This post originally appeared on Forbes.com
As the year comes to a close, pretty much everyone’s talking about goals. The clean slate of a new year is pretty irresistible, after all, and any leader knows how important it is to set goals. Most of us are pretty goal-oriented people.
I certainly am: by November, my thinking naturally starts turning to my goals for the next year, for myself and imageOne. And because as a leader I’m committed to serving my team members, a big part of the way I think about goals is about how I can help them set, and meet, theirs.
At the end of each year, all team members begin to fill out their Vision and Goals Worksheet. We’ve set up a number of ways to care for our team members not just as employees but as whole people, and the vision and goals worksheet is a tool that enables us to stay in touch with the totality of their lives.
We don't just ask them for their goals at work—the worksheet asks them to consider their health goals, their personal goals, and any other goals they consider important to where and who they want to be as people.
The Visioning Process
The process starts with each team member creating or updating their vision —a process I learned from Zingerman's Deli co-founder Ari Weinzweig and ZingTrain in Ann Arbor, Michigan where an inspiring and practical “story” is written by each team member. That story takes place in the future—in our case, usually 5-10 years from the time it is being written.
Once their vision is in place, the team member starts to create their 5-year goals, 3-year goals, and 1-year goals. Many of the goals are inspired by the vision the team member has for his or her life—the goals are often more specific and actionable steps that move the team member toward the vision.
Putting their vision and goals in place allows me and my team leaders at imageOne to have open, honest, and productive conversations with every team member that serves them as team members and as people.
I don’t just engage my team members as they create their visions and their goals—I regularly challenge them on the futures they envision for themselves and the goals they’re setting as steps to get there.
I remember a team member I’ll call Carolina setting a goal about her commissions for the year ahead. Looking pretty self-assured, she told me that as a financial and professional goal, she thought she could make $150,000 in commissions in the coming year. I knew her talents and her performance history.
She was (and still is!) a driven, dedicated team member whose skills were a great fit for her role. She was great at offering our customers genuine care and commitment to extraordinary experiences that are the cornerstone of how we do business at imageOne, and she was seeing the results in her steadily growing commissions.
She could certainly do it. In fact, she could do it pretty easily. Maybe even too easily.
So I looked her in the eye and told her, “What would it look like if you increased that goal? Close your eyes and imagine it—the steps you’d need to take, the things that would need to happen.” I watched Carolina carefully while she closed her eyes and thought. “Open your eyes. Did you see it?”
She did see it, but she’d set a pretty solid goal that already felt, to her, pretty challenging. And it was more than she’d made the year before. Why would she raise it? But when she started to imagine and see what it might take to make, say, $225,000, she got a glint in her eye.
She hadn’t considered setting a goal that really challenged her abilities and her drive, and suddenly, she was thinking about it in a new way. She changed the goal to $225,000.
That year, Carolina’s commissions came in at $210,000. She was a little short of the ambitious goal that she and I had set together, but she’d exceeded her initial goal by sixty thousand dollars. She’d pushed herself, and she’d succeeded far beyond what she’d initially imagined that she could do.
Taking Your Goals Above and Beyond
One of my goals at imageOne is to focus even more on the personal side of my team members’ happiness. This goal (one I’m really excited about) was inspired by Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna, and his program, the Aetna social compact.
Every year, as part of the process of setting goals for imageOne, I ask my team members to rate their personal and professional happiness. I’m grateful to be able to say that professional happiness runs pretty high here—I know that my team’s happiness is a big reason that we get recognized in such humbling ways as being named as a Forbes 25 Small Giants: Best Small Companies in America. We very rarely deal with turnover and it gives me a lot of pride to be able to say that my team members like coming to work.
So this year, to really up the ante on making sure that I’m meeting my commitment to serve my team members and the totality of their lives, I set a goal of improving the personal happiness number.
So as I engage with my team members in open, honest conversations about the goals that they’re setting as part of our vision and goals process, I don’t just ask about the professional ones. Maybe their goal is to take a family ski vacation. “That’s a pretty fun goal,” I might say. “Could you make it more fun?”
Or, if someone is thinking about taking up running from scratch and hopes to run a 5K by the end of the year: “That’s a pretty scary goal…how could you make it even scarier?” What if instead of deciding to set a goal of running a 5K, they set a goal of running a half-marathon?
After all, just like Carolina missed her ambitious new goal but significantly exceeded her initial one, if a team member sets out to run a half-marathon, they’re going to run a whole lot of 5K distances along the way…even if they don’t end up finishing the half-marathon they ambitiously set out to conquer.
Dare to Dream
The thing I’m looking for when I ask a team member those kinds of questions is the moment when that person starts to dream a little. If you’re paying attention, you can see it happen—as I did in my conversation with Carolina.
Usually, they look away; their eyes take on a different expression. Suddenly, they’re not just reciting the goals they know are good for them or focusing on what they know is reasonable or “achievable.” They start wondering what they might be able to do. They start envisioning themselves crossing the half-marathon finish line, exhausted but triumphant, or the look on their children’s faces during their first family skiing lesson.
Any successful leader and entrepreneur know how important it is that goals correlate with reality and that they be things that we can actually put into practice. At imageOne, leaders check in quarterly with their team members to see how they are doing with their goals: we ask, “on track or off track?”
If the team member is off track, what can we do to help? That’s one reason that the vision and goals process at imageOne asks participants to think of the same kinds of goals in the short-term, mid-term, and long-term. And not every goal needs to push us to significantly exceed our expectations: we all need a few likely wins in our sights, after all.
But, what happens when I nudge my team members to dream a little is that they start to think about what they really want, not just what they think they can pretty easily have. They start to wonder if they’re pushing themselves as hard as they can. They get back in touch with the things that really motivate them.
We tend to set goals that we think we can accomplish. After all, that’s what the common wisdom on goals says that we should do. Besides, who wants to feel the discomfort and vulnerability of the possibility of failure? But in my experience as a leader, fear of failure is usually what’s in the way. Fear of failure is what keeps us from aspiring to the things we really want—or even asking ourselves honestly what they are.
When inspired (with a little nudging), it’s remarkable to learn what we are capable of. And when we find out what we are capable of, the fear doesn’t go away...but it doesn’t get in our way anymore.
That’s what I see when I guide my team members through our vision and goal-setting process. They start to envision the extraordinary. To wonder if they can do more, be more, than they ever thought they could. To understand that they’re striving for something they want, and that even if they don’t hit their goal, they’ll still be stretching themselves beyond ordinary goals into extraordinary visions for themselves.
And being able to envision the extraordinary is a crucial part of being able to achieve it.