Today’s business environments are very open to the idea of mistakes and failure. While none of us intentionally set goals with failure in mind, not accomplishing a goal isn’t the end of the world…or your career.
Karen Bradbury, associate vice president of talent strategies at Unum, points out that sometimes not meeting a goal isn’t even our fault. “One of the most common reasons that people don’t achieve their goals is due to changing business needs or objectives. How often have we set a goal in the beginning of the calendar year only to find that the company or department is going in a different direction (i.e. a technology implementation, the development of a new product, etc)?”
The business world is moving so quickly that company needs change and individual goals aren’t adjusted fast enough.
Bradbury though points out another reason that we do have some control over. “The goal may have been unrealistic in the first place. Many of us want to do a great job and make significant contributions, but the reality is often fraught with our current skill sets.”
Success has roots in failure
Occasionally, making mistakes or having a setback is a good thing. Some of the most admired and respected people in business have experienced setbacks and failures. Walt Disney was told by his editor that he lacked imagination. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter manuscript was rejected dozens of times before a publisher gave her a contract. Hall of Fame basketball star Michael Jordan once made a commercial about the number of times he’s failed.
Failure isn’t something that only applies to people. Spencer Silver, a researcher in 3M Laboratories was trying to make a strong adhesive and ended up creating Post-It notes. Listerine mouthwash was originally marketed as a floor cleaner.
So, what can we do? When a goal isn’t accomplished, the key isn’t to focus on the failure. It’s to understand the reasons that the goal wasn’t accomplished.
Don’t focus on the mistake
When you don’t accomplish a goal, don’t let it derail you. Focus on the recovery. Here are four steps to get started:
1. Acknowledge that you didn’t make goal. Don’t fake it or make up an excuse. Take responsibility and commit toward next steps, whatever those might be.
2. Identify the reason(s). Be honest. If you dropped the ball, admit it. If you didn’t have the support you needed, discuss it with your manager. The reason needs to be addressed before moving forward.
3. Let go of the guilt. This step will be hard, but it’s necessary to move forward. Don’t forget what happened. Use what you’ve learned to your benefit.
4. Decide next steps. You have two options: do nothing or do something. If the goal isn’t relevant anymore and it makes sense to focus on other areas, then don’t make the mistake of recommitting to the old goal. If the goal is still valuable, before recommitting to it, do these two things:
- Revise the goal. Take a look at the goal and make sure it’s written well. This is the perfect time to tweak it. Bradbury suggests following the GROW model (goal, realistic, options, way). “Start by asking yourself what the actual Goal is. Then, ask yourself if it is Realistic? Next, what are your Options to accomplish that goal? Last, identify the Way forward. If you put this into every goal that you set, not only will you be helping your company to achieve strong results, but you will be growing your skills and capabilities as well.”
- Review the timeline. Once you’ve reworked the goal, make sure the timeline is achievable. Plan for delays. Bradbury reminds us why we need to focus on establishing a realistic timeline. “A good goal does a couple of things: It helps to fulfill the overall goals and objectives of your department or company, and it stretches or develops your own capabilities and skills. You want your goals to be realistic, and achievable, but not so easy that it can be done in a day. The more we contribute to our company’s success, the more we grow and develop as important contributors and strong employees.”
Learn from your mistakes
While none of us intend to do it, every once in a while, we don’t accomplish our goals. It’s okay as long as we understand the reason and address it. Then you can recommit to the goal knowing your chances for success have greatly improved.