Staying Motivated with Goal Planning in the Age of Coronavirus

“The tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goals to reach” – Benjamin E. Mays

Plans Gone Awry

Few events in human history have derailed as many goals as the outbreak of COVID-19 did. So we are moving from our recent articles looking at the external view for the moment and bringing planning back into focus. How are your personal and professional plans looking for 2021 and beyond?

Maybe you dreamed of seeing your child cross the graduation stage or walk down the aisle. Maybe it was the European holiday you have always dreamed of. Maybe it was attending a yearly festival or sporting event. 

Suddenly, the cancellations and social isolation the coronavirus outbreak caused made it all impossible. 

For those who worked for years to make these dreams come true, the disruption was devastating. Having taken care of everything under your control, overcoming adversity along the way, only to have global events cancel your dream is a crushing scenario.

This disappointment and devastation felt by anyone with personal goals cancelled by COVID-19 mirrors the feelings of many business leaders looking back on the last quarter’s goals. Plans for growth and hiring were largely put-on hold as industries adjusted to changing conditions.

While we examine the wreckage of our personal and professional goals, we may find ourselves uncertain of what lies ahead and unwilling to make new goals for the future.

If we shy away from creating new goals, however, we risk becoming apathetic about our situation. Rather than holding off on reimagining our goals, current uncertainty calls for new, more adaptive ways of planning our goals.

Our new reality is asking for flexible thinking, focused equally on our ability to live every day to its fullest and our larger goals that can bring us success both in our personal and professional lives.

Joining Everyday Success with Long-Term Vision

While not everyone requires goals for motivation, goals are quite necessary for creating direction and purpose in our lives. As Lewis Carol’s Cheshire Cat told Alice, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” 

Decisions about how we spend our time and structure our days are impossible without some knowledge of what we are working towards. Our ability to find meaning and create energy every day relies on this sense of direction.

The challenge with planning goals in the age of COVID-19 is the looming uncertainty that threatens to make mincemeat of our dreams. Planning beyond a weekly or even monthly horizon seems futile. This doesn’t mean dreaming of a post-COVID world is futile. When coronavirus subsides (and it will), those individuals who found a reason to persist and improve despite uncertainty will be stronger and more prepared for the world ahead. Remember, you are stronger than you think!

The key is connecting your everyday actions with a set of flexible long-term goals. If your goal is to retire in 15 years, your financial behaviour today must still follow a set of spending and saving habits. While some investments may sour due to economic impacts, a belief in the ultimate outcome will still inform your actions today.

Creating plans for achieving your goals that are flexible to changing circumstances improves your resiliency and likelihood of finding success. If your goal is health or fitness related, local restrictions may derail your plan to go to the gym or work with a personal trainer. If your plan focused however on a daily exercise goal, you may be able to adapt with in-home workouts or virtual training.

What emerges is two basic planning habits.

  1. The first is the ability to make progress on your goals each and every day, regardless of circumstance.
  2. The second is to look forward and make plans that adapt to obstacles before they derail your progress. 

Just because the world 6 months to a year from now is highly unpredictable does not mean that you can’t plan progress to your goals and bring purpose to every day. 

Solution – The Two Workstreams of Adaptive Business Planning

While we’ve written extensively on strategic planning in the previous article before, we want to emphasise the importance of flexible, iterative planning. For some time now, we have focused on the quarterly ‘STOPPING’ and coming up for air to look at what happened over the past 12 weeks and where we need to go for the following 12 weeks – this process becomes especially important with the unpredictability of COVID-19 disruption.

So how can we adapt this process further? We can support the above 90 day focus, by scheduling continuous evaluation of goals by breaking plans into 30 and 60 day segments, leading to the 90 day view which can ensure our strategy responds to the situation on the ground.

In a new brief from Bain & Company titled How to Breathe New Life into Strategy, Partners Herman Spruit and James Dixon layout two distinct agendas for the planning process: delivery and development. It’s right on the money!

The delivery agenda centres an organization to continue to serve customers and fulfill promises to stakeholders every day. It focuses on empowering teams to execute clearly defined processes. When surrounded by unpredictability, continuing to deliver services as promised is crucial to maintaining trust with suppliers. This agenda ensures issues are dealt with quickly and efficiently as they arise, freeing leaders to focus on adapting to longer-term strategy.

The development agenda addresses the more complicated task of adapting business offerings for an unpredictable “new normal”. Rather than reacting to the problems of the day, this workstream focuses on solving the problems of tomorrow, avoiding potential problems before they affect the bottom line. 

These functions work in tandem to steer the organization forward. The delivery team hands off crucial, real-time information to the development team. In return, the development team helps the delivery agenda adapt proactively to avoid potential obstacles or accelerate opportunities.

With these agendas in place, Bain describes, “Strategic decisions quickly and directly gain traction through resource allocation and performance management processes, ensuring everyone—from the front line to leaders/owners/ investors – all are on the same page.”

Habits for Life – Your New High-Performance Planning

These new ways of developing and executing goals may be new for many individuals and businesses. The time and energy spent on adapting these habits will pay massive dividends in the long run. 

While the shock of recent events may be demoralizing, there is cause for optimism. As we make progress every day to our ultimate goals, we drive a positive mindset for change in ourselves and those around us. With the right planning mindset, anything is achievable. It’s funny, I think we all know this – we just need to act as if it so.

If you’re looking for help with getting started, we have supported High Performance Planning programs for individuals and teams that focus on setting up these habits – we know them intimately, we use them ourselves! You need only message me.

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