Course-correcting and Following Through

This article originally appeared on Microlearning, our bite-sized online solution for leaders and individual contributors.

You know what they say about the best-laid plans. How can you ensure that yours don’t go awry? Here are some pointers to keep you on track.


1. Involve others for planning and support purposes.

In creating an action plan to reach your work goals, it’s likely that you will have identified co-workers, customers, or others (don’t forget about your boss!) whose help you’ll need along the way. Don’t wait to spring your requests on them when these needs arise — instead, share your action plan, explain how you see them becoming involved, and ask for their input. You may need to go back to the drawing board and revise your plan. Better now than after you’ve already invested gobs of time doing the wrong thing.

Others can also provide doses of encouragement and friendly nagging. Ask a friend or mentor to check in with you periodically about your goals. Just as a marathon runner appreciates a high-five from a fan on the sidelines, you’ll gain fresh momentum knowing that others are watching and rooting for you.


2. Start small.

Even if you’ve gone to the trouble of crafting a spectacular action plan, it can still be tough to get started. Identify the very first thing you need to do — preferably something small and easy. Even if it’s just scheduling a meeting, making a phone call, or spending a half-hour brainstorming, you will have taken the first step.


3. Break your goals down into smaller, more doable tasks.

Let’s say you have a goal of becoming a manager. Sounds great. But it’s not exactly something you’re going to be able to fit in over lunch one day.

You could, however, take steps toward that goal over many lunches. Think through everything that would need to happen in order for you to become a manager. Perhaps you need to improve your conflict resolution skills, learn how to create a budget, and do a bang-up job on the next product release to get your manager’s attention. You could sign up for a four-week noontime class on budgeting, start roleplaying conflict situations with your mentor every Wednesday when you meet for coffee, and work through lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays to devote extra time to the product release. If you follow a plan like that, you probably won’t be wondering in a year why you didn’t find time to work on your skills … and why you didn’t get the promotion!


4. Make your goals visible, and schedule time to review them.

Goals and action plans are not meant to gather dust in a file cabinet (or in your brain). Post them somewhere you’ll see them every day. Schedule time on your calendar to review them and assess your progress. Incorporate a weekly discussion of them into your regular 1-on-1s with your manager.


5. Don’t be afraid to revise or even reject your goals.

Over the course of reviewing your goals, you might come to the conclusion that you’re not getting as much out of pursuing one as you expected, or that you were way off in estimating the time it would take. Or, something could happen that significantly changes your work environment — such as a new leader joining your company, or a sudden move by one of your company’s competitors. Blindly following through on your goals, rather than adjusting to emerging information and shifts in the landscape, can be just as bad (or worse!) than never following through.

Denial is dangerous. If doubts or new challenges emerge, openly acknowledge them — to yourself and others. Talk them through with your manager and others involved in your goals. And don’t hesitate to go back to your original goals and plans and either adjust them or, in extreme situations, jettison them. This attitude is especially important in dynamic and fast-paced work environments.

Here’s an example of how you might adjust a goal:

  • Original goal: By the end of this quarter, I will have hired a web designer.
  • Adjusted goal, after two weeks of disappointing interviews: By the end of this quarter, I will have either filled this open role with a great candidate or done the following: adjusted the job requirements to reflect the market, put more resources on the search process and formed a confident estimate as to when the role will be filled.


6. Create weekly and/or daily to-do lists.

Is it a coincidence that one of the most respected leaders in business, Richard Branson, is a chronic list-maker? We don’t think so. On the Virgin America blog, he admits that he has “lived [his] life by making lists.”

Take a page out of Sir Richard’s book and get into the habit of jotting down daily and weekly to-do lists that align with your overarching goals. We recommend doing this at the same time every day or week, preferably in the evening (in preparation for the next day), or first thing in the morning. Do the items related to your key goals first, rather than pre-empting them with email or things that come up out of nowhere. For more tips, see our article Creating an Action Plan.


7. Track, document and communicate your progress.

When your resolve is waning, there’s nothing like a little verification that you’re making some progress (or that you’re falling behind!) to get you back in gear. Depending on the timeframes associated with your goals, check in daily, weekly, or monthly to measure both how far you’ve come and, if appropriate, how you’re doing on any important performance stats.

Don’t stop there. Document your findings in a spreadsheet, in bullet points, or in a single sentence that you write in a journal at the end of the day. And, when appropriate, fill your manager and teammates in on how things are going. Everyone appreciates being kept in the loop — and this way you’ll also be actively managing expectations.


8. Get and incorporate feedback along the way.

Actively seek feedback throughout the process of reaching your goal. Depending on what that goal is, this could mean anything from asking your manager to assess how you’re doing every week or month, to conducting anonymous surveys for customers, to taking a trusted teammate aside to solicit their honest opinion of your work. Be prepared to hear the bad news as well as the good, and then go back to your action plan. Is there something else you can do, or something you should tweak, in order to address the feedback you’ve received?


9. Thank others and celebrate!

When you meet milestones in your action plan, reach out to those who helped you get there, give them props, and celebrate (them, as well as yourself!). Whether that means banging a gong in your office, going out for happy hour, or dancing down the halls, go for it. This kind of positive reinforcement will give you momentum to keep going, or launch you toward your next goal.

And hey, even if a goal doesn’t work out for you, you probably got something positive out of the experience. Figure out what that something is and enjoy it. 


10. Debrief, reflect and learn.

What just happened here? Whether you fulfill your goal or fall short, think through the entire process carefully. What would you do differently if you could do it again? What went well? What was a disaster? What did you learn about yourself, your team, your line of business?

In some circumstances, you might want to tackle these questions as a group with teammates — if so, schedule a meeting. Take notes and distribute key lessons so that everyone can benefit from the experience. If the goal was one you worked on autonomously, take the time to pause and reflect before simply moving on to the next goal. Write about the experience in a report, an email to a mentor or friend, or in a journal. This will help you process what happened and become a better person and employee, regardless of the outcome.