Astronaut Scott Kelly returned to Earth earlier this year after 340 days onboard the International Space Station. Since I’m a little bit of a geek, I listened to a few interviews and one element stood out for me, and that was the importance of milestones in Kelly’s work. “I tried to have milestones that were close, like when is the next crew arriving, the next [spacewalk], the next robotics, the next science [experiment]. That made a difference to me, keeping my sanity,” Kelly said.
If you’ve got a long-term goal like “understand how a long journey to Mars will affect the physiology and psychology of the astronauts on board” it’s pretty obvious why defining milestones would be important. While small business owner goals may not be quite so astronomical in actual scope, they can certainly feel it if you’re the one figuring out how to reach the goal. Here’s how to define your milestones:
- The technical definition of a milestone refers to measurement, representing an achievement not a task. For small business owners, though, milestones ought to be a task that represents a measurable achievement. Hey, entrepreneurs like to get stuff done and feel accomplishment; this lets a milestone be a two-fer.
- Be sure that when your milestones are added up, you will be at your ultimate goal. It’s easy to get distracted and off-track when creating shorter range goals.
- Consider your milestones as part of a series, not in isolation. Milestones can feel small and insignificant, especially if you are having difficulty defining your entire path or defining milestones for your entire journey. If Astronaut Kelly contrasted every science experiment with the journey to Mars goal, it would be easy to get discouraged.
- For every milestone, ask yourself “does this represent progress?” This is especially helpful if you’re discouraged at the distance you still have to go. As long as you are closer to your goal than farther away, that is progress, no matter how small. The distance between where you are and your ultimate destination is shorter than it was yesterday/last week.
In small business, there is a lot to get done and it’s easy to feel like you’re losing your sanity. If creating and tracking milestones is good enough for a seasoned NASA astronaut like Kelly, it’s good enough for me.
Business owners tell me that they feel like an employee in their own business, that they spend too much time on mundane tasks and putting out fires. At the end of the day, they wonder “what on Earth did I get done today?”. All too often, they shake their head, discouraged, because their work was not meaningful to the business progressing forward but just getting it through the day, standing still. I’ve got a couple of solutions that you can implement right away to change the course.
- Record how you are currently spending your time. You may have done this before but this time I want you to do it a little differently; break it down into 4 quadrants (this is compliments of Stephen Covey, author “7 Habits” book series):
- Important and Urgent. Crises, most often due to ineffective systems or resources.
- Important and Not Urgent. The Golden Quadrant, in my eyes. This is work that doesn’t have a deadline and no one is waiting for you to finish this work (unless you’re working with a coach J), but it sure is important. This is your strategic planning, goal setting and the focused time to achieve those goals. This work has a longer view than today, this week or this month.
- Not Important but Urgent. Some phone calls and email (okay, most email), and tasks passed on to you from someone else at the last minute.
- Not Important and Not Urgent. Candy Crush, anyone?
Go here Steven Covey’s 4 Quadrants to download a worksheet to record where your time is going. If most of your time is spent on the left side of the table, you need better systems or a change in human resources – maybe more, maybe different. If your second quadrant is empty, allocate time out of the office for strategic long-range planning.
- Let me guess: there’s no one else who has time to take out the trash or change the lightbulbs, so you do it. Or maybe you do these tasks because then you know they’ll get done. I have teenagers and I’ve learned that if I want my kids to start doing something, I need to STOP doing it. Same is true at work; your employees know that you always change the lightbulbs, resolve those sticky customer issues, or figure out that tough challenge, so why would they bother? They’re not avoiding the tasks for any reason than they’ve already got a lot on their plate that they know they’re responsible for, so they’re not inclined to add anymore. The solution is simple:
- Let your team know that you are not doing the task anymore (feel free to use me as the scapegoat);
- Assign the task to a person or let your team decide on how the task will be completed.
- Stick to the plan.
If your business is not moving ahead as you’d like, stop to look at what’s getting in the way. Tracking your time or drawing a line in the sand around your responsibilities is a good place to start.
Click here to start now: Steven Covey’s 4 Quadrants
As I sat on the short wall outside of the post office, I noticed the stone; this was no New Hampshire granite or concrete blocks. The wall was made of sea shells, coral, perhaps even some driftwood mixed with concrete (yes, I was someplace warm). I wondered, “did they use this because it’s beautiful or because it’s the most abundant and, therefore, the cheapest?” My answer, of course, was all of the above and the similarity to our own personal resources was striking. Let me explain.
Our natural abilities, those attributes we were born with and that come most naturally, are also those abilities that are the easiest for us. For example, the ability to “see” in three-dimension comes easily to graphic artists, surgeons, carpenters, and massage therapists, if they’ve chosen a career in line with their natural abilities. Veterinarians have the natural ability to connect the dots when all the dots aren’t even there (creatures covered in fur who can’t talk, anyone?). Think of those things you can do without thinking about, that others remark on, making those things, well – remarkable. People wonder how you speak easily in front of a crowd, how you create what you create, how you remember so many details, how you assemble a puzzle when there are so many pieces still missing. These are your natural abilities; you can’t help but do them, you didn’t learn them, you’ve just always been able to do them and they come easily. In resource terms, the abilities are “cheap” – they require little energy on your part and they are abundant. Just like the coral and sea shells in the stone wall, your natural abilities are readily available and always accessible.
