Dan Harper is vice president, corporate counsel and secretary for Océ North America, Inc., a Canon Group Co. He is also president of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. The views expressed herein are the opinions of the author and do not reflect the position or viewpoint of Océ North America Inc., Canon Inc. or any of the Océ or Canon companies.
Focus: a point upon which attention, activity, etc, is directed or concentrated; to fix attention (on); concentrate. Dictionary.com
I often start my column with a definition because it helps me stay focused on the message I am trying to convey. I am reminded of the need to focus every time I walk into the office and see the pile of papers on my desk and the ever present reminders popping up on my calendar; when I experience the constant interruption of phone calls and walk-ins. What do I have to do today to stay focused on the tasks at hand? However, the concept of staying focused begs an even larger question – What is the goal upon which my efforts should be focused?
We can have no focus unless we have clearly defined goals. How can one define tasks upon which to focus when one does not have goals established that allow for a strategic setting of tasks to achieve those goals? In other words, how can you figure out how to get from Point A to Point B unless you understand the location of Point B. Once you know, you can map a route to get there.
I am sure that most of you have seen the SMART acronym. Goals must be:
S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Attainable
R = Realistic
T = Timely
While the SMART method is useful, I am concerned with goal setting at an even more basic level. I was vividly reminded of the need to have goals when I was recently in a meeting with a group of volunteers who assist in the leadership of a charitable organization. Many ideas on programming and how to improve the group were bantered about, all ideas were good, some were excellent! However, the uninvolved observer might have noticed that the ideas, bright as they were, were also disparate and non-cohesive in the sense that they did not seem to point to a common interest. One of the participants finally took a step back and interjected: What is the goal of [our organization]? We were flummoxed. All the brainstorming was taking place in a vacuum.
How does this relate to in-house counsel? Many of us plod through life, day by day, hoping for better, thankful for what we have (as we should be), working hard at our jobs. We consider a good day (or week), when we give some good advice, help a client out of a pickle, solve a problem, proactively manage the company away from trouble, help a friend, whatever. The next day is the same thing. You might call this “surviving” as opposed to thriving. Many of us are fine with just getting by, others need to thrive.
What do you want out of your career? Do you want to be a specialist in a particular area of the law? Are you looking to be the next general counsel of General Electric? Do you want to strike out on your own and use your in-house experience in the private firm setting? Are you looking to back down on the ours and spend more time with the family? Each of these goals demand specialized, differentiated strategies. The tasks required of one goal do not fit within the scheme of tasks required to achieve the other goals.
When goals are clearly identified, you can develop task-oriented strategies to achieve them. By knowing the big picture and focusing on the tasks required to get you there, you have purpose. With each task completed comes a sense of accomplishment, a sense of having done something concrete and worthwhile – because you have inched closer to your goal.
So while the pile of paper may not seem to get any shorter, you can thrive in your career as you accomplish tasks and move forward to your end game. By focusing on the smaller tasks necessary to the achievement of your longer term goals, you make progress. Progress in turn brings a sense of well-being. A cycle is created whereby your goals are affirmed through progress and satisfaction which brings forth more effort to accomplish the next set of tasks and so on and on. Now – stop reading and get back to that stack of paper…..
“People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going.“ Earl Nightingale