Time to Rethink Your Goals? Here’s How You Can Make Progress Despite Uncertainty

/ Christine Andrukonis

Even in times of considerable uncertainty—say, during a pandemic—having tangible, realistic goals to work toward can help people remain focused and productive. Now that businesses have started to find their footing for the immediate crisis, it’s time to go back to the basics. As individuals, as managers and as business leaders, it’s time to pause, take a deep breath, and realign your goals to meet the current environment.

Making progress as an employee.

In a typical year, employees set annual goals at the beginning of the fiscal year, then, despite HR’s urging for more regular touch points, employees will review these goals and revise them slightly with their manager only at midyear, when it’s time to enter data in the HR Information System. Even given the six-month intervals, the shifts required are usually minor adjustments on the way toward achieving the originally planned, larger goal.

In the current environment, it’s tricky to know what your goals should be, and what mile-markers you’ll need a month from now, or even a few days from now. It’s easy to feel stuck and ignore personal goals altogether while we’re in this strange limbo. But you can continue to move forward by pinpointing the short-term wins that can help you make progress toward the long term. Now is the time to request a one-on-one meeting with your manager to better understand how the team and corporate goals have shifted. Even if team and corporate goals haven’t quite settled yet, meet with your manager to better understand what’s on leadership’s mind, and where the business is headed. This can help you realign your personal goals with those of the business as a whole.

You may be surprised to learn you don’t have to revamp every aspect of your pre-pandemic goals. Rather, you can review them with fresh eyes and look through a realistic lens of what’s possible to achieve by year-end. Once you identify the edits to be made, map out the incremental steps and timeframes you need to be successful. By going through this exercise again, you could discover areas where you need more support from leadership, whether it’s through digital learning tools, redistributing responsibilities, or prioritizing certain kinds of work that you didn’t before. Ideally, by staying in contact with your manager, you can maintain focus on your long-term goals, or even set new ones, and remain flexible and realistic about the timeframe in which you will get there.

Making progress as a manager.

At Notion, we often refer to managers as the “magic middle” of the organization. That’s because managers bear the burden of guiding and motivating their teams while also demonstrating business progress to leadership. The “magic middle” role is intensified during periods of change. Regardless of what business you are in, today’s environment is exceptionally volatile. What happens when the goal posts for progress are in motion, and people are feeling vulnerable and off-kilter?

Team members are looking to their managers more than ever for guidance, clarification, and reassurance. That’s why, even if you don’t have all the answers, it’s vital to set up progress meetings with your team sooner than later. To prepare for these conversations, first, get clear on the revised business goals, if they have been established. Then, you can realign the goals for your team and business unit to fit the new reality. Revising your individual and team goals may mean giving the ‘okay’ to scale back on productivity, expectations, and deliverables, so you can maintain team morale and work together toward more feasible objectives.

If new business goals haven’t been established, it’s okay to discuss this with your team, and continue to work toward the goals you set out at the beginning of the year, wherever feasible. Either way, it’s important to outline what’s realistic right now—and what’s out of reach for this year.

As you speak with employees, lead with empathy and compassion for the stress we’re all facing. Give people space to express their concerns, hopes and fears. Employees will appreciate an honest and candid conversation, particularly if they feel heard. They want to feel as if they are helping to shape the future of the company alongside management. That’s why it’s better to have regular performance meetings, conversations and check-ins, than none at all, even if the business objectives are not yet finalized. If you keep employees updated on progress and engage them in developing the future, you can help keep them positive and inspired. You may even find that the pandemic has uncovered unexpected opportunities for personal and business growth.

Making progress as a business leader.

Let’s level up: no one has been through a time like this before. As tricky—and disheartening—as it may be right now to go back to the drawing board to keep your company afloat, it’s essential. Managers and employees alike need to know that leadership is laser-focused on both adjusting for today and simultaneously preparing for tomorrow.

Without clear timelines and definitive plans for reopening, it can be hard to carve a path forward. But here are three things you can do to move the needle:

1.    Get creative with revenue streams to bolster your bottom line. Examine every single thing your company was doing before and during the pandemic, and what you weren’t doing. Are there ways of reaching your customers now that you can carry into the future? New avenues for marketing that might be opening up? What other ways can you drive business? What technology/training/resource shifts need to be made now, so that your company can remain viable in the long term?

2.    Reprioritize pipeline projects with a more virtual focus. Every company has suddenly become a virtual company, whether or not they had previously planned to make this shift. What can you take online that was once an in-person transaction, service, or commodity? What will customers need to feel safe engaging with your product or service? What laws, policies and procedures will your leaders need to reconsider to make the required shifts, and who will be accountable for each objective?

3.    Ask for help. There are dozens of questions to explore, and you’ll need an innovative, future-focused task force in place to manage the various issues and plot out your new business goals. To do this, lean on your executive leadership team. You brought them on for their expertise and insight, and now is the time to ask for their input. It can also be worthwhile to crowdsource from the entire organization, as a way to bring new ideas to the table and maintain employee engagement.

We are just starting to see the short and long term impacts of the pandemic, and the future remains uncertain on many levels, for nearly every business. Still, setting goals during a pandemic isn’t impossible—it just looks different than it did at the start of the year. With these strategies, you can continue moving forward. And if you need additional help with your goal-setting strategy, contact us at hello@notionconsulting.com.