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“Extreme Optimism”: Goal-Setting a Year Into the Pandemic

“Extreme optimism” is my phrase for how to approach work a year into the pandemic. Think about what you accomplished in 2020 despite everything. Now that things appear to be stabilizing, think about how much you can accomplish this year.

Here’s an example from my own experience. Last spring, the team I lead transitioned to remote work in a relatively seamless way. That meant despite the circumstances we had a lot of positive energy we could direct to technology projects to keep moving forward rather than just keeping up.

Before the midpoint of last year, we established that we’d stick with our ambitious technology roadmap for institutional custody. And by year’s end, we accomplished everything on the technology list—along with a team expansion and stronger-than-expected organic growth.

Let me hasten to say these positive business outcomes didn’t come easy. Managing through a pandemic has required closer attention to team members’ mental health. Speaking for myself, half the year seemed completely out of rhythm. Twice I completely forgot to pick up my daughter from school—and caring for my kids is the most important to me of all.

Yet through that blurriness came stronger connections among the people on my team. Now, we’ve mastered virtual meetings, had virtual tours of each other’s homes, and have met each other’s pets. I’ve put a demand on myself to touch base with employees in the professional yet personal way that happens around the edges at the office—getting coffee, for example—but can be missed entirely when we’re apart.

Together with other executives in our organization, I’ve sought to remember all we can control is how we respond to each situation. So far, so good.

Which brings us back to setting goals. Something I say regularly to my kids is “when you know what you want to be, it makes everyday decisions a whole lot easier.” Where extreme optimism comes in is deciding what you want to be. Here are a few examples of what that’s looked like for our team:

Setting an audacious stretch goal for the business unit as a whole.

We even made T-shirts expressing the goal. Partly that’s for camaraderie, but even more it’s to challenge us in the “everyday” contexts to keep that goal front and center.

Setting ambitious personal goals.

One of mine, for example, is framed around “become a true expert” on a topic and not “fit in X hours of training in this new area.”

Inviting the team to propose and discuss large projects.

Instead of “I think we can add three people” it’s “I think we should expand our services by adding an entire team.”

Again, what makes these powerful is where they’re coming from: Look what we accomplished last year. Let’s see what we can accomplish now by carrying forward that same determined focus.

What extreme optimism doesn’t mean is glib expectation for things to work out, Pollyanna-style. It doesn’t mean putting on blinders. And it certainly doesn’t mean you’ll actually feel optimistic all the time.

Rather, it’s about making sure the big picture is an optimistic one and then going forward with the hard work to make that picture real. Coming off a pandemic year, there’s nothing I can think of more satisfying than that.

UMB is among the nation’s leading institutional custodians. Our team offers a complete range of domestic and global custody services with a high-touch service model. Visit umb.com to learn how we  can support your firm’s institutional custody needs, or contact us to be connected with a custody team member.graphic line break

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When you click links marked with the “‡” symbol, you will leave UMB’s Web site and go to Web sites that are not controlled by or affiliated with UMB. We have provided these links for your convenience. However, we do not endorse or guarantee any products or services you may view on other sites. Other Web sites may not follow the same privacy policies and security procedures that UMB does, so please review their policies and procedures carefully.
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