This Year, Don’t Think Resolution — Think Revolution

Personal resolutions don’t fulfill themselves — investing in a gym membership isn’t the same as showing up and getting on the elliptical. The same is true for businesses. Simply setting vague goals in a post-holiday meeting and throwing money at them won’t make them realize themselves.

Here are five ways talent managers can ensure their goals don’t suffer the same fate as some folks’ plans to swim the English Channel.

Make the “how” the goal. According to Paul David Walker, a business adviser, Genius Stone Partners founder and author of Unleashing Genius: Leading Yourself, Teams, and Corporations, a company’s resolutions are something to be worked toward with every action.

“People can’t relate to a number; there’s no ‘how’ in a number,” he said. The activities that lead to that number or goal are the goals themselves, Walker said. “You have to have a visceral description of how that will happen, and it needs to be in the present tense. Because if you say, ‘I will’ or ‘we will,’ you push it into the future.” Brainstorming the steps needed to reach a goal, then making those steps into a clear plan will make initiatives easier for clients or employees to follow and get excited about.

Culture of communication. This is most effective when the entire workforce is on board — something that can’t be achieved unless management is actually listening. This isn’t something that can be faked, but requires a collective shift in the culture of a company toward one where every member of the team feels valued and heard, Walker said.

“It’s really critical that you establish a relationship with your employees, that you’re open to hearing all their ideas and thoughts,” he said. “You have to create the environment that encourages people to speak up.”

The key is cutting egos from the conversation and resisting the urge to shoot down an idea immediately. “A big part of that is when someone does share, even if it is totally stupid — which sometimes it is — never make the employee wrong.”

The conversation could go something like, “‘Alright, I hear what you’re saying, I’ll give that some thought.’ Then come back to them with your thoughts, ‘Here’s why that won’t work because I feel we should do this and this … but thanks for your thought and for giving input on this goal,’” Walker said.

Advanced accountability. Executive coach Doug Sundheim, co-founder of Clarity Consulting and co-author of The 25 Best Time Management Tools & Techniques: How to Get More Done Without Driving Yourself Crazy, has a unique strategy when it comes to holding people accountable to goals.

First, compile a list of the usual excuses. “It’s what I call ‘ratting yourself out.’ Most people know in advance what excuses they’re going to use if something doesn’t work out, so write them all down. Expose them early on so you really have to hold your feet to the fire,” he said. “You can then come up with what you want to be told if you or someone on your team is caught using one of the excuses on your list. ‘If you hear me using this excuse, this is what I want you to say to me,’ and write that down word for word.”

Deeper meaning. Keeping one’s resolutions means nothing in the long run if the mission isn’t a meaningful one to employees and clients.

“Find something inspiring, something worth fighting for — whether that’s new clients, new markets or new programs for your employees, just make it something that’s simple yet powerful,” Sundheim said.

Walker used outdoor supply company Patagonia as an example of a corporate culture with purpose. “They’ve gone so far as to put their carbon footprint on their website for every garment they have,” he said. “Not only that, but they put why that is what it is and what they’re doing to reduce it further.” The company has also been vocal about transparency of the working conditions in their overseas factories and holding their suppliers to higher ethical standards.

During the depths of the recession, Patagonia has continued to be successful despite being more expensive that its competitors. “The people that buy their products believe in what they’re doing, believe in their environmental efforts, believe in making sure that people in Third World countries who produce these garments get a good living wage,” Walker said.

Embrace the future. If a shift in a business’ culture hasn’t happened yet in this post-recession economic climate, it might be time to get on it, Walker said.

“The biggest problem with executives today is they’re attached to the things that worked yesterday — if you’re doing the same things that you did in the past, you can bet that your results are not being maximized,” he said. “You really have to reinvent your whole approach to the market, to your business, to the brand and to the way you motivate people. The younger generations are much more team-oriented and want to believe in something. They want to be part of something that makes a difference in the world. They’re not interested in making money for money’s sake.”

So, by having the courage to let go of what is no longer effective and explore what ideas and desires lie within their employees and their clients and customers, managers can ensure that resolutions don’t get thrown out with the St. Patrick’s Day decorations.

Jessica Krinke is an editorial intern at Talent Management magazine. She can be reached at