Just as she had done every year for the past 15 years on December 31st, my wife asked me what my New Year’s resolution would be for the coming year. And just like every other year for the past 15 years, I explained that I don’t believe in New Year resolutions. Why not? Because statistics show that nearly all resolutions made for the coming year are abandoned by the third week of January. Well, here we are. How’s yours going? Or perhaps I should ask, where the heck did yours go?
Whether your resolution has gone the way of the scrap pile or you’re still clinging to it (and good for you – I’m not that much of a Grinch), it’s important to understand the three reasons that prevent most of our personal and professional resolutions from becoming reality, whether we make them on December 31st, or any other time of year:
Change is (Really, Really) Hard
Nobody likes change, and neither do organizations. The amount of energy required to make change is much greater than the energy necessary to continue moving in the same direction – even if that road takes you the wrong way. Whether you are looking to change the dynamic within your office, team or company or to lose those elusive 15 pounds, you first have to stop your current trajectory and then develop the inertia to go follow the new course. Of course, once we decide we want to make a change, we want that change to happen as quickly as possible. It reminds me of a popular movie line by Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally, “when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” In the real world, meaningful and lasting change rarely happens overnight. My old boss used to caution the young staff in the office raring and clamoring for change that a battleship cannot turn on a dime but actually takes over a mile to start changing direction even after charting a new course.
- If you want to change course, try going from reverse into neutral. This might be all the change you can handle at once – worry about shifting into a forward gear later.
A Year is a Very Long Time — and Brief Indeed
It’s amazing how quickly time passes. A year can fly by in the blink of an eye and you wonder where the time went. The challenge of making resolutions only around the New Year is that shorter intervals are needed to recognize the need for and attempt making change. If you are not mindful of the changes you wanted to make way back at New Years then Thanksgiving will be quickly upon you again and you will look back with regret that you did not achieve the desired change. Think about your last performance review that identified changes that needed to be made. If the conversation about your performance or your employees’ performance only happens once a year then the likelihood of having a similar conversation next year will increase. I had a long period working for the same boss and every year he would slide my review across the desk for me to sign. I never had concerns about the contents because I had ongoing conversations throughout the year. Not formal, difficult conversations laden with stress and discomfort. Because we had regular meetings – sometimes out in the field checking on projects, sometimes over drinks on a business trip and sometimes, in fact, in his office – any changes that needed to be made were caught early before they could develop into a bigger issue. Similar to quality control, the cost or ease of change as an issue is identified early is very small compared to the cost of change over time.
- An accountability partner may be just the ticket to your successful journey. Ask a friend or colleague to meet for coffee every 4-6 weeks where you can talk about your progress – and offer to do the same for your friend.
You Need Strategy and Tactics – Not Just a Desire to Change
I recently spoke to a local Chamber of Commerce about Project Management Tips for Small Businesses, and in the discussion of long term planning, we reinforced the need for clear goals and objectives. Most of the small business owners were clear on where they wanted to go (more clients, more revenue, more market share) – but they were very foggy about the strategy and tactics for how exactly they would get there. We are biologically programmed to react to the latest crisis (look! a wild beast coming to eat me!) and this often distracts us from the hard work we need to do over time to ensure that the tactics are being implemented in order to meet the strategy. The planning function for a change or project or event requires you to know where you are right now as well as where you want to be. For many, this type of self-reflection can be daunting.
- Eat the elephant – one bite at a time. Break it down into small, manageable, digestible bites to stay on target in achieving your goal of meaningful change.
If you have reached the end of January with your resolutions intact, congratulations and keep it up. If you are like most whose resolutions are fading and you would like to revive them, there is still plenty of time to get back on track.
Or maybe you will approach the end of the year and realize that you have made meaningful progress toward achieving your goals by changing your perspective and when your wife asks about your 2014 resolutions you can smile and say “I don’t believe in resolutions.” Or, perhaps next year, mine can resolve not to ask me about mine.
This guest post is courtesy of Michael Riegel. He is the Managing Director of Engineers Are People Too and has spent over 20 years in the engineering and construction management industries managing projects and staff. Michael recognized the need for additional management skills to help technical professionals “elevate their games” and has been providing training programs to technical organizations and staff since founding the company in 2012.