so that problems and challenges are regularly confronted and solved? 

Steps to Cultivating Healthy Company Habits 

While habits and goals aren’t necessarily interchangeable (and they’re not) you can’t get to one without the other. Agile is, in large part, a mindset that promotes healthy communication and time management. Communication and engagement are as critical to your company’s health as cash flow and how well teams engage with each other is as valuable to your company as income. Agile is also about prioritizing manageable steps over big (and often unattainable) goals.   

What are some small, incremental “good and healthy habits” that can get you there?  

Listen to Customers 

Clients usually bring big expectations and a lot of documentation to a software or product development meeting. What they’re really asking for is pretty simple. They just need help. Consistent feedback doesn’t just mean testing. So, who do you bring in front of a customer during every meeting and how do you collect feedback from those customers so you’re responding to their needs regularly? Think of the highly iterative process of a sketch artist. A witness is literally providing feedback the entire time (“they had darker hair!”) until a completed sketch actually resembles the face of the person for whom the cops are hunting.  

Is Everyone on the Same Page? 

Shared understanding is critical in an agile workplace, and the way to get there is a common language and constant, structured communication and feedback. First, being in the same place or working in the same industry does not mean that everyone shares the same expectations, so get some facilitated training so everyone starts using the same lexicon, a shared set of communication skills, and the same project tools. Get everyone on the same page about frequent check ins with your clients and team members to share constant feedback and reinforce the main objectives of the current sprint 

Prioritize Face-to-Face Engagement 

Collaboration doesn’t just happen. It has to be emphasized. Build collaboration into the culture with scheduled face time. Emphasize interaction over documentation. Documentation is critical, but it should never outweigh relationships and interaction.  

Define Roles and Responsibilities 

It’s easier to let everyone relax into that collaborative process when they all know exactly what they’re expected to do. It’s not about control as it’s about putting the people with the right talents in front of the right opportunities to be successful.  

Master the Backlog Review 

Backlogs are often (mis)treated as a to-do list. It should be more like a wish list of deliverables for the next sprint or launch. It’s a way for the team to constantly regroup and readdress needs and trends. What should that look like? Honestly, that entirely depends on what your team needs to do in the time it has available. When you nail this, suddenly, those small goals and habits become the backbone of your workflow.  

Revisit Team Health Regularly 

Teams are dynamic. People leave, you onboard new staff, you move people around depending upon the project and client demand. This isn’t something you do periodically. It’s a methodology that should be a part of the company fabric. What are the daily, weekly, and monthly collaborative meetings and discussions that allow for everyone to express themselves in a safe and productive way?  

Embrace Inspiration 

If you really want your folks to achieve great things, they need to feel inspired. What we see early on in a lot of agile transformations is that the early days of inspiration are heady and, a lot like those January resolutions, short lived. The first few weeks are freeing and fun, but keeping it going requires a shift.   

You have to revisit both individual and team goals to keep that inspiration going, and do so in manageable and scalable ways.  

Maybe one member of the team prefers to work longer days four days a week so they can have every Friday off. Another team member may get real value from being able to nominate a dream project and get time to focus on it for a few days a month. Another might like extra time built into their schedule to train for a marathon.   

It’s less about blanket generosity and more about specificity. What are the specific goals and rewards that will individuate your staff so they enjoy a better quality of life? How can you interact with your team so their individual needs and personalities are reflected in the work they do?   

Big goals and big ideas are always made up of tiny steps, and there’s not necessarily always a prescribed map or route to get there. If goal setting is holding your team back, that’s fine. Just reach out. We have a coach for that 

Rebecca Rutherford

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