Set goals to live by – and make them HARD

Women do better with goals that are heartfelt, animated, required and difficult (HARD). Yet companies prefer SMART goals (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timebound).

As children, we wanted to please our parents. As we aged and became adults, we continued to follow patterns established in childhood.  But the world has changed since we were children and we need to take a step back and recalibrate and determine are we living life to the fullest?

When I started to work, it was realistic to work at a single corporation for your entire career and retire with a pension and medical coverage. Today, college graduates can expect to have on 12 to 15 jobs in their lifetime. There are many theories about what causes the churn, but the reality is that workers will be changing jobs approximately every two years. The labor market has changed, and to succeed, we need to establish realistic goals.  Whether you aspire to rise up the corporate ladder or increase your earning potential, each of us has internal measures of success. We know what good looks like for us.  The most direct path to achieving results is having a plan and setting goals.

The most common approach is setting goals that are specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timebound (SMART). The SMART acronym first appeared in the November 1981 issue of Management Review. An example of one of my SMART goals is: Write a monthly article for my Level Playing Field column. This is a realistic accomplishment, and it is all within my control because it does not include publishing.

When SMART goals are applied to business, they support performance reviews because it is easy to determine if the goal was accomplished by the stated time, with the desired results. SMART goals push you to produce results, but they may be better aligned with the way men work. Men are more motivated by accomplishing SMART goals than women and can visualize outcomes, a technique also used by athletes to give them focus.

Women may find goal setting stressful because they tend to set difficult goals.  Part of the difficulty in completing goals is due to differences in workstyle, with women taking on more collaborative and team-related tasks with men focusing more on individual assignments. An additional complication to team goals is found from the Dunning-Kruger effect, where people overestimate their abilities to perform tasks.  Because of their team focus, women often assist colleagues who may be struggling which distracts them from completing their own individual assignments. If being a team player can make it difficult for a woman to excel, what type of goals are more effective for women?

Women do better with goals that are heartfelt, animated, required and difficult (HARD), and are associated with an emotional connection, and because of the strong connection it is easier for women to visualize achieving these goals. The emotional component creates a “holistic or “good for the whole” nature to the goal, making the accomplishment more than just a management priority. HARD goals are better aligned to the way women work since they are purposeful and necessary, which energizes women to focus on them.

  • Heartfelt — enriches the lives of others (customers, the community)
  • Animated —visualize achievement of the goal
  • Required — absolutely necessary
  • Difficult — requires a stretch to achieve (such as learning a new skill or responsibility)

My SMART goal could become a HARD goal by revising it to: Research trending topics and create content to help women advance in the workplace. The difference is the purpose. Instead of just generating content, the blogs are directed to help women in the workplace, which aligns with my passion.

When setting goals maintain balance and don’t over commit. Women tend to minimize accomplishments or set over-ambitious goals. Strive for slow, steady improvement. Target a 10% improvement so it is sustainable and achievable. Celebrate your successes as they come, don’t wait until the end (because if you don’t take credit someone else will). Remember things don’t have to be perfect, they just need to be 10% better.

Well written goals should motivate you and the people around you, providing a mission that you understand and believe in. They should provide value to the organization. Robots can take on a series of tasks, but women need inspiration and the feeling their contribution is valuable. If what you are doing does not seem relevant… ask. Understanding your role keeps you motivated, helps you to visualize success and allows you to accomplish your goal.

No matter whether your goals are personal or professional, short-term or long-term, they need to be achievable, and important to YOU. Goals let you live life to the fullest, doing things you are passionate about because they are heartfelt.  Visualize achieving them and achieving greatness.

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