How to Avoid a January Fail: Nurture Your Collective Ambition

Published: January 19, 2017

“How can corporate communications professionals prevent January from getting the better of us?”

Studies show that less than 8% of people actually achieve their New Year’s resolutions. Most of us set too many goals, without really believing we can change our bad habits. Psychologists call this the “false hope syndrome”: we try to accomplish more than we realistically can.

But there’s a secondary aspect to this failure, too. Even where we do reach our target, the changes we then expect to follow often fail to materialise.

With Blue Monday just behind us, we could be forgiven for thinking TFI Friday as we end a week of bad weather and broken resolutions. But how can corporate communications professionals prevent January from getting the better of us?

It seems facile to say it but too few teams actually work together to nurture a clear sense of their collective ambition. This should aim to satisfy three key criteria: purposeful, doable and measurable.

1) Purposeful: Establish your intention for the year. Resolutions are often predicated on what we think we should do and not on what we need or want to do. They are annoyingly inflexible and rarely exciting, often fixed on correcting our wrongdoings and deficiencies. Instead, an intention is an objective that guides your actions. It is purposeful but liberated, inviting you to discover and adapt to change as you go along.

Sit down with your team and discuss whether your communications mattered in 2016. Did they result in your target audiences doing what you wanted them to do? Did you become known for ideas and insight that place you in a position of influence? Based on this understanding, agree your intention for the year ahead. It should be bold and ambitious but specific to you. ‘Become the best communications team in the engineering industry’ is too generic. But ‘Establish our company as a thought leader in structural engineering’ expresses what sets you apart.

2) Doable: Map the journey towards setting your goal. You can’t agree an ambition and then just sit back hope for the best. Every team must plot the journey they expect to go on, considering the incremental steps that will lead to success – the theory of change approach.

Take ‘Establish our company as a thought leader in structural engineering’. The steps leading to this might be ‘demonstrate expertise’, ‘show commitment’ and ‘stimulate debate’. A thought leader is a thoroughgoing expert, who is committed to a subject which he or she examines from a unique perspective. But these steps need further definition. Interrogate exactly what it might mean for you to stimulate debate. How and who with? Your activity will flow from here.

3) Measurable: Set useable and influential measures to check you’re on the right track. Ah, the elusive quest for return on investment (ROI). Even when you’re coming up against barriers or challenges, do not give in to basic measures like number of visitors to the website or number of downloads, which are too blunt to be of much use.

Evaluation doesn’t have to be complicated. Free tools like Google and Twitter analytics empower us to think more deeply about whether our comms are making a difference. Consider what kind of engagement you need to demonstrate you’re reaching your goals. Are your followers those you have targeted? Once they arrive on your site or channel, where are they going and what are they doing, and how long are they staying there? Are visitors from different channels more engaged than others, and what does this tell you about your content and your followership?

Psychologist and author Angela Duckworth tells us that individual passion and perseverance (grit) are predictors of goal-setting success. But high personal achievement also depends on the configuration of intricate personalities and circumstances outside our control. You need to find grit as a team, which starts with knowing what you are trying to achieve and how you plan to get there. January ain’t over yet.

Jessie Nicholls
Senior Consultant
@jessie_nicholls

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