It’s too late for New Year’s resolutions but not for powerful goal-setting

January often brings a flurry of resolutions as we reset our expectations and wipe the slate clean for a new year. Companies establish goals for the quarter or year while their employees make solemn promises to cut the carbs or hit the gym. But research shows that 68% of people give up on their resolutions within a month of setting them.

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Business goals likewise fade into the background when day-to-day responsibilities overshadow future aspirations. Fortunately, HR leaders are in the ideal position to redefine how goals are set and met—all 12 months of the year. Here’s how.

Don’t Feel Beholden to the Calendar—Make the Goal-Setting Process Dynamic

While there is power in reviewing and resetting goals for a new year or a new quarter, it is not always helpful because new challenges and opportunities are often unexpected. Meaningful goals are not arbitrary aspirations but instead based on taking advantage of emerging opportunities. HR leaders can use their position as a cross-company resource to reinforce this idea and train new hires to look beyond traditional timelines.

See also: This will be HR’s biggest challenges in 2022

Understanding the assumptions underlying a business objective allows you to re-examine your goals when those assumptions or contexts change. The Great Resignation is an example of how situational shifts can dictate new recruiting and benefits processes. Take the time to identify the assumptions guiding your HR department and keep in mind that there may be more than initially meets the eye.

Use the Power of Positive Progress

Getting excited about a goal often requires an ambitious aspiration. After all, it’s far more exciting to picture yourself running a marathon than a 5K. Advice on setting goals often focuses on being bold and ambitious to motivate and inspire. Aiming high sends the message that you believe in your team, see potential in their work and are prepared to bet on bigger results.

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However, it is equally important to see and celebrate small victories along the way. These short-term wins build and sustain momentum while creating opportunities for real-time reflection on lessons learned. Research has shown that long-term goals like “saving for retirement” are far more effective when broken into smaller, shorter-term goals like saving $100 a month. Breaking a big goal into incremental steps provides momentum through frequent doses of positive progress and highlights challenges early. If you don’t cross the finish line of your 5K in a month, it’s an indication that your training regime is unlikely to get you to the marathon in six months.

Harness the ‘Want-To’

When setting business goals, the process often follows a top-down cascade, such that senior leaders dictate with limited input from the working teams. This often leaves individuals feeling no ownership over the goals handed down to them. If everyone from junior employees to senior executives is consulted in establishing goals, they are more likely to intrinsically want to achieve them. The goals are also more likely to be realistic based on how each team operates. Leaders must set the tone through a compelling goal, but employees should have a voice in how this aspiration is translated to quantitative targets.

Additionally, for goals to feel meaningful, they must explicitly ladder up to the company’s broader mission. Regularly challenge teams to ask, “How does achieving this goal further our mission?” You are unlikely to have alignment on priorities and engagement from the broader organization without an obvious answer to this question. Millennial and Gen-Z employees are particularly invested in purpose-driven and mission-oriented work, so keeping an eye on the big picture can pay off in terms of talent retention.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving goals, but the way HR leaders establish how they are set and evaluated can be reliably shaped by the above three guidelines. Just because New Year’s resolutions have faded doesn’t mean employees can’t be motivated to achieve other goals all year round.

Shaun Spearmon and Gaurav Gupta
Shaun Spearmon is a Director at Kotter. He leads strategic planning, process improvement and transformation engagements with clients across industries, including technology, aerospace, pharmaceuticals, retail and financial services. He can be reached at Gaurav Gupta is a Director at Kotter, and founder of Ka Partners, with global business experience translating strategy into successful implementation for clients in diverse industries. He can be reached at