Why do we “drop the ball” with our top priorities?
Perseverance can't hold out on its own without a regular place to talk openly about issues, to help keep you motivated and to deliver your challenges.
Way back in 2008 I decided to buy an acoustic guitar. I had a big urge to play songs and sing along even though my singing is not something you should hear. I wasn’t confident enough to say I wanted the guitar to learn so under the guise of “Its for my son” to introduce him to music, I got my first guitar from Smyths Toy store of all places. Not the best guitar with its steel strings sitting high off the fret board or “high action” as they say in the trade leading to sore fingers after a few minutes playing. My son soon gave up, not surprising as he didn’t want to play anyway, but I continued and struggled on. I felt like giving up on many occasions whether because of the sore fingers or difficulty changing chords, bad strumming technique or what felt like lack of progress in general. I knew it would be hard, but I persevered, and I kept going each week racking up ounces of positive feedback as new memory muscles were built. Until around the six-month mark when everything rocked into place and I was on level 1; I could play half a dozen chords and change from one chord to the next at a mediocre level. I could manage a three-chord song, yeah. I still strum to this day, although with a better guitar and so proving that no matter what new challenge or goal you aim for, if you stick at it, persevere, the chances of success shoot way up.
How does perseverance relate to the day job? Well consider this: You just closed out the quarterly or bi-annual review meeting that included new goals to deliver for the next period. It was the usual arduous process and truth be told if you could get away with not doing it you would. But job done, and everything is tied up in a nice, neat bow and away you trot to get cracking on making the company even more profitable.
Three weeks later you remember to check on your review goals to see if you’re on track. Some goals you are doing, some you have not started, and you are even working on new goals that don’t appear on the list. But hey you’re busy, so you take a mental note and move back to being busy. This happens a few weeks later with similar realizations but with a bit more stress now sitting on your shoulder as you have not discussed progress or lack thereof with your manger. Before you know it, the quarter is nearly at end and that review meeting is swinging round again. You’ve been having periodic 1:1’s with your manager but the agendas are mostly immediate problems or concerns, review goals are touched on but the 1:1 time is up before you know it.
Why can our focus sometimes not target our most important goals we planned and agreed to do?
1. The goal was not my priority
For whatever reason, even though I took the goal as mine, it wasn’t a “desired goal”, and I didn’t believe in it. Perhaps this was a goal cascaded down from the top that lost its translation along the way? Or I was convinced unconvincingly by my manager that such and such needs to be done, good for the business and good for my career etc. Regardless, if the goal is not really mine, I make it easier to justify not doing it, I will self-sabotage or do a bad job and defend with I told you so.
More “important and urgent” work takes my attention
I happily take on the goal, I believe it is important and needs to be done. I even start the work but find I constantly stop and start and jump onto other things resulting in wasted time, defocus and ultimately goal not done. Although I wanted to do it, right now there seem to be more important daily issues coming up. The business could be new and manic, or I could have a manager or their boss wanting more and more new work items and for good reasons. Or I could be stuck being busy for busyness sake and paying too much attention to the important and urgent items when I could choose not to.
2. I am secretly afraid of it even if only subconsciously
I see the value of the goal and want to own it, sure most of it was my idea anyway. However, I have a little pang in the gut, an ache telling me something is not fully right. It’s a big goal, chance of failure is high, I cannot do some of the technical parts myself or need to work with people that I know will be difficult. Not surprisingly it does not raise to the top of my daily task list often enough even when it should. I don’t do a great job asking for help either.
3. Too many external dependencies with competing priorities and plenty of unknowns
As people get more experienced and senior, their goals can be much broader, working across teams with different managers and different priorities. Delivering successfully in this environment is difficult, even for the hardened campaigners. I want to achieve something big and happily take the goal on, I start full of gusto, positively advance and I keep at it and stay motivated. But managing stakeholders across units or geographies with no real buy-in unless I can convince them, starts to wear me down. Inevitably I work on finding a graceful exit or reduce the outcome impact.
So, what’s a solution?
No matter the reason for the ball to be dropped, I passionately believe that to solve all these scenarios we need to have good rolling “Smart + All Heart” conversations. As an employee I need to want to have my weekly 1:1 with my manager and I will only do that if the 1:1’s are good, driven by my agenda with a healthy mix of what is going on (Smart) and how I am doing and feeling (Heart), all leading to a good coaching conversation so I skip out of the 1:1 unblocked, confident to keep going with something new to try or confirmation that I’m doing well based on current progress. Most managers do want to ensure these types of 1:1’s happen, but as a report, we’re not always comfortable or courageous to do our part to make it happen.
I worked for a company that sent out a yearly questionnaire to gauge the health of the organization and how well the company, teams and managers were performing. I remember there were two questions something along the lines of “I get regular feedback from my manager at 1:1’s” and “I get feedback from my manager that helps me improve performance”. They are positive questions to be asking, however, if the 1:1’s are not coaching sessions but defaulting to command and control or an unhealthy mix, there will be some tick box behavior to make good on these statements. I can honestly say I fell into the tick box trap occasionally and with more and more work and potential for your name to be called out in lights, it’s easy to do.
I’d be happier (maybe they are now) if those questions were written along the lines of “I feel engaged and motivated after 1:1’s with my manager” or “My manager listens, understands and supports me in managing and achieving my goals”. The impact might be the manager plans a bit more for the 1:1 and I mean preparing how they should “be” in the meeting, not planning what they will say or what they want to talk about. It also puts onus on the report to drive the sessions, open-up more and take the responsibility as they need to be doing most of the talking and coming prepared.
Up ending how you currently run your 1:1’s is not easy but remember if you tell someone to do something then the responsibility shifts to you, it’s now your idea and your plan, whether you believe that or not. As a manager you have hired the best person you can, so keeping them energized and motivated while helping them to come up with new solutions for greater performance is the top goal every day.
How can you ensure your reports skip out of the room/video call motivated to do their best work and still ensure the agreed goals move forward?
How will you ensure there is an environment where your goal blockers and worries have a place to be aired regularly in a positive and motivating way?
To make changes like this does take perseverance. I know there are plenty of people within companies that do this every day, so you can start too and if you keep going and persevere, who knows, something wonderful might happen.
Yours in Perseverance,
The Oxygen Coach