The Path to Personal Quality

Use personal strategic planning to achieve your career goals

by Jamison V. Kovach

Studies show that there are three keys to success in life: self-confidence, perseverance and a tendency to set goals. We all want to be successful, but it’s often particularly challenging to set and achieve personal goals.

We see organizations successfully achieve their goals all the time using hoshin kanri and other strategic planning methods, so why does strategic planning at a personal level pose such a challenge? Perhaps it’s because we’re not as familiar with approaches to personal strategic planning as we are with methods for organizational strategic planning.

Like many other approaches, personal strategic planning can be broken down into five concrete steps:

1. Define your values.

Some helpful questions to ask yourself in this phase of the planning process are:

  • What do I value?
  • What roles do I play (at work and at home)?
  • What do I want (short and long term)?

It’s important to note that developing answers to at least a couple of these questions requires some soul searching, so give yourself enough time to reflect on these questions in detail and develop comprehensive answers.

2. Understand what’s important.

There’s just one question to answer in this step, but it’s critical to the planning process: What is valued in my (work or home) environment? Perhaps at work, it’s the number of projects you complete each year. At home, maybe it’s the amount of quality time you spend with your family.

If you don’t know what’s valued in your environment, spend some time asking others and make a list. Doing so is crucial to your success.

3. Identify your goals.

After you’ve identified your values and what is valued in your environment, completing the next step of the planning process is relatively straightforward. But don’t confuse straightforward with easy—identifying your specific personal goals can be challenging.

The clarity you develop regarding what you value and what’s valued in your environment will make this step somewhat easier. Start by reviewing your list of what’s valued in your environment and brainstorm what you’d like to accomplish in each of those areas while also keeping your values in mind.

Try to develop a list of four to six goals to guide your planning efforts. In addition, it’s often helpful to focus on goals and activities that don’t have built-in accountability. In other words, there are no checks and balances in your environment to ensure you do these tasks—because often these goals are the hardest to accomplish. With that in mind, the remaining two steps in the planning process will help you hold yourself accountable for working toward achieving your goals.

4. Schedule tasks.

This step can be broken down into two parts that address how and when you plan to achieve your goals. First, brainstorm the specific tasks you must complete over time to reach each goal.

Second, construct a high-level plan or schedule that identifies when you will complete each specific task. This plan can be set up as a simple table that outlines the next three to six months with tasks inserted in the appropriate weeks to denote when you plan to work on and complete those tasks.

Sometimes, tasks take longer than expected or are delayed by other things. So as things change, simply revise your plan as needed. Your plan can and should be a living document used to guide the achievement of your goals.

5. Work the plan.

The final step is to put your plan into action. To do that, schedule a 30 to 60-minute weekly planning meeting with yourself toward the end of each week. Some people like to do it on Friday afternoons and others prefer Sundays. Do whatever works best with your schedule, but make a firm commitment to yourself to hold this meeting each week.

The key is to spend time at the end of each week planning your schedule of tasks for the following week. This step involves scheduling the tasks developed in step four by identifying the specific days and times you will work on that week’s tasks, as outlined in your high-level plan.

This ensures you don’t waste time on Monday mornings figuring out what must be done that day and week. You simply can jump right in and start working on the first task you have scheduled.

Keep in mind that things will change, so be forgiving and flexible. If an unexpected request arises that requires your immediate attention, just shift things around in your schedule to accommodate the change as best as you can.

The last part of this step is to evaluate your recent performance and adjust your goals as needed. To effectively assess your performance and make adjustments, ask yourself:

  • Did I complete all my planned tasks for the week?
  • If not, what’s holding me back?
  • What adjustments am I going to make moving forward?

These questions are a powerful way to check your progress toward achieving your goals each week, identify internal and external resistance that may be inhibiting your progress, and determine how to adjust your plan to make more progress going forward.

Recovering from failure

Of course, your personal strategic plan won’t go perfectly every week, and that’s OK. To combat the inevitable, be proactive and plan for failures. Build into your plan additional ways to hold yourself accountable. Don’t skip your weekly progress assessments, and tell others about your goals and progress: Studies show that you are more likely to achieve your goals if you do. 

Midterm review

In addition to weekly progress assessments, it also is helpful to conduct a midterm review about halfway through your plan. Some helpful questions to ask yourself at this point are:

  • What goals have (and haven’t) I accomplished so far?
  • How consistent have I been in my daily work routine?
  • When, where and how have internal and external resistances affected my plan?
  • Is my current support system effective? If not, what additional things am I willing to try?
  • How do I feel about my answers to the previous questions?

Again, this series of questions is quite powerful in terms of keeping you on track or getting you back on track with your plan.

In the end, having a personal strategic plan will help you reduce wasted time and frustration trying to identify in real time what you must do each day and week, and it will provide a clear path to improved personal productivity and success in your career and life. 

Jamison V. Kovach is an associate professor at the University of Houston in Texas. She holds a doctorate in industrial engineering from Clemson University in South Carolina. Kovach was awarded ASQ’s Feigenbaum medal in 2010 and promoted to a full Academician in the International Academy for Quality in 2015. Kovach received her lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. She is a senior member of ASQ and past chair of ASQ's Houston Division.

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