The early months of any year bring about new resolutions and commitments, both on a personal and organizational basis. Many resolve to get healthier, to learn new things, to be kinder, or to develop new competencies. In our companies, we resolve to serve our customers better, to work smarter, and to make more money. Our intentions are good, reflecting high motives and gritty determination.
Unfortunately, even by the time you read these words, New Year’s Resolutions have been tossed on the garbage heap by too many of us. Why can’t we sustain these important plans and commitments? Many experts will tell you that we are not persistent enough; that we haven’t stayed on course long enough to form new habits. And they would be at least partially right. However, the problem is not merely a failure to persist.
To get at the root cause of resolution defeatism, we need to better understand the motivation to set new goals in the first place. If our motivation lights a fire under us every day—and we have a good plan of attack—our resolutions will not be defeated. So, the question is: what is the underlying motive for each of your resolutions?
One effective way to understand your motives is to use a tried and true strategic management tool: the SWOT Analysis. While generally applied to business enterprises, it applies equally well to individuals. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Our drive to accomplish something significant in our lives (or in our businesses) is often motivated by one or more of these factors.
We may choose to build on an inherent strength or personal competence. One who possesses exceptional interpersonal skills may choose to focus on building a plan to work with others as a salesman, a teacher, or an HR professional. Another who has innate problem-solving skills might set a goal to become an engineer or social scientist. Career success often comes from playing to one’s strengths.
We may be even more motivated to overcome a weakness. One struggling with poor health might resolve to become more fit, to lose weight, or to get more sleep. The key here is to choose a weakness that is not a mere annoyance. This flaw must represent a threat to your happiness, your relationships with loved ones, or even your life. Only then will it begin light a fire under you.
Opportunities are much the same. You must feel the window closing on your chance for fame, fortune, or happiness. An opportunity that can be easily shoved aside when distractions arise is insufficient to have staying power. Any great opportunity in life or business will require sacrifice to be realized.
Threats are often the most motivating. My father could never quit smoking until his doctor told him he would be dead within the year if he didn’t toss the cigarettes out, once and for all, NOW! His prior resolutions had no staying power until he was faced with the most significant threat of all: his own imminent demise.
Motivation isn’t the whole story, of course. You must have a plan that clearly sets forth the essential actions that have a high probability of bringing about success. You should have a system for measuring both those actions and the results you are achieving. And, ideally, you should have a mentor, coach, or committed friend to sustain you by holding your feet to the fire.
Executives who understand these fundamental principles can provide such sustaining actions to help their people succeed in fulfilling their personal resolutions—and in the process enjoy similar success in meeting their desired business outcomes. SWOT Analysis is an excellent tool which provides the motivational foundation for both personal and business success. If you want to SWOT it out of the park, I recommend it highly!