Do you set goals or resolutions? Personally or professionally? I used to be a skeptic, but now I’m a believer. Last year, I set more ambitious goals for Content Science and for myself than ever before. I reviewed those goals nearly every day, thanks in part to a tip Content Marketing Institute Founder Joe Pulizzi shared at a 2015 Content Marketing Master Class. (By the way, Content Science is sponsoring both the Washington DC and Atlanta dates this year.) After much hard work, here’s a sample of the results:
Again, that’s only a sample. And I did miss some goals, such as doing a chin up from a dead hang, but even with those I made more progress than ever before.
So, if you’re skeptical about setting goals like I was, consider trying it one more time, but differently.
I like things that work. That’s why I’m such an advocate for content strategy and content marketing. But, goals had not worked for me much, at home or in the office. I would think about them and even write them down. And then the goals would fade from relevance like yesterday’s Internet meme.
Not long after Content Marketing Master Class, I played Ticket to Ride over the holidays with Chris and his parents for the first time. “This will be fun!” Chris’ mom offered. The beautiful, idyllic illustration of a train around 1910 on the box signaled to me a pleasant game about history or trivia. I expected to sip a little wine and make jokes with Chris’ pun-loving dad about being on the right track while trying to answer obscure questions.
Was I ever wrong.
Playing Ticket to Ride is as easy (by easy, I mean hard) as this 37-step guide suggests.
It’s safe to say Ticket to Ride is a lot of effort. The key to the game? Estimating how many destinations (mostly cities) you can connect through train routes you build. If you estimate high and don’t complete them, you’re penalized and probably lose. If you estimate low and someone else achieves more, you probably lose unless you pick up a bonus. So, once you decide how many destinations you’re going to connect, you become obsessed with completing them.
I figured if I was going to play this complicated game, I might as well try to win it. So I estimated high. There were consequences. Let’s just say I didn’t have any time to sip wine. I had to stay engaged constantly with what was happening on the board, with my destinations, and with my cards. Despite a very impressive run from Chris’ mom (now we know why she wanted to play), I somehow completed all of the routes needed to connect my ambitious number of destinations. That gave me the edge to win.
I’m so proud of that win I almost put it on my LinkedIn Profile. More importantly, after that experience, I realized I’d been approaching goals, for life and for content, all wrong. I needed to act more like I was playing Ticket to Ride. I needed to think about the end game, set goals connected to that end game, and become so obsessed with those goals I engaged them in my decisions and actions. Constantly.
So, I’d like to share four important considerations for setting content goals inspired by that game and my experience last year to help you or your organization get on the right…track. (Had to.)
These considerations will help you avoid the mistakes I’ve made and create useful, actionable goals for content and more.
We come across many organizations who want their content to be better or who want some kind of results. But we don’t come across many who have a vision for their content, a clear idea of what future state really will be better and drive the desired results. Trying to create content goals without a larger content vision is like trying to set weight goals without a larger vision for your fitness. For example, if your vision is to gain strength in power and endurance, your weight, perhaps counterintuitively, might have to go up. Without the vision, the goals seem arbitrary or artificial—and could even be counterproductive.
This is where content in agile development for products can go terribly wrong. If you jump into the weeds of microcopy and content design to meet the goals of sprints without a larger content vision, you’re at risk of inconsistency and undermining the product experience. Perhaps even more importantly, you will miss opportunity to innovate. I still love Turbo Tax as a hugely successful example.
This is also where I find measurement in content marketing goes wrong. Without a well-articulated vision, you will find yourself pressured to set goals for content marketing tied only to lead generation or sales. That usually shortchanges the full value of content marketing. Is your content marketing a lead generation factory? Or is it something more?
If you don’t have a current content vision, I’ve talked quite a lot about defining content vision over the past 18 months, including characteristics of a successful one. We decided to make vision an integral part of training in Content Science Academy, and subscribers to this magazine also have access to templates and checklists to help define the vision. Content maturity models come in handy with both vision and bridging that vision to goals. If you’re not familiar with maturity models, they help you identify your current maturity level and desired future maturity level. Your vision might be to get to the next level of maturity, which then can drive many of your goals. We offer sample content maturity models in our whitepapers about content strategy and digital transformation, and technology research firms such as Gartner offer maturity models in areas such as content marketing and content management.
Inspired by the estimating I had to do for Ticket to Ride, I decided to go for hard goals in 2016. I find easy goals that I know I can achieve or that I already achieved boring. I find hard goals interesting and, consequently, much more engaging. But, if a goal is too hard I lose interest again because it seems hopeless. Coming up with the right kind of hard goals was challenging. Why? One reason was I didn’t have any recent past goals, so I was starting from scratch. Another reason was I felt I was pulling goals out of my hiney. I thought of Basecamp cofounder and small business advocate Jason Fried’s comments:
Busting your ass planning something important? Feel like you can’t proceed until you have a bulletproof plan in place? Replace “plan” with “guess” and take it easy. That’s all plans really are anyway: guesses.
Guessing at goals feels uncomfortable, but I found it’s a very worthy exercise. Now, you might think, I can’t give my boss or my client or my company guesses. Possibly not. But you can set a range of goals, such as must-hit (easy) goals to stretch (hard) goals and go from there.
Thanks to Joe’s tip, I tried to look at my goals several times each week throughout 2016. This year, I’m striving not only to look at them but also to interact with them in some way regularly. I use them to update plans and to communicate goals to others. Why? Because we internalize and act on what we engage with, as Ticket to Ride reminded me. We have to re-learn our goals periodically in light of our current situation. By learn, I mean what Marchia Connor describes in her book The New Social Learning.
We define learning as the transformative process of taking in information that, when internalized and mixed with what we have experienced, changes what we know and builds on what we can do. It’s based on input, process, and reflection. It is what changes us.
So, consider how to put the right systems or processes in place to keep yourself or your team engaged with—or learning—your content goals. I wouldn’t have achieved my physical goals without the equipment and training program at local training facility The Rack. Content Science wouldn’t have achieved so many goals without a system of products and services to offer as well as technology, processes, and content to support us. Will you make touching base on goals part of regular meetings? Will you add them to dashboards on the walls? Something else?
This last consideration I learned not from Ticket to Ride but from my experience last year. You have to surround yourself with people who at least support and ideally help advance reaching the goals. Going back to fitness goals, I would not have come close to mine without coaching from Nick Smith and occasionally Ed Miller at The Rack. Content Science would not have achieved so much without our team of talented and hardworking people. If you set goals to live a healthy lifestyle and your spouse isn’t supportive, you’re not as likely to succeed. If you set content goals and the people involved are not bought in, you’re not as likely to succeed. So consider carefully whether the people around you will be supportive and either get those people on board…or surround yourself with different people.
I know it’s already April 2017, but it’s not too late to set content goals for the year, for a product, or for a project. You might realize quickly they have to be more ambitious than ever thanks to trends such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. At worst, you lose a little time setting goals you do not use. At best, you set yourself up for a ride that takes you further than you thought you could go.
And, if you do give content goals a try, I’d love to hear whether they work and what made them work for you.
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