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How to turn optimism into measurable goals

By Samantha Grant

It’s well into February so chances are that your 2016 New Year’s resolutions are a thing of the past. 52% of respondents in a study by Richard Wiseman were confident in their ability to succeed when setting their resolutions, but 88% failed. That’s not a great statistic!

As an evaluator, I work with teams to set goals for their youth programs at the beginning of each program year.

Our initial conversations can feel a lot like resolution setting -- team members come in with grand ideas about how they are going to make the world a better place. I love how youth workers maintain an unrelenting optimism. Part of my job, however, is channeling their high ideals into measurable goals.

Goals, just like resolutions, have a greater chance of being successful if they contain some important pieces. SMART goals are a popular framework for making your goals measurable. Making all of your goals SMART can be a daunting task, so here are some practices to focus on to be successful in staying true to your goals.
  1. Ground your ideas. For me, setting goals is about looking at the difference between what currently is and what could be. You want to be aggressive in your goal setting so you can push your program to do better, but you also have to keep your feet on the ground. For example, expecting to improve academic test scores after a one day program makes no sense. Make your goals grounded in the reality of your program. They should stretch your program but not break it. 

  2. Set benchmarks. People who stick to their resolutions usually create small benchmarks along the way. Rather than vowing to lose 50 pounds, first focus on eating a healthy breakfast every day and build from that success. The same is true for program goal setting. Encourage your team to set some short term goals that are attainable on the way to your loftier ideas.  The added benefit is that crossing off a short term goal is a great morale booster!

  3. Check back. Just because you create your goals at the beginning of the project doesn’t mean that you are forced to stick with them. Unless you’re under strict funding requirements, goals can change as the program changes. Revisiting and updating goals periodically will help increase adherence to the goals, boost staff involvement, and ensure goals that really speak to your program. 
Even with all of these steps put in place, you might not reach your goals. Youth programs can be unpredictable environments, so sometimes the best laid plans are not actualized. I’d encourage you to keep reaching high. After all, there’s always next year.

How do you keep yourself accountable to your goals? Do you have any lessons learned in goal setting? What are your program resolutions?

-- Samantha Grant, evaluation director

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  1. Thank you Sam,

    I am terrible with setting personal goals and I often set lofty professional goals and don't follow up with them. I'm finding out quickly that I am unable to absorb additional work successfully because I don't focus on my goals. So, I am not one to hold myself accountable very well...however, I have found that sharing my goals with trusted colleagues (and I have many in my area of work) has been helpful.

  2. I agree Josh, sharing goals is my most successful strategy! Having team members who set a timeline and commit to regular check-in meetings help immensely. Knowing I have to be prepared for a meeting with my part of the project is my best incentive to keep on task. The challenge is setting realistic timelines for the group.

  3. I will jump on this bandwagon too, to a great extent. I try to do two things - first, I try to do things with teams or at least another person. Somehow, being answerable to others motivates me to get things done. I think that it comes down to it being a sign of respect for others (and isn't it the same for many of us in service-type roles?!).

    Second, I live by my calendar and carve out time for what I want to work on (with steps inside the calendar item if I can break it down as I create it). Then, even if I have to change the timing of working on that thing, I at least get the reminder and force myself to look for a different time to do it. I also try to put in when I need to check in with others to see how they are also doing, but alas, this doesn't always happen as well or as often as I'd like.

    So my "system" is not perfect (nor am I!!!), but I think that it helps me more than just trying to keep things in my head.

  4. Sam,
    This is why I love learning from those of you that thoroughly understand evaluation! Program goals do matter. Thanks for sharing.

    When setting goals for myself I try to identify things that make me reach a bit...but not too much. I want the goal to be something that others wouldn't see as being too hard or too easy. I also try to place the goal someplace in my work-space where I'm forced to see it...too often goals are forgotten because other work on your desk (or in your email) is easier to see.

  5. I love that the ideas from Josh, Margo, Heidi, and Mark all build on one another! You have extended my ideas to help to bring up the very important piece of making goals happen. I love the strategies that you suggested to keep yourselves accountable. I agree that including others into your goal setting and progress is key. I know some people who will set reminders on their calendar (or schedule time like Heidi said) or who use management programs like Asana to track progress. How about others, what works for you?


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