As we turn the corner on a new year, my news feed is chock-a-block full of new year’s resolutions. They are wonderful: aspirational, life-improving, career-enhancing. Yet they remind me so much of corporate planning – wishes without a time-frame.

Beautifully bound plans for world domination, full of hockey-stick growth charts, complicated future organizational charts with lots and lots of bubbles for new employees’ names, and colorful diagrams illustrating how op/ex will be maximized within a percentage point of pure efficiency. These, and other great works of fiction, litter corporate bookshelves for all types of companies — big and small, private and public.

Real plans – aggressive yet attainable, stepped progressions of how different people need to accomplish dependent tasks to reach a goal, AND how these teams need to respond (or not) to outside forces – are far and few between if my daily reading of HBRThe New York TimesFast Company, and The Wall Street Journal and other esteemed publications is any indication.

How can you turn a wish into a reality? I have two words for you: Deadlines and Context.

Deadlines for individual and team tasks that everyone has on their calendars. Deadlines in context –  for well-understood tasks that are appreciated for their place in the finished product. Context of how all the pieces and people fit together helps create a strong sense of urgency – to not let other people down and to not allow a missed deadline (because they will happen) derail the entire team.

No plan is a real plan without a sense of responsibility and accountability from the people working the plan and deadlines that give the team a reasonable time-frame to achieve milestones along the way, which in turn helps propel the team forward.

So take a look at the plans on your desk, and ask yourself these 4 questions:

  1. Does everyone understand the purpose of the plan? Is the goal right there at the top of the page?
  2. Are deadlines and milestones clearly articulated – do you see them easily on the page? In bold type? Underlined and big?
  3. Does everyone understand why their part is important? Do not take this for granted. Ask the team – better yet tell them explicitly why their participation is crucial. Show them how all the pieces work together. Do NOT ASSUME that everyone knows why they are there.
  4. Does everyone know when check-ins are, and how to ask for help? Make this abundantly clear.

Now take a look at your own plans for 2014. By when do you want to achieve your goals? How will you know that you are on track? What are you doing to help you get there? Drive deadlines and context into your own goals and watch them move from dream to reality.

A version of this post originally appeared on Rocks Are Hard.

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