Melinda Roy

The new year is often a time for personal goal reflection and planning. Last year I saw a lot of change in my professional and academic life: I completed my graduate program and started a new job. As I transitioned out of full-time student to full-time work, I wrote a wish list for the role I wanted. When I was hired by Plaid, we created a 60-day plan of goals for onboarding. As the goals shifted over time, I became focussed on what I wasn’t accomplishing . This year, I want am optimistic method for setting and tracking my professional growth. So, I wrote a list of potential achievements and put them on a bingo card.

Seven reasons why gamifying possible achievements is a better approach to goal setting than New Year’s Resolutions:

1. Focuses on the learning process

When I was hired into my first IR position, the senior analyst and person responsible for training me told me “Give yourself three years to feel comfortable in the job.” This was a daunting idea, but she was right. If I had built bingo cards with a three-year plan for advancing from junior to full analyst, I would’ve been happier with my slow progress. When I struggle with a task now, I remind myself that “Learn a new skill” is on my bingo card and this is what it takes.

This years bingo card has already come in handy. I’m currently working on a project that requires skills I haven’t used in five years, in a software system I’ve never used before. Because my bingo card includes “learn a new skill” and “take over a task or project from a busy coworker”, when I’m frustrated, I remember “once I learn this, I can mark off one square…maybe two if I can take over this work from Pat.” Learning a new skill is time consuming, frustrating, and sometimes demoralizing—which is why it’s a goal I’ll put on my bingo card every year.

2. Adapts to Unexpected Change

Even if you take the sensible advice to set New Year’s resolutions with only a few achievable goals, it can result in disappointment and abandonment of goals when we fall behind or something changes that make it impossible. But a bingo card lets you create potential for your work life to change in a myriad of ways, and still have goals to aim for. Tracking and marking your bingo achievements throughout the year reflects an optimistic and playful approach to future planning. When a goal becomes unachievable, rather than getting deflated you can focus on a different win pattern. You might get an inside four corners, a pyramid, a diamond, or a dog-bone pattern. This shifts my mindset from all I didn’t achieve to the cumulative effect of what I did.

3. Creates mental distance from the unachieved

Anyone who has played bingo knows not to expect a blackout. A random organization of goals on a bingo card means a win is partly up to chance, not just one's own effort. This mental distance means non-achievement can simply be assigned to “bad luck” rather than personal failure.

4. Guarantees a win

Most bingo players will eventually get a line or two as numbers are called. The type of effort necessary to achieve a goal or task on the bingo card is as different as each person in the office. While I like an aspect of competition, this approach to goal setting is best done without comparing time-to-completion. A late line is as valuable as an early one. A late four corners might take more effort than two lines completed mid-year.

5. Breaks down big goals and recognizes incremental achievement over the long-term

Part of what I love about working in data analysis, research, and supporting institutions in their strategic goals is seeing possibility. When I was working in an institution, I’d have ideas but didn’t see how we’d ever implement them. Knowing the potential, but not translating these into steps and dedicating time to each, left me frustrated. Many interesting projects ended up in the “that’d be nice, but never gonna happen” bucket. As my skills improved, I found pockets of time at the end of many major projects for small tasks. Bringing this up in an office planning meeting, we shifted from trying to “get leadership support to develop a project” to “proving the use of a project to leadership”. We identified a dream project to build in these pockets of time, broke it down into smaller chunks, and set goals for incremental development and support gathering. For a bingo card example, the first year goal would’ve been build the proof of concept, the second year’s beta testing, and the third’s launching the first iteration.

When you break down a big idea into smaller chunks and use “back-burner” time on them, these steps fill up your bingo card, ensuring more small wins throughout the year. When a step is still in progress at the year end, move it to the new bingo card. This changes the same goal from a difficult square in the previous year, to a likely achievable square for the current year. The accomplishment I am most proud of in my previous work was the result of this strategy. Without celebrating the small progress, or never starting it due to lack of explicit time and support, it may never have happened.

6. Helps prepare for a performance review

Instead of in the week before your annual review trying to remember all that you accomplished, learned, and struggled with, your bingo card tracks this for you. Sharing it with your manager shows them you are progress-oriented and future-focused. It also brings some needed levity to the discussion. If your manager has competing responsibilities and oversee multiple areas, they may not have an in-depth understanding of your work. Discussing your bingo card with them is an informal way to build their understanding of the difference between the likely, the achievable, and the dream goals for the office, of your workload, skills, and roadblocks to development.

“Ask for a raise” is on my bingo card. It's an easy square to cross off, but doing it well means doing some background research. To make a strong case for an increase to your wage, you need to understand the breadth and value of your skill set in the job market, and how well it matches your current job description. You can then argue for updating your job description to better suit your actual work, and in a union enough change in a job description can trigger a wage review. Even if you aren’t interested in changing jobs, the adage of “the best time to look for a job is when you already have one” is true. You might find something that better suits your values and skills, but if you’re not looking, you’ll miss out. This research also ensures that when you are ready to find a new job, you know how trends in your field have changed, what to feature on your resume, and what to ask for in a wage. This research can also highlight skills you want to learn, and who you want to network with at the next conference.

7. Combats post-conference blues

Attending conferences is a great way to boost mid-year morale in an Institutional Research office. Attendees are reminded of what’s possible, get to showcase their work, have their contributions acknowledged, and find new solutions or strategies for navigating difficult goals. With a bingo card, creating a strategy for session attendance based on what’s not yet completed, increases the likelihood that what you learn can be applied upon returning to the office.

On the other hand, attending conferences where many presentations are given by institutions with more resources than your team can be deflating. Reframing these sessions as an opportunity to see a complex project broken down into its steps can combat these post-conference blues. Rather than focusing what you can’t do, you see approaches to how you might do it. These steps can become squares on a future bingo card. Asking the presenters about specific challenges and actual timelines, you’ll be better able to identify your first or next steps to development, create a realistic timeline, and potentially even discover an inventive solution.

Like music or trivia bingo, work bingo is a game of chance but also of skill. Gamifying the future brings fun and levity to the reality that nothing ever goes according to plan.

At Plaid Analytics, we’re building the world’s leading enrollment planning platform. Designed for active collaboration, Forecast can help you plan the future and prepare for change by comparing different scenarios instantly, increasing your forecasting accuracy, and giving you reliable information in real time. Curious to learn more? Connect with Andrew!