How to set development goals that drive your business goals

The start of a new year is a natural time to define two different types of goals. First, most professionals and teams formalize annual business plans or goals that specify the results they hope to achieve that year. Second, these same professionals (along with millions of others) identify aspirations for their personal and professional growth, whether in the form of New Year’s resolutions, new habits, or “words of encouragement.”

Interestingly, very few of us take the next step of connecting these two processes of reflection in an explicit way. A simple and quick “cross-stream” approach between business and development goals can unlock new levels of creativity and work-life integration, helping us grow in ways that directly advance our business goals.

Crossing the Streams: How to Connect Business and Development Goals

Establishing the link between business goals and development goals is a simple three-step process that for most professionals can produce outstanding results with relatively little effort. This process can be carried out both at the individual level and at the team level; for teams, it can be a powerful exercise in identifying more concrete ways to improve team dynamics and common areas of development, such as “being more transparent with each other” in the context of work, rather than being detached from it.

Step 1: Crystallize a simplified version of your business and development goals

The first step is to simply write down clear, concise statements of your 3-5 main business objectives along with up to 3-5 areas of development.

Business goals are tangible results you want to achieve; examples of simplified business goals would be “achieve 15% organic growth”, “launch a new product by June”, “achieve a 10% net carbon reduction” or “promote six team members”. Many companies will have more robust and formal statements of objectives or OKRs, but for this exercise a simplified, abbreviated version of the objectives will suffice.

Development goals are areas of personal or professional development for the next year. For many people, it lives on the amorphous level of statements like “strengthen your professional network”, “show more vulnerability”, “stand up for yourself” or “better manage your work-life balance”. For the purpose of this exercise, it’s okay for those goals to be less than completely tangible; in steps 2 and 3, you’ll develop more concrete ways to work on them in the context of your day-to-day business priorities.

Complete this step by creating a grid by listing your business goals at the top of the sheet of paper and your development goals on the left. Now you have a two by two matrix where each cell is the intersection of a business goal and a development goal.

Step 2: Think about opportunities to work on each development goal in the context of each business goal

Now the fun part: for each cell in the matrix, brainstorm ideas on how to work on the development goal specifically in the context of advancing the business goal.

To work through the example, imagine you have a business goal of “deliver our new product on budget by June.” Left on autopilot, you’ll likely work toward this goal using all the well-established strategies, habits, and management techniques that got you where you are today. Now imagine that you have a developmental goal of “being more open to other points of view,” because you’ve historically struggled with staying open-minded when faced with challenges. How can you work to “be more open” in the “new product delivery” process? What challenges might arise that will provide perfect practice for developing your listening skills? How can stretching at times like these help you achieve your business goal, even when your usual patterns make you want to stick with the way you’ve usually done things?

To take a less obvious example, suppose another of your development goals is to “spend more quality time with your partner and children during the week.” At first glance, this goal may be in tension with achieving an ambitious business goal. To come full circle, you could experiment with strategies such as using well-defined sprints and time limits to increase your efficiency, forcing more transparent conversations among your team to reduce wasted effort and tackle bottlenecks, or finally have a difficult conversation with your assistant about protecting blocks on your calendar. In this case, adding the additional strain of advancing the development goal can increase positive pressure to implement strategies that also advance the business goal.

The spirit of this step is to move beyond the first-level instinct that your goals are in conflict with each other. Embrace an “and” rather than an “or” mindset, allow creativity and emergent thinking, and appreciate the magic that can come from finding multiple wins that advance both types of goals together. It can be helpful to work on this exercise with a colleague, coach or mentor who can push you outside of your comfort zone.

Step 3: Prioritize and merge the most promising experiments

Assuming you have three business goals and three development goals, and that you’ve come up with at least a few ideas at each intersection, you’ll find yourself staring at a collection of 20-30 potential strategies—far too many to try to put them all into practice at once. This step is about prioritization and focus, choosing a few ideas to put into practice as experiments.

Look for strategies that have a combination of the following elements that you can choose as initial experiments:

  • Easy. Strategies you can implement without completely changing the way you work will help build momentum toward bigger moves.
  • Tangible. The more concrete the idea, the more likely it will actually happen. “Write my priority list for the next day at 9pm after I put the kids to bed” is more tangible than “Get better organized”
  • Fun. Do you find yourself enjoying this experiment, even though it may seem a little awkward at first? Can you approach it in a playful way? Will it bring you a little more joy if you try it?
  • Good bang for the buck. Some experiments may simply have a greater direct impact on your business or development goals, or give you real multiple wins. If you need to “hire 20 people to my team” and want to work on “improving your communication” and “stand out more in social settings”, then applying to host a company-wide recruitment event can allow you to tick several boxes at once.

An important step in the last mile is to hard-wire the chosen experiments into the systems you have in place to manage your life. This might look, for example, like putting calendar reminders to “be more direct” before tough conversations on a weekly basis, adding “write a thank-you note to someone on the marketing team” to your weekly to-do list—or anything else that turns the experiment from ideas into reality. For those who want to track habits, this is a great opportunity to build a new habit into daily or weekly rhythms and accountability systems. As with other goal setting methods like the 3x3x3 approach, sharing your goals with others and asking for their help will increase the likelihood of success.

“Cross-streaming” business and development priorities is a simple but effective way to increase the likelihood of achieving both sets of goals—and to take full advantage of the energy and momentum of any annual goal-setting process.

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