Confession: I am a data “nerd.”
I love numbers.
I love metrics.
I love knowing what the measurements say.
And yet, there are times when I wish I didn’t know…times when the implications of the data are just too frustrating.
Take, for example, when I recently asked nearly 200 talented graduates of an elite East Coast university this question:
On a scale from “Amazing” (5) to “Disappointing” (1), how good a year was 2015 for you?
I would describe their collective answer as “Meh” (a 3.30 weighted average).
I then followed it up with this:
Did you set, and write down, a formal goals (or strategy) at the start of 2015?
Answer: Nearly 85% said “No.”
Honestly, I wasn’t.
But while I wasn’t surprised by the data, I hated the implication.
You see, this data just doesn’t make sense.
Let me explain…
OUR INCONSISTENT APPROACH TO STRATEGY AND PLANNING
Imagine that you worked for a company that didn’t have a strategy?
Imagine that you worked for a manager who, when asked about the plan for the year, said “let’s just figure it out as we go…”?
How would that make you feel?
- Door #1: Confident, empowered, energized, assured.
- Door #2: Confused, frustrated, anxious, uncertain.
Yeah, I’d choose Door #2, as well.
How long would you stay at such a company? How long would you want to work for such a manager?
My guess: not too long.
So, here’s what I don’t understand: why do we hold our companies and employers to a different standard than we hold ourselves?
In other words, why do we tolerate a lack of rigor in our personal lives (i.e. we don’t set and write down goals), that we would never tolerate at work?
And, perhaps more importantly, what is this lack of rigor costing us — both individually and as a society?
THE COST OF RIGOR-LESS LIFE
Author David Brooks, in his book “The Road To Character” writes with precision on what happens when we lack the kind of focus made manifest by a clear and compelling personal plan:
“Without focus…it’s easy to slip into a self-satisfied mediocrity. We grade ourselves on a forgiving curve and end up slowly turning into something a little less impressive than we had originally hoped…”
When I first read this, it felt like I’d been punched in the gut. It rang so true.
Do you know anyone for whom life today is a “little less impressive” than they had hoped when they graduated from college?
Yeah, me too.
The good news is that mediocrity is a fragile foe. It thrives in the absence of vision but, take one intentional step toward a better future, and it’s gone.
All you need is a plan.
All you need is a vision of how to make today, this week, this month, this year better than last.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. I don’t even care if it’s “realistic.” It just has to exist.
If you haven’t yet made a plan for 2016, let’s get started.
A SIMPLE STRATEGY SETTING PROCESS TO MAKE THIS YEAR BETTER THAN THE LAST
Given that we already seem to know and understand the importance of business strategy, let’s use that as a model for our personal planning process.
First things first, we need to define our objective(s).
In business, there are a number of financial or operational measures (often referred to as “Key Performance Indicators” or “KPIs”) around which to build a plan. Examples include: revenue, profit, margin and earnings per share, among others.
Health? Wealth? Power? Happiness? Love?
The more you think about it, the more confusing it can get.
If you’re not sure yet on what to focus, use the catch-all metric that I prefer: “well-being.”
Author and data scientist Tom Rath describes well-being as the variable that differentiates individuals who are “thriving” from those who “suffer.”
Even better, Rath and his research team at Gallup interviewed people at over 150 countries and were able to identify five universal and “essential” elements of well-being; factors that combine to create a life, well-lived.
- Career: Do you like what you do every day?
- Social: Do you have strong relationships and love in your life?
- Financial: Are you effectively managing your economic life?
- Physical: Do you have the health and energy you need to get things done?
- Community: Are you engaged in the area where you live?
This is useful.
With a clear (if multi-faceted) definition of “well-being,” we can then craft a compelling plan to move from a state of “self-satisfied mediocrity” to something more compelling.
A SIMPLE QUESTION, BETTER STRATEGY
Using well-being as our proxy for success in 2016, begin your planning process with this simple question: How can I get better?
- How can I get better at effectively managing my money?
- How can I get better at building and maintaining meaningful relationships?
- How can I get better at managing my health, energy and time so as to get more done?
- How can I get better at engaging in my community in a meaningful way?
- How can I get better at work? How can I do more of what I love and less of what I don’t?
For each question, identify one new action, habit or behavior that will move you forward; one new thing that you can do to create more wellbeing in your life this year.
It doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
As my business coach once told me: “When you first start taking planning seriously, the most important thing is to get [the plan] down, then you can work on getting it right.”
At the end of this incredibly simple planning process, you should have a list of specific things you can do to improve in each of the five essential components of wellbeing.
Now, start making it happen.
IT’S TIME TO “TURN PRO” IN OUR PERSONAL LIFE
Setting targets, crafting a plan, making things happen…this is what it means to be a professional, a “pro,” at work.
This year, let’s model that behavior and “turn pro” in our personal lives, as well.
At work, being a pro is rewarded: pay, promotion, prestige…these prizes and more await those with the ability who set and execute against ambitious goals.
In our personal life, for better or worse, no one is keeping score, but the reward for “turning pro” is even more compelling: a deep sense of satisfaction, security and confidence that comes from knowing that you are living an intentional life; the life you want to live.
And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s the biggest prize there is.
What does “turning pro” mean to you? What action can you take to make it happen?