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Setting performance goals for success

What can Dry January and Veganuary teach us about setting and achieving performance goals, both in our professional and personal lives?

At the turn of a new year, many of us will be embarking upon a new personal challenge or setting a resolution to change an aspect of our lives. The start of a new calendar year brings optimism and with it, a common expectation to set a goal or carve out a new ambition for yourself.

In recent years, we have seen the popularity of Veganuary and Dry January surge. Tapping into our optimistic outlook for making positive changes, these types of worthy campaigns increasingly engage more and more of us to try something different for a short, defined period of time where we can share our progress with others and gain support along the journey.

Official figures show increased numbers pledging support to both campaigns each year, but what isn’t captured in these numbers are the conversations taking place in most offices (Atkinson HR included) or social networks, of those sharing their own personal commitment to such endeavours at the start of this month.

So, what lessons can managers learn from the increasing popularity of these new year campaigns in terms of goal setting and motivating their team members?

We have broken them down to understand how their key features can influence goal and objective setting in the workplace.

Connecting with Others

The success of these campaigns is likely attributed to many factors, but the availability of support, inspiration and community that surrounds each one is likely to be crucial. This makes a seemingly personal journey to change an aspect of your lifestyle, something which is shared and connects you with other people living the same experience.

Having a shared purpose and drive to meet an organisational goal can be a powerful motivator in the workplace. Having one team with one dream, provides a clear vision for everyone to work towards, and having goals aligned to that vision can improve team cohesion and enable collaboration. Shared goals can help to increase accountability of those contributing to a team effort but also provides access to support and help when it’s needed to keep progress on track.


Another factor in the success of Veganuary and Dry January may be that the personal goal you set for yourself is time limited and relatively short.

Whilst the dark and cold month of January may sometimes feel like an eternity, its 31 days present a clearly defined period of time to invest your energy and commitment. This short-term goal to sustain a change or commit to a new habit is both tangible and realistic to achieve.

In the workplace, it may be commonplace to set year-long, far-reaching goals for employees to achieve, but this approach may overlook the benefits that setting shorter-term goals can bring, including greater clarity, direction and focus and the repeated satisfaction you may feel from regularly achieving those goals, building your confidence and self-esteem.

Arguably there is a place for both types of goals as part of an employee’s performance plan, so consider how your processes and review cycle can accommodate both to maximum effectiveness.

Driven by Personal Interest

The decision to take part in campaigns such as Veganuary or in one of the many month-long awareness charity campaigns that make up the annual calendar, is often motivated by an ethical or personal desire to contribute to that cause, be that for social impact or environmental reasons. There is considerable research that suggests goals rooted in personal interests and values have a significant positive effect on individual performance, therefore if you are able to tap into the interests and passions of your team members, you should be able to set goals that motivate and inspire them to work hard and achieve them.

Self-Set Goals

One of the main principles of campaigns such as Dry January and Veganuary is that these are personal, self-set commitments and are the selective choice of those undertaking the challenge. There is likely no third party assigning you to the challenge or indeed holding you accountable to your progress through it. The decision to take part and set these goals, remains ours.

In the workplace, these types of self-set goals are often associated with improved performance over goals that have been purely assigned to them by their manager. Research has found that people are more committed to their goals when they are allowed to decide for themselves which ones to strive for. There is also evidence that suggests that goals rooted in personal interests and values have a significant positive effect on performance. Therefore, if you are able to tap into the interests and passions of your team member, you are more likely to agree goals that motivate and inspire them to work hard and achieve them.

With all this talk of goal setting and new year’s resolutions, it is important not to overlook your mental health through this period. If you have set your own new years resolutions, please consider the advice shared by Rethink Mental Illness this January, which reminds us that our self-worth should not be defined by our ability to stick to these goals. Meeting any personal challenge is difficult and the path to change is not always linear, so remember to be kind to yourself and not critical if, for whatever reason, you don’t meet the goals you set.


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