New Year’s Resolutions and Performance Goals


An annual tradition of many people in countries around the world, is to make a “new year’s resolution”. This is a ritual when people commit to achieving a personal goal; such as eliminating a bad or harmful habit, or starting something beneficial to themselves or others. When this annual goal is set, it is usually set in view of achieving it; that is “sticking to it” for the entire year or until it is complete.

Some of the goals may involve improving ones physical health or appearance; it could involve career or educational ambitions, addressing social or spiritual needs, or getting finances in order. Whatever the goal there seems to be one thing in common with most New Year’s Resolutions, many of them fail shortly after they are made.

The University of Scranton, located in Pennsylvania, USA reported the findings of a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology which chronicled the success rates of New Year’s Resolutions:

  • Resolution maintained through first week = 75%
  • Maintained past two weeks = 71%
  • Maintained past one month = 64%
  • Maintained past six months = 46%

According to this source, by mid-year over half of those who make well-intentioned goals don’t succeed! The researcher Richard Wiseman, puts the number as high as 88% of those who don’t complete their goal. By May or June, more than half of the gym memberships have lapsed, diets have been forsaken, and contact with distant friends has waned.

In many business organizations, there are similar outcomes when it comes to setting and keeping organizational and individual performance goals. Often times the performance goals fail because much like resolutions there is no real commitment to making this goal something substantial and habitual, it is often an abstract statement made out of obligation to a policy or process.

In order to find success at making and keeping effective performance goals, it may help to understand why many people miss the mark on their annual new year’s resolutions:

  • The overload syndrome – Many people try to take on too many resolutions, and ultimately none of them get completely done.
  • Lacks of true commitment – Some people simply give up because the resolution was just a traditional rite, rather than something they really meant to do or truly commit to.
  • No support mechanism – “No one achieves anything worthwhile alone!” Often people try to go it alone, and fall short because it becomes difficult to maintain vigilance without the necessary periodic encouragement.

So what lessons can we glean from making successful New Year’s Resolutions?

  • Moderation – It seems quite often that organizations require employees to compile a list of 8-12 annual commitments or goals. Often these goals are so vague and general, that they almost become meaningless. It has been proven to be far better to have a couple of meaningful, firm commitments than a long list of lofty statements which are almost doomed from the outset.
  • Motivation – One of the most important questions to ask when setting performance goals is, why? Why this goal is important, and what meaning it has to the person setting the goal is important to consider. The reason needs to be something more than “because my boss told me to do it.” Connecting performance goals to organizational success is important, but helping employees see some personal benefit is just as important to breed a greater sense of commitment. There is an old adage which says, “Involvement breeds commitment.” A goal in which the employee is involved in crafting has a higher chance of gaining buy in and achieving success.
  • Maintenance – Consider the support a person will need to maintain the commitment, and accomplish the goal. If this isn’t considered and planned for when the goal is being set, the resources may not be available when they are required. Informing others who may be potential resources early enough can give an employee the help they need, and it adds an element of accountability to the process.

Now is the time of year when many performance goals have been put on the shelf, or filed in some obscure folder. This may be a perfect moment to visit them now, and encourage your staff to do the same.

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