At the semiannual meeting, everyone in the department set semiannual and annual goals. But a year later, virtually everyone had fallen short — a problem, because goal attainment defined how this company’s leaders evaluated performance. The scenario wasn’t unusual, either: Plenty of other departments received a black eye for not reaching their goals.
The problems begin when nobody knows exactly how to set goals, either at work or in private life. Many organizations have no goal-setting training process, and managers too often set unattainable goals because they sound good. In other cases, people who work in knowledge-intensive jobs that are difficult to quantify misunderstand just what goal-setting entails.
Goal-setting is important to master, at work and in your personal life. Without it, you risk passing through life adrift and becoming, to paraphrase rocker Sheryl Crow, a stranger in your own life. Setting goals helps you know the kind of life you want to lead, what you want to achieve and what you need to do to get there. Here are some simple ideas on goal-setting offered by organizational experts.
Identify what matters most to you
Are you health-conscious? Family-oriented? A die-hard careerist? Even if you’re a combination of all three, if those elements are what matter to you most, that’s where you need to focus your