If there’s one thing that’s certain in business, it’s uncertainty.
Remember when we would set goals for ourselves each January and then hustle all year not only to accomplish them but to crush them and thereby set ourselves up for well-deserved raises or promotions? It’s hard to believe that it’s been only about half a year since those “good old days.” But in light of all that has happened since the end of 2019, it’s clear that the pattern we’ve followed in previous years likely won’t work in 2020.
If you’re in an essential business that never shut down, perhaps the goals you set at the start of the year are still on the table, because you’ve been able to keep working toward them consistently and effectively. For many of us, however, the closures and shifts to remote work have made it necessary to adjust our goals and the time frames for achieving them—and some of us have even had to discard our previously set goals altogether!
As we move into the back half of 2020, some companies are reopening while many offices remain shuttered (sometimes by choice, sometimes not). In the current unexpected state of today’s business world, up is now down and left is now right and it’s impossible to predict where the path ahead will lead.
We still have several months left in 2020, though—and the pandemic isn’t likely to end very soon. So how should we approach the remainder of the year?
First, Take a Step Back
Goals help you channel your energy into action.
Why set goals? Most of us use goals to drive our actions and provide direction. Rewards and competition can improve our motivation (after all, who doesn’t like to win!). Without goals, both individuals and organizations would be aimless—and unsuccessful. Clearly, goals are essential to getting anything done in the business world.
As a starting point, have your employees review their existing goals (the ones they established in January) and assess each one in the context of the new work reality. Ascertain if some aspects of a goal can be accomplished while working from home—or if the whole thing should be put on hold and given a new due date that is more achievable under current conditions.
By reviewing goals and consciously deciding when to tackle them, you and your employees can gain some control amid all this uncertainty. Not insignificantly, you can also get some release from the stress that often accompanies having something big and incomplete sitting around. And with so much up in the air about the shape of the “new normal” (which is still in flux and unlikely to settle into a fixed form anytime soon), creating an entirely new set of goals may be the ideal solution for many managers and employees.
When Remote Work Doesn’t Work
It’s so important to adapt, think outside the box, and stay ahead if you want to grow.
During these times, remote work hasn’t been a viable option for all organizations or departments, though. Many companies have no choice but to try to figure out ways to keep their employees working when they can’t fulfill their typical responsibilities and the scope of what they can accomplish has shifted (and even narrowed).
For example, I’ve helped several companies pivot their in-office employees to back-office projects that had been sitting on the back burner for a while. One organization is having its employees update the policies and procedures they use when working with other departments (in particular, how data requests are issued and fulfilled). Although that company has to wait until it returns to full operation to know for sure how successful these efforts will be, initial estimates are that the revisions will reduce the time required to fulfill orders by 25 percent!
Another company I’m working with is moving files to a shared system that everyone can access whether they are in the office or working from home. At the start of the crisis, the company faced severe challenges when it didn’t already have all of its data stored on a shared drive, so it has prioritized remedying that problem. Other projects that its employees are working on include categorizing customer data for better purchasing knowledge as well as updating the company’s website and ticketing and point-of-sale systems.
Another possibility to explore is having some employees focus on obtaining important certifications that could improve the organization’s reputation and open the door to potential business opportunities. For example, my company’s status as a certified woman-owned business has definitely helped me attract clients!
These are just a few examples of the type of projects companies can undertake during this period of limited functionality. Surely there is something that’s been lingering on your company’s to-do list for far too long. However, if your organization is lucky enough to have absolutely zero outstanding tasks that can be tackled by employees whose primary functions can be achieved only in the office, then you need to think outside the box. For example, maybe this is a good time for those employees to expand their skill sets in ways that will make them more valuable to the organization. Or perhaps they can do some brainstorming and research new practices that could benefit the business.
Think Short Term
If I focus on the short-term goals, then the long-term goals are going to be in my favor.
With openings and closings changing by the week, it gets increasingly difficult for companies, departments, and individuals to set (and stick to) long-term goals. My own preference is to set long-term goals and spread out their steps and components over months, but that strategy doesn’t work for all people or for all organizations, especially under current circumstances. So this is a particularly good time to shift the focus to short-term goals.
In the past, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” has been great advice for guiding goal setting. The idea is to think of long-term goals as big projects that require sustained effort over an extended time. Now that it’s getting harder and harder to keep long-term goals on the table (for many people, those big goals set in January have not only fallen off the table but have flown completely out the window!), in this new normal we need to adjust our thinking a bit and turn our focus to each mile of that marathon: short-term goals.
That doesn’t mean you should forget that you’re running a marathon. Of course you should still keep looking at where you want to be at the end of the year! (And that means also making realistic estimates about where you’ll actually end up at the end of year, especially now that pandemic-fueled upheaval and uncertainty could potentially have a huge impact on your profit and loss statement . . . ).
Under current circumstances, though, I think you’ll have far more success at achieving goals (and reducing your stress and anxiety!) if you focus on short-term goals. One month out is a good time frame (though you might stretch that to three months for some projects, especially large or complex ones): it’s long enough to make an achieved goal feel like a big success, yet short enough to give you the flexibility to respond to the ever-changing market. If there’s one thing this crisis has taught the business world, it’s never to underestimate the value of being prepared to turn on a dime and adjust to rapidly changing circumstances.
Leveraging short-term goals will enable you to be truly productive and experience the satisfaction of getting stuff done. And lining up—and knocking down—short-term goals can put some of the pieces in place that you’ll need in order to focus once again on long-term goals, too, when things settle down enough for that to be feasible.
Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan
Before beginning, plan carefully.
—Marcus Tullius Cicero
Many of us are ready for this year to be over. But we’ve still got several months to go, so don’t write off 2020 yet! Use your time wisely to revise your goals, reassess current conditions frequently, and react quickly (yet carefully) to the continued changes that will surely be coming down the pike. By focusing your attention and effort on smaller goals that are less likely to get derailed by forces beyond your control, you can still achieve plenty that will help move the needle for your company. Don’t let COVID-19 diminish your accomplishments!
This month marks the 10-year anniversary of this blog! I am grateful for the support of all my readers. Over the past decade, it’s been my pleasure to help elevate managers and leaders all over the world—and I look forward to continuing this work for another decade and beyond. Thank you for being with me on this journey!