How to Set Goals in Survival Mode: 3 Ways to Get it Right

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We’re all saying it these days: “I’m just in survival mode.” Our personal and workplace routines have been turned upside down. No matter how soon life gets back to normal, this won’t be the last time a crisis strikes and we find ourselves just trying to survive.

All that being said, there is a slight upside to this situation. As an executive or manager, you have the opportunity to lead your team through this time of crisis in a productive way, one that might make you an even better leader in the long run. The trick is to give your team a way to see past obstacles, communicate what they need, and create a roadmap for success. Here’s how to do that:

1. Choose Your Focus and Keep It Short Term

We are working through a worldwide pandemic, the effects of which are staggering. It’s hard for employees not to spend every minute of the day worrying about the health and safety of friends and family, the state of the stock market, potential layoffs, or their children’s at-home educations. Of course, we are all going to spend time contemplating these difficult subjects, but we must try more than ever to be intentional about choosing what we focus on.

So what do you focus on? For starters, put short-term goals front and center. While we might be tempted to emphasize our long-term goals to ensure we’re keeping pace with the company, our time horizons need to shift when a crisis hits. Your short-term goals may be your goals for the week, and your longer term might refer to the next month. To use my company as an example: When the real impact of the pandemic on our business became evident, for three weeks our short term became the current day, and our long term became the current week.

The next step is making sure these goals are clear and achievable so you and your team can stay hyper-focused on them. Acknowledge up front that there will be obstacles and your team’s job is to expect and work around them to stay on goal. As you use short-term goals to get through the daily grind, keep reminding your team there is a point in the future that represents “emerging from the crisis.” We all need a light at the end of the tunnel to work toward.

2. Communicate Like a Coach

Working in remote teams means communication is more crucial than ever before, but going all-in on Zoom, Slack, or Microsoft Teams isn’t enough to ensure your communication is effective.

Ask employees what’s working, where they’re getting stuck, and what they can do differently to create a path forward. Working in never-before-seen conditions calls for never-before-seen creativity to keep things moving in the right direction. You can foster creative solutions with a few simple tactics:

Begin every conversation with a question about your employee’s well-being. Make sure your people know you are there for them personally and professionally.

• Separate work and personal conversations. Once you’ve had time to chat personally, keep the business conversation a business conversation.

Set appointments and clear meeting objectives — and keep them. Managers often feel they have the freedom to cancel at the last minute, or worse, not show up at all. Speculation loves a vacuum, and your unexpected absence will lead some employees to concoct whole stories — accurate or not — about the new problems that kept you away.

• Be transparent. If you don’t share the bad news, people won’t believe you when you share the good news. As difficult as it may be during times like these, try to keep open communication alive and well. When you share bad news, be sure to also share your plans for addressing it — or at least your timeline for finding a solution. Your employees know you don’t always have all the answers, but they want to know you are working on it.

3. Create a Roadmap

A good manager is also a coach, and that means helping every employee map out their own course of action for achieving their own goals.

No matter how short-term the goal may be, I recommend using the GROW model, which stands for “goal, reality, options, way forward.” First, the employee establishes a clear goal they want to accomplish. Next, they work with their manager to articulate the reality of the current situation in order to understand the gap between where they are and where they want to be. Then, the employee looks at all their options within that reality. Finally, they use this information to come up with a realistic way forward.

Using a framework like the GROW model will help employees manage their focus and track their progress. Especially in a time of crisis, progress sparks motivation, and we all need a little more of that right now.

It may seem like there’s not enough time to set clear, intentional goals during a crisis. We often feel like all we can do is extinguish the fire closest to us. However, establishing clear short-term and long-term goals will help you and your employees stay focused on what you can change instead of all of the difficult things you can’t. This kind of focus is essential for businesses and individuals to move forward during times of challenge.

Bill Bennett is CEO of InsideOut Development.

By Bill Bennett