At first glance, you might not have called the sea shells and coral wall “beautiful” – at least not in a conventional way. What made the wall beautiful was its uniqueness, the combination of materials to make something new and never seen before (at least by me). The similarity to our natural abilities once again struck me; many of us would not consider our unique and natural abilities as beautiful, and they may actually annoy us at times. I used to wish that I could turn off my ideas sometimes, that I didn’t always see problems or how something would fail, until I learned what amazing abilities they are and how to use them. Recognizing the “beauty” in our natural abilities allows us to celebrate and leverage them and when we use them in our life’s work to help others, well – that is a beautiful thing.
What are your personal sea shells and coral? Look within and find those natural abilities that are abundant and beautiful, a never-ending resource to share in your work.
Are You Ready for a New (and Better!) Year?
The beginning of a new calendar year is a convenient time to set goals, yet they often get kicked to the curb by the end of January. It’s easy to think “New Years’ goals never get followed through anyway, so it’s okay.” Most small businesses have a calendar year for financial purposes; rather than considering your goals as “resolutions”, think of them as part of your business process. They are reviewed regularly, monitored, and adjusted as needed.
If you’re ready to set business goals that work, here are the steps I go through at the beginning of a new year (or anytime I set goals):
- Know where you are starting from. All too often, we look out to where we want to end up without looking down at our own feet, to understanding from where we are starting. Consider setting your GPS when you head out to a new destination; first thing you’re asked is, “what’s your starting point?” It can feel a bit scary to look under your financial covers but it’s usually not as bad as you fear. If you haven’t already, begin tracking your key metrics; the end of a calendar year is a convenient time to begin.
- Know what results you want for your business year. Where do you want to end up? Again, defining a route on your GPS requires a destination. While I’m all for “Big, Bodacious Goals”, your goals also need to be realistic, you need to be able to see yourself reaching your goals.
- Define your path. Once you’ve defined your starting point and your desired destination, define the most direct route. While you don’t need to know every step you will need to take, you do need to define the next step, and have a general understanding for possible further steps. My clients have heard “What’s the most logical next step?” from me again and again. Like in travel, there are many routes to your desired destination; there is one most logical path. Choose the next step along that path. Write an Action Plan, a bullet list, or have a little more fun and draw a map – just write it down.
- Define check-in points and milestones. Once you’ve created these milestones, you may need to tweak your path. Do you need to speed up? What support do you need along the way? If there is a milestone that you are particularly unsure of, define what additional support you will need to reach it – legal, financial, outside marketing expertise or coaching. Additional support needs are not cast in stone, but considering your needs ahead of time will keep your eyes and ears open for it when you see it.
- Mind set. Mind set, including mantras, belief statements, affirmations and intentions, cannot be your entire action plan, but a positive frame of reference must exist if you want to reach your goals. Find evidence that others have reached similar goals, find elements of your goal that you can easily see yourself reaching and focus on those smaller steps.
- Take action. No matter how big or small, just take action. I want you to push yourself to find the line between “OMG! I can’t do THAT!” and “Gulp. I don’t really want to take this step but I guess I can.” Take yourself to that edge repeatedly and you will move forward more quickly than you ever have before. You will be training yourself to be comfortable with being uncomfortable; your fearful self will learn that it’s okay to squirm a bit, that you will survive.
Goal setting, and mapping out strategy, is not a new year’s activity but a recurring business practice. If you’ve decided that you want different results in 2016, begin your year with a new goal setting process. Get started on your worksheet below!
Set Business Goals That Work: “Filling the Gap” Worksheet
REI, the outdoor enthusiast retail cooperative, has opted out of Black Friday and instead has launched their OptOutside Campaign, encouraging consumers to spend time outside on the infamous shopping day rather than be in a mall. If you’re thinking that it’s purely a marketing ploy and that they’ve still got their online commerce site, well – REI’s online retail site will display a “get outside” message and will not be accepting orders. REI is clearly operating within their mission and values.
Mission and Value Statements abound, and your small business may even display them. Do you live that mission and those values or are they merely words on a piece of paper? You may intend to run your organization in line with them but at the end of the day, are your actions in line with your words? Let me give you some real-life small business scenarios:
- I recently helped a client prepare an employee handbook. In “How We Operate”, the handbook stated that personal phones were not allowed in any meetings. The handbook also stated that the organization is family oriented, and that families come first. Both reasonable statements, but can they exist together? An employee/mom may want to bring her personal cell phone to a meeting in case of a childcare or school concern, but that’s not in line with the policy. Where is the line drawn? If you aren’t clear, your employees certainly aren’t clear, either.
- A wellness business has a sign on their wall that it is judgment-free, never criticizing their patients, always trusting that the patient is doing the best that they can. Employees read that and wonder, “Does it apply to me? Does my boss always think that I’m doing my best?”
Creating mission, purpose and value statements are valuable for a small business; they help define the DNA of an organization. Those statements, though, cannot be created in an hour or two and forgotten. They are living, dynamic documents, repeatedly tested by your words and actions. Before they are nicely framed and posted on your wall, run them by a few trusted advisors and ask them to poke holes in the statements. Ask these advisors if they have seen your actions out of alignment with your stated mission, purpose and values. Finally, put yourself in your employee and customer shoes; how do the statements feel from that perspective? Sure, this will take some effort and may require revisions but if you don’t run those tests, your other stakeholders will. And that could mean losing key employees and customers.