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Common Excuses for Not Setting Goals

Published 8/15/2022

Today, we'll dismantle a few common excuses often provided for not setting goals. We also briefly discuss the SMART goal-setting framework.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
We're talking about setting goals. On today's episode of Developer Tea, my name is Jonathan Cutrell. We won't belabor the point here. Setting goals is one of the most important things you can do for your productivity. Hopefully you've heard that on the show before. If you've listened for very long, you almost certainly have. You've probably heard it elsewhere. That setting goals is hands down probably the most important thing you can do for your productivity. Creating that clarity of where you're headed. If you haven't learned how to set a good goal, I encourage you to take some time to learn about things like the smart framework we're going to touch on that specifically for a minute here. We're not going to talk exhaustively about how to set goals today though. We're not going to tell you why you should. There's plenty of other sources that will tell you those things and I encourage you to go and read them. We might cover that in the future. But today, I'm going to focus instead on dismantling the reasons that people often provide for not setting goals. In this case, we're going to be kind of approaching this from a team angle. Why do teams often not set goals? First, let's talk quickly about smart. SMART, this is an acronym to help you set better goals. A good goal in the smart framework is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time boxed or time based. We're going to go through each of these really quickly, explain what they mean. Specific means that you're not setting a range or you're not saying that you want to get about some particular number, which comes in the measurable part in a second. You're not saying I want to get somewhere around 100 subscribers. You're saying I want to get between 90 and 100 or maybe you're just definitively going with 100. I want to get to 100 subscribers. This is a specific goal. Measureable. How are you going to measure this thing? If your goal does not include numbers, this is a heuristic, it may not be measurable. This is not always true. But most measurements will either directly measure something that is quantifiable, hint it's a number probably, or it's going to take something that is qualitative and provide a mechanism for turning it into a quantity. Whether that's some kind of survey that takes, let's say, a sentiment and turns it into an average rating, for example, measurable goals. The only way you can determine whether you've actually succeeded or failed at that goal. Measureable might be a number, it might be a binary, true or false. Ultimately, being able to definitively say whether that goal has been met or not and measure it so that any other person who takes the same measurements comes up with the same answer. Alright, let's speed through the rest of these. Attainable, this means that you're not setting wild goals. I don't try to say that I need to get a million subscribers this month. Relevant, this is making sure that whatever your goal is, is actually relevant to the things you care about. If it's you as a person, then you should be able to determine if your goal is relevant to you as a person. If your goal is for your team, it's likely that your goal needs to be relevant to the work that your team is already doing. Why does your team exist? Well, the goal should probably revolve around a relevant reason for your team existing in the first place. Finally, this is often the one that is forgotten or misconstrued. The goal needs to be time-based. When are you going to achieve this by? I want to get to 100 subscribers. Is that going to happen in the next month, the next year? And definitely maybe one day, eventually some time long into the future. Goals are not really goals unless they have an element of time. This is often ignored. It's often skipped when setting goals. So this is what it means to have a good goal. There are a lot of other frameworks. This isn't the only way to determine if you have a good goal in front of you. And like I said, we're not going to be exhaustive on this today. Instead, when it's now focused on these reasons that people often give when they are not setting goals, if you were to ask them, interview them and say, hey, why did you choose not to set a goal for this quarter, for this year? This list is some of the things you may hear. The first one is jaded. They're jaded about setting goals. I've heard this one a lot. They have tried setting them in the past. They've tried using a method like OKRs, for example. And nothing really good came of it. It became more political or maybe the goals quickly became stale. People stopped believing in them, stopped using the method that was intended to provide you a way of tracking the goals. For whatever reason, it didn't work. And the people involved are jaded. They don't believe that it's worth doing again because it didn't work, perhaps enough times in the past for them. Maybe in the past, the goals were followed for a short bit, but otherwise as things were on, the goals were basically forgotten. We're going to dismantle this right away. This isn't a problem with goals. You're not jaded with goals. Goals are not the issue. It's a problem of leadership and setting goals that matter. Whether that leadership is you yourself being able to lead yourself or a leader on your team, that might be you as well. This is a problem with leadership. And it's a problem with setting goals that matter. Set goals based on what you must do well. This is the relevant part of that smart framework. Set your goals based on what is relevant for you to succeed at. Even if you think that this is implicitly obvious, oh yeah, of course we have to succeed at X, Y and Z. Set your goals around the things that you think are obvious. Use the goals to measure how well you are doing at those critical things. Set your goals even if they're obvious. If you are jaded from your goal setting in the past, this is not a problem with goals themselves. It's not a problem with the OKR framework. This is a problem of leadership and setting goals that matter. The second reason that you're going to hear is that they're waiting for the goals to trickle down from upper management to the team. They're waiting for someone else to set their goals for them. Maybe you're sitting in this position and you don't feel the freedom, the permission to set goals for your team, to set goals for yourself. You're waiting on your manager to tell you what your goals are. Maybe the first person to tell you. Setting goals is part of your job. If you want to be successful, if you want to grow in your career, setting goals is part of your job. It's part of succeeding and growing as a person, both personally and professionally. Setting goals is part of that path. If you're waiting on your manager to do this, if you haven't had a conversation with them, for example, that's a signal that you're probably assuming that goals are not an integral part of what you're supposed to do. Let's rip that out. You are responsible for your goals. If your goals need to be adjusted so that they align with some kind of higher level goals, that can happen after the fact. You could have a set of goals that you