I can’t remember the last time that I had the occasion to wear my smart black suit pants but it was well before the start of Covid. However, International Breast Cancer Awareness Day provided the catalyst to examine a forgotten part of my closet and ‘dress smart’ for a change. The dress code was a simple “wear pink” so out came my suave pink dress shirt and matching tie that I bought in Rome* many years ago.
* when in Rome, run the Rome Marathon – which is exactly what I did.
My wardrobe is limited to exactly one pink shirt and one pink tie but I have many pairs of smart black pants. The excitement for dress-up day at work quickly turned to consternation as I steadily worked my way through the closet and realized that none of my black pants fit anymore. I knew I had put on a little weight over Covid but had no idea the true extent of my waistline expansion.
Having squeezed into the pair possessing the strongest buttons, I headed off to the office knowing that I would be practicing enforced intermittent fasting for the rest of the day so as not to put further pressure on my diaphragm and the stitching of my pants.
As someone who has worn the same size pants since varsity, this experience came as a huge shock. I spend a lot of time coaching the teams I work with on how to write valuable quarterly PI (Program Increment) Objectives. Therefore, I decided to take a spoonful of my own medicine and apply the same techniques so that I could fit back into my smart black pants again.
Aligning to Strategic Themes
Ideally you should start with a strategic theme which is aligned to your overall vision. If you were an automotive manufacturer, a possible vision is to be the first carbon neutral automotive manufacturer in the world whilst a related strategic theme might be to powering your cars using solar energy.
As an obsessive marathon runner, my personal vision is to run every marathon in South Africa which would fit nicely under a “health and wellness” strategic theme. Objectives should relate back to strategic themes, be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound) and be clear expressions of value.
Understanding the Local Context
When writing objectives, it’s important to understand the local context and constraints to ensure that they are practical, realistic and well aligned to a strategic theme. Before we head into writing the objectives here’s my local context…
- After some analysis and introspection, I realized that I needed to lose some weight.
- I have also been struggling with a long-term neural knee injury and dropping some excess baggage would definitely reduce the wear and tear.
- Although I did initially drop some of my Covid kilograms, I was stagnating despite exercising as much as my dodgy knee would allow.
- I am itching to get back into running marathons again (pre-Covid I usually ran a marathon a weekend) but also want to be ‘sensible’ so as not to cause any long term damage (a sensible marathon runner is a good example of an oxymoron!).
- My favourite ultra marathon is the Two Oceans 56k and that requires running a qualification marathon in under five hours before the 6th of March.
- I am an incredibly consistent beer drinker and have an impressive track record of 2-3 beers an evening for the last two decades.
- When people ask me “Why do you run?” my standard response is “So that I can eat and drink whatever I like!” Since I was no longer running as much as before, I would need to adjust my consumption intake.
Writing Great Objectives
Now let’s focus on deriving three quarterly objectives from the above.
I need to “Lose weight” but that in itself is not a good objective. If I lose 100 grams, technically I could claim success but my black pants would tell me otherwise. I should therefore work in a specific measure, like “Lose 5 kilograms by March.” However, there is still room for improvement by clarifying the ‘why’. The simplest way to do this is to add a “so that” to the objective statement leaving us with a final objective of, “Lose 5 kilograms by March so that I can fit into my smart black pants again.”
A second objective is to get myself fit again but, as with the previous example, “Get fit” is a lousy objective in itself. A better, more specific objective would be “Run a marathon in February” as this provides a quantifiable outcome for my increased fitness level an aligns to my vision. However, an even better objective would be “Run a marathon in under 5 hours by 6 March so that I can qualify for Two Oceans.”
The next objective was the toughest to implement and still causes substantial pain and mental anguish to write about. If I wanted to shift my waistline, I would have to drink less beer. I therefore took the drastic step of deciding to only drink beer on the weekend*. By now you should know that “Drink less beer” would not be an acceptable objective and “Only drink beer on the weekend” is better but missing the “so that”. In my case I was able to tie it all together with, “Only drink beer on the weekend so that I can lose weight and fit into my smart black pants again.”
* I chatted to a colleague of mine about my ‘no alcohol in the week’ objective and she has a different but perhaps superior method of sensibly controlling alcoholic calorie intake. She has a weekly alcohol allowance which she finds results in less ‘bingeing’ than with a weekend only restriction.
It’s also important that the acceptance criteria for meeting the objective is clear. You’ll notice that in the graphic above I have slipped a little escape clause in parentheses that allows me to drink beer in the week if I am presenting at a meetup*. Whilst this was primarily a little joke because the first time I presented this idea was at the South African Scaled Agile meetup, I do have a few exceptions when I would allow myself to ‘cheat.’ An example would be if I go out for supper during the week (this is just good economics because beer is the cheapest calorie per rand item on most restaurant menus).
* I am always happy to present at meetups (and not just so that I can drink beer in the week).
Behavioural Science helps to Meet the Objectives
Working in the behavioural science industry, I decided to make use of the “fresh start effect” and my beerless weekdays came into effect on my first day back in the office after the Christmas holidays. Although I do have some of the fore mentioned escape clauses, I am pleased to report that, at the time of writing, I have been 100% dry during the week and am well on my way (or should that be weigh) to dropping those 5 kilograms.
Another behavioural science technique I used to help me with this object was ‘virtue signalling.’ In the first couple of weeks, I worked the “I’ve given up alcohol during the week” topic into conversations whenever I could. Publicly stating one’s intentions helps to take advantage of the virtuous side of commitment bias (which is “our tendency to remain committed to our past behaviours, particularly those exhibited publicly”).
Conflicting Priorities: When Strategic Themes Collide
As for my other goals, I might just be able to squeeze out a marathon right now but have decided against it because I don’t want to set myself back injury-wise or cause irreparable damage to my knee. In fact, the Two Oceans 2023 goal was usurped by an item on the “Family Matters” strategic theme as we will be heading to England in April so that my daughters can spend time with their grandfather for the first time in five years (and see the sights in London) over their school holidays.
Despite some objectives not being met, it is ideal that you, your organisation or the world is in a better state by attempting to achieve them. In my case, I can definitely say that I am happier and healthier than I was at the start of the year. I will also make a significantly reduced carbon footprint on the flight to Heathrow after dropping much of the excess baggage around my midriff. The final quantifiable benefit is that I have saved a small fortune in beer money – and this will come in handy with the current rand–pound exchange rate!Follow Running Mann: