How are your New Year's resolutions holding up? If you have started skipping the gym or had a glass during Dry January, don't beat yourself up. Failure is part of the process. If you've miscalculated a goal, don't get demoralized and give up on the intention. Instead, refocus. In your personal life and in business, it's OK to revise your goals so long as you're learning in the process.

Setting the goals for your business can be complicated. How do you strike a balance between goals you can reasonably reach and stretch goals that will help drive you forward? How do you grow into new markets or products while keeping the core of your business healthy? How will you communicate those goals to the people in a position to help you reach them, and how will you make them relevant for everyone else?

I advise setting stretch goals and overpromising. Personally, it helps me get more done. But setting the standard very high for yourself or your business means you may have to face at least partial failure pretty often. Everyone faces failure differently, but to me, that's OK. The lessons and growth failure provides are invaluable. Recognizing your own expectations and efforts--and setting another high goal--are more important than exceeding a lofty goal.

Communicate goals and progress regularly

Even at smaller businesses where the entire team is local to one office, it takes effort to make your goals visible and continually report on incentives tied to them. If individual team members aren't (yet) helping you move toward your goal, don't keep that information to yourself. They may be ready to set new resolutions too, with the right support and encouragement.

In larger companies, each team or department may set expectations for itself and its members, (hopefully) aligned with the company's overall direction. If that direction needs to change, those expectations and incentives may suddenly be less aligned. You're steering the ship, but the crew needs to know when the direction has changed. 

At 600 employees, Kabbage is a complex web of minds and unique contributions, each necessary to the success of the company. Part of my job as co-founder is to communicate what those goals are during the year and be transparent and communicative about how those goals are being realized (or not). 

For us, we summarize corporate goals and our progress in a monthly email to the full team. We then reiterate our performance at town hall meetings where anyone in the company has the opportunity to ask questions.

If you're revising your resolutions, don't forget to share your new goals, and any adjusted incentives, with your team. You're not admitting failure; you're updating them on the new plan for success. Effective communication of company goals, well beyond the leadership team, can help everyone feel like they're pulling in the same direction. 

When it comes to incentives, don't overthink it

Dozens of books and journal articles promise to explain how to motivate your employees to help you meet your (new and evolving) goals. We use shorthand from personality tests ("ENTJs need confidence-builders and unconditional encouragement ") or generational characteristics ("Millennials need autonomy and purpose") to predict what drives others.

However, it's a universal truth in business: People show up because you pay them. If you stop paying them, they'll stop showing up. 

I'm a big believer in bonuses and profit-sharing to distribute and communicate our responsibility for meeting goals. Like other companies our size, we provide annual bonuses to our team based on our achievement of company goals: Sometimes we pay out in full or partially, depending on our progress. 

As a small-business owner, if you're in a position to reward in this way, it is a great function to build incentives around company goals.

Remember, you can start again whenever you want

I've never held grudges. Not as a kid, not in romance, not in business. If you do something terrible or fail me, I'm generally pretty willing to start over. It's the same with goals: It doesn't feel like a failure if we keep making progress. Coming up short sometimes tells me we're keeping standards and productivity high.

So don't get discouraged by the goals if you've fallen behind on your New Year's resolution or your five-year plan. Make a February resolution, and one again in March or May if you need to. Keep setting high standards for what you and your business can be. It's the only way to grow. 

Published on: Feb 11, 2020
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