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Agile Personal Growth Practices: Start, Stop, Continue

Working with many coaching clients, this is often the time of year I hear about reviews, performance discussions, planning and goal setting. It can be a time of recognizing and celebrating success or it can be a time of disappointment with the realization that goals set late last year or much earlier this year have not been met. While we know that focusing on wins instead of what we might perceive as failures builds an appreciative mindset leading to longer term cumulative successes, strong societal and organizational culture still focuses on learning and building upon failures. Is there a better way? Building upon BHAG and SMART, I'll share the practical approach of SSC.

It can be overwhelming to look into the future and try to predict a path to reaching an important personal or professional goal. Similar to, looking up at the top of a mountain as your goal to ascend to, there may be many paths to reach it. You set your goal and start climbing the mountain only to find a path blocked or impassible. Will you give up, find another way, or go back to the start and begin again? I see this often with clients seeking to develop high-performance leadership. Such a person may be looking for an obvious, or well walked path, often of shortest distance that will get them directly to the top of the mountain much like completing a linear work task. Since reaching such a large or bold goal such as developing leadership is rarely a straight line, often involving more complexity, personal goals like this require a more agile approach.

For decades, Jim Collins has been teaching about the concept of the BHAG or Big Hairy Audacious Goal as a powerful mechanism to stimulate progress for highly visionary companies with bold missions. The same approach can be utilized for people seeking to set and reach career, professional and personal goals. Fundamentally, a BHAG has to be clear and compelling goal with a clear finish line so you know when it has been reached. As Jim so clearly states, "a BHAG engages people– it reaches out and grabs them in the gut. It is tangible, energizing, highly focused. People "get it" right away; it takes little or no explanation." Being so clear, like a high-definition picture, the Big Hairy Audacious Goal is bold and like a stretch goal, forcing oneself to reach further to obtain it and providing motivation for the journey. Instead of having many multiple goals is it better to have a single BHAG, maybe encompassing several smaller goals to get you there?

Most people have heard of SMART goals as a standard curriculum of business education programs. Incorporating SMART criteria helps focus your efforts and increase the chances of achieving your goal.

Specific - who, what, when, where, why

Measurable - metrics and milestones to measure progress

Achievable - importance and ability to motivate for attainment

Realistic - relevant and makes sense within broader goals of focus

Timely - time period and deadline provide clear constraint and sense of urgency

In essence, developing SMART goals makes them actionable and continues to be a proven help in planning and delivering on goals.

While embracing a BHAG and using SMART goals are proven means to achieving almost any goal, one of the most common risks is that goals change and shift more rapidly now. In today's faster moving world, setting goals and reviewing once or twice during the year is not as effective as it once was.

A more agile approach might incorporate SSC or Start, Stop, Continue as a regular practice as well. As outlined here, SSC acts like wayfaring signs on the mountain guiding the ultimate path to the top (the goal). By simply asking yourself these questions on a regular basis, course corrections toward a goal are smaller, quicker, and lower risk.

  1. Start: What should you start doing that could add value?

  2. Stop: What should you stop doing that is not adding value or creating an obstacle to success?

  3. Continue: What should you keep doing that is working well?

An example would be a senior leader who has a BHAG to improve employee engagement by 50% next year. They may have SMART goals for the year to provide an externally facilitated, six-week coach training program for all managers, plan and deliver two organizational social events, and provide each employee a personalized recognition letter. The senior leader might on a weekly basis use SSC to think about the above questions. This may lead to the following insights and action. Start creating dedicated regular meeting agenda space with direct reports to discuss questions and concerns about the coming program. Stop approval of ad hoc coaching requests due to start of coach training program. Continue providing access to online coach resources in preparation for the program. SSC are three powerful questions that force alignment of thinking and actions toward goals on a consistent basis. Building this habit provides increased agility to changing circumstances while building a growth mindset.

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
- Bill Gates

Jerome Dickey, MA, ACC, CPHR, Q.Med


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