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Why You Need a Time Machine for Effective Goal Setting

4 min read

Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

Published October 10, 2019


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

Picture of Jessica Wishart

Jessica Wishart
Senior Product Manager at Rhythm Systems

If you want to set compelling and achievable goal setting softwaregoals for yourself, your teams and your company, drop everything and invent a time machine. OK—not literally, but metaphorical time travel is a key component of effective goal setting.

Why time travel? To paint a picture of success. Why is this important? Why do you need to know what success looks like?

In their classic book Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath describe the importance of what they call “pointing to the destination” with a destination postcard. They argue you need “a vivid picture from the near-term future that shows what could be possible” to rally the troops behind your goal. Visualizing success in detail is motivating to the team and actually helps you achieve it.

In her book, Dare to Lead, Brené Brown uses a similar concept which she calls “paint done.” Her team found this turn of phrase helpful in providing a vivid description of success: “For us, it’s significantly more helpful than ‘What does done look like?’ because it unearths stealth expectations and unsaid intentions, and it gives the people who are charged with the task tons of color and context. It fosters curiosity, learning, collaboration, reality-checking, and ultimately success.” Painting a clear picture of the end result provides clarity and confidence.

At Rhythm Systems, we teach our clients to define successful outcomes for goals with Red-Yellow-Green success criteria:

  • Green = goal
  • Red = unacceptable performance
  • Yellow = between Red and Green
  • SuperGreen = stretch goal

Defining success for any goal is a goal-setting best practice. When the goal is a financial or other numerical goal, this method is fairly simple. However, when you are working on strategies, initiatives, priorities or projects, setting good Red-Yellow-Green success criteria is a bit more challenging. When they are initially learning this process, many of our clients fall into the common pitfalls:

  • Using due dates
  • Simply saying “Done/Not Done”
  • Using a percentage complete

Any of these approaches will not give you the vivid picture of success that will help you clarify and align around the desired outcome, motivate the team, and achieve the goal. A helpful way to get un-stuck if you are struggling to define the Green goal for your priority is to do a little time travel.

goal setting

If you pull out your time machine and zoom ahead to the end of the quarter (or whatever the end date is for your goal), how would you know if you were “done”? What would you celebrate at that time? What does the end result of your efforts that you are proud of actually look like? Describe it—that’s the Green goal.

In addition to helping you clarify the end result and rally the team around a destination, this act of visualizing the successful outcome may actually help you get to that goal. According to an article in HuffPost, “studies show that visualization increases athletic performance by improving motivation, coordination and concentration. It also aids in relaxation and helps reduce fear and anxiety.” It’s not as hokey as “see it, and you’ll be it” or something, but the act of rehearsing success in your mind can help you get there.

So if your team is stuck on Red-Yellow-Green in your next planning session, just pull out the old time machine, and see what happens!

5 Minute Rhythm-Set Red Yellow Green Success Criteria

Check out our additional resources:

Goal Setting: 5 Steps to Drive Better Results

SMART Goal Setting: To Create SMART Goals, Start With "Why"

Effective Goal Setting 101: How to Write an Effective SMART Goal [Infographic]

How to Set Clear Goals for Your Priorities

Using Red-Yellow-Green Success Criteria: Real World Examples That Are SMART

Setting Clear Expectations: Achieve Goal & Role Clarity

Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images