bring to your manager. You say, here's what I'm thinking for my goals based on what we've talked about, based on what I know. Whatever those the list is that you generated your goals from, once again, using some kind of framework to ensure that you're not missing the boat on your goals in terms of them being good at goals, bring what you believe are those good goals to your manager. Don't wait on your manager to bring them to you. The picture that we all have is that somehow at the very top of our organization will have OKRs or some kind of goal setting and that everything will filter down. And that as things filter down, the people as they receive their goals from executive leadership, they will just naturally say, OK, well, in this case, because we have these goals coming from leadership, here are, here's the fan out, right, and managers will continue to pass these down. This is often, by the way, why people become jaded? Because this process tends to go poorly. It takes a long time for those things to trickle down. Sometimes the goals at the bottom seem disconnected from the goals that they are supposedly connected to at the top. Don't wait for this. Don't wait for this. Set your goals based on what you know about what it takes to succeed. Now, I want to be careful here because I do believe it's good to have high level goals that are then broken down into how different teams can contribute to that success. But I also believe that often teams are sitting waiting for these kinds of perfectly laid out systems in order to produce well. The problem with this is that no iteration is happening, no measurement is happening in any direction for that team. And so while they're sitting waiting, they begin to act in a way that they think is going to carry them forward, building these habits and assuming that goals are not necessary in order to succeed, they are forward. Once again, going back to this attitude of being jaded, this is often the reason because we don't believe that we need them. Related to this, another reason that you'll hear is that our goals are already known. Everybody knows why the team exists. We know what we're supposed to do. We get all of our goals by way of breaking down work. We get feature requests. Our goal is to fulfill the feature request. We get a bug coming through. Our goal is to solve the bug. The implicit assumption here is that your job description is enough to help you meet the goals of the team. As long as other people are happy with you, as long as the work that's being put on your backlog is making its way through the board, then you're meeting your goals. And this is simply not the case because there are no goals. Remember that the goal must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. Many of those things are missing from this picture. If you are just fulfilling your job responsibilities, if you're collaborating well with other teams, this is good. These are all kind of the basis that you need for success. Being able to produce on requirements from a card on your combo board, these are good things to have. But they're not goals. You believe that your goals are known by everyone because everyone agrees that these things are good. No one is asking for more. And so, if no one is asking for more, then no one is out of the loop. No one is asking what our goals are because in our minds, they already know. This is not the case. We need to be clearer about where we are headed. What exactly is going to happen when we produce on those particular work items? What exactly happens as a result of fixing these bugs? Setting goals requires you to get out of the day-to-day work a little bit and see things from a little bit of a bigger picture perspective. Now, the final thing we're going to talk about today that you might hear, and this certainly isn't the only set of things you'll hear is why people are not setting goals. But this is the last one we're going to discuss today. That is that your work is changing all the time. And in order to stay agile, this is probably the most iron-clad defense for most people. In order to stay agile, we don't try to set long-term goals. Instead, we go with the flow. We respond to new goals. Our goals are changing on a weekly or on a monthly basis. And so we set new goals. Now, there's two problems with this argument. The first is that it's very unlikely that you will succeed if your goals are changing in a kind of your long-term direction is changing that often. Think about it like this. If you were to get in a car and start driving, if you keep changing directions constantly, you're not going to get very far in any particular direction. Instead, it's likely that you're trying to head in a general direction, maybe your headed west, and any change that you're experiencing that you're saying is shifting your goals is probably actually an adjustment, not a full 180. If this isn't the case and you're doing hard pivots, you know, multiple times in a given quarter or something like that, then you probably have a bigger problem than goal setting is going to actually fix. The second problem with this argument is that goals can encompass change. Goals can encompass change. If our goal is to reduce the defect rate, we don't necessarily have to prescribe what area of the application those defects have to come from in order to reduce them. That goal is flexible to whatever fits in the category of defect rate. While it still needs to be specific and measurable, and it needs to be relevant, it can also be flexible. With that said, it is important that you consider how change plays into your goal creation strategy. Specifically, if you have a change that happens on, let's say, a quarterly basis, and it probably makes sense for you to make your time basis for your goals at or less than a quarter. This will help your goals avoid becoming stale. There are plenty of other reasons why you may not be setting goals, but many of them, in fact, almost all of them probably are not good enough to not set goals. Encourage you set aside time. That's another one that we won't cover that you don't have enough time to set goals. Encourage you to set aside time, and it doesn't even have to be that much time. We're talking about a couple of hours maybe, to set some goals. Don't treat this like a great-aid project. Treat this as a way of getting thoughts out. Try to set some goals, and especially be aware. Be aware of the kinds of things, the kinds of excuses that you bring up as to why you shouldn't be setting these goals right now. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. If you enjoyed this episode, I encourage you to subscribe and whatever podcasting app you're currently using to listen to this episode. Definitely join the Developer Tea Discord community if you want to continue this conversation or any other conversation. I've been able to give direct advice this week. It was really cool. Some folks have reached out to me directly, and of course, I'm not the only engineer giving advice in there. There are people just like you who are practicing that as well. This is going to give you the opportunity to build up your coaching skills if you want to help other people. Of course, if you are in a place where you want input, you want feedback on your situation, and it's a wonderful place for you there as well. Head over to developertea.com slash Discord. Thanks so much for listening, and until next time, enjoy your tea.