Dalia Turner Microsoft

The Final Stretch: the importance of milestones and feedback in HR and Innovation

May 8, 2017


I recently completed a 7km run, part of my build up to achieving my New Year’s resolution to run a half marathon. It was my first organized run of the year, and I will admit, I have not been training as much as I had hoped to be. My personal goal was to run as much of the 7km as I could, to see how far I have come.

I was aiming to run at least 5km before walking, with a small part of me hoping to run the entire 7km. I believe it is important to set goals, but also to strive to stretch beyond my comfort zone, both for additional motivation and for learning purposes.

Milestones that keep you going

The run started well, the weather was nice, I was able to find my way into a comfortable running pace. I had two people ahead of me who were running at a similar speed. I began to pace myself with them. I was feeling good.

The 1km marker came and went, I had a strong start. Next was the 2km marker. I thought to myself, I am going to do this. The 3km marker had a girl taking a selfie while pointing at it – it made me smile. I was almost half way there and I felt that I had a lot of gas in the tank. I was convinced that I was going to run the entire 7km.

Then ahead came a part of a race that all of those who are running dread, an area where three lanes became two, resulting in a bottleneck. With so many different paces coming together in a limited space, the result is often runners being forced to walk for a while – something I did not want to do if I could avoid it. Walking at this point would be the death of my dream. So I looked ahead, I planned my route, and I made it through at a running pace…but I lost the two strangers that I had been following. I was on my own. But that was okay, and confident that I was going to make it to the end.

I started on the last stretch to the finish line. I knew where the race ended, but I wasn’t 100% sure how far along the road the finish line was. I ran along for a few more songs, looking along the side of the road for either the 4km or 5km marker or any other indication of how far I had run, but I saw nothing. I was starting to feel tired. I wasn’t sure how much further I had to run, I figured I was at least past the 5km mark – so my minimum goal had been met, and as I was finding it a bit tougher to keep going, so I decided to speed walk for a bit.

I was about 250m into the speed walk when I saw in the distance the balloons signalling the finish line. I had been much closer than I thought. Probably just over a half a kilometer from the end. I immediately picked up the pace and ran the remainder of the race to the finish, but I was very disappointed in myself. I had the ability to complete my stretch goal, but my head had gotten the better of me.

What has gone wrong?
As I was taking the train home after the race, I was reflecting on what had happened and why I let myself walk. Was I really that unfit? Not really. It had been a mental race, and my brain had let me down.

Here’s what happened: I had done well in the first half as I had my pacers that were along the journey with me, and I had the race markers that were letting me know how far I had progressed; In the second half, I didn’t have anyone with me, I didn’t know where I was, and all around me others were giving up. I truly believe that if there had been any further markers after the 3km, or if I had made it through the bottleneck with my pacers, that I would have been able to complete the entire 7km.

Bringing it back to the workplace
I witness the same too often at work. How many times do I see people give up, or slow down, or lose focus when they are really close to achieving a goal or a desired outcome? How many times do people explain that tasks are too big to even think about how to achieve what they desire? How often do I see people who love a job or a project when it first starts, only to see them become demotivated half way through? From Human Resources through to Innovation Management, the commonalities between reality at work and my race are the need for feedback and milestones to help us to achieve our goals.

On the one hand, feedback in managing Human Resources or Innovation processes lets us know how we are doing. Good or bad, it helps us to know if we are on the right course, and to correct and to make adjustments if we are not. Together with milestones, feedback allows us to understand the progress we are making towards our goals.

On the other hand, milestones let us know how close we are to completing our goal – which is more motivating the closer we get to the end, or to achieving some of the smaller goals that are involved in achieving the bigger goal. Being able to set the right goals and milestones is a way to break the task down into pieces, which helps us track that progress and to keep moving forward.

One of the challenges is to actually remember to track your progress against different tangible milestones, and celebrate them as well. In our fast paced world, it is easy to let those milestones pass without noticing them.

And finally, a word to remember a vital success element: The power of sharing a goal, of having other people along with you on the journey. Knowing you are not doing it alone, will inspire and motivate you to continue.

Dalia Turner has over 15 years of international human resources experience. Her career in HR has taken her from Canada to Australia then to Singapore where she joined Microsoft and had roles covering the Asia Pacific region. Two years ago she moved with her family to Portugal as the HR Director for Microsoft Portugal. Due to her experience working internationally, Dalia has a great appreciation for cross cultural collaboration, mobility, diversity and culture.

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