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Are we nearly there yet?

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The first trainingreality blog of 2010, so happy New Year to you all. As most of the news reviews of 2009 (and the “Noughties”) seem to have said, it’s been a challenging year/decade that in some respects might be all the better for being behind us! But a lot of good happened too, and I think it’s important to take a balanced perspective on these things, if only to keep ourselves in balance.

The title of this article ranks pretty high on my list of all-time annoying phrases, when used in its traditional context, but it is also one of the most crucial phrases when managing change, be it organisational change management, or personal development.

In the context of personal development (broadly defined – we could be talking about developing leadership skills, or learning a new language, anything really), I tend divide the process into three simple steps:

A lot of management training courses, and literature on the subject, covers the first two of these steps, but my feeling is that there is rather less on the latter; so what are the challenges with actually “doing it”, particularly knowing when you’ve really got there?

With the well-known child’s question of “are we there yet?”, the destination can be clearly defined – when I pull up outside the villa/cottage/park etc, I can be very confident that we are “there”, and give a very straight answer to the question. But with personal skill development, defining the destination is (at best) a lot more subtle, and (at worst!) there may be no “destination” at all…

Are we really nearly there?

A lot of things are really easy to fix - in the short term. Anyone who has ever given up smoking is likely to know that going one day without a cigarette is reasonably straight forward compared to going forever without one. So if we’ve committed to listening more intently to a certain person in order to understand them better, how long do we need to do that for before we have actually, genuinely, reached our goal?

The illustration of smoking is a useful thing here. Once you do something (or don’t do something) without having to consciously think about it, it has become ingrained in your sub-conscious, and the new habit has replaced the old one. That is not to say that you need never think about it again – being alert to potentially reverting to old habits is essential – but the more and more you “do” the new habit, in more and more different environments, the more natural it will become.

Where are we going again?

This question is both rather tricky and very easy to answer.

Some things don’t have a defined ultimate end result. I, for example, would like to be a better mountain biker, but there is no ultimate end-point for me, in the sense that I won’t get to a certain level of ability and say “right, that’s enough”!

Under these circumstances, step-by-step goals seem appropriate. How good would I like to be by early summer? How good would I like to be next year? By determining the measures for each of these, I am creating defined targets or destinations that are not the ultimate end result (and there will never be one of those), but that do allow me to understand my progress and drive me towards a goal.

Taking “communicating better” as a goal (although, obviously, it would need to be far more accurately defined than that!), this principle applies. I can’t imaging every saying that I am such a good communicator that I never have to improve again, and so there is no ultimate end-point, but I can put a series of interim stages in place, and keep adding to them, in the way that you would add to a rolling business plan. Some things are simply never finished.

Goal setting, and the aspect of knowing when you’ve got there, is something that will appear in subsequent articles this year, so please add your thoughts, comments and insights below…on of my goals is to increase the numbers reading and commenting on these articles – but I have no ultimate end-point for that one either!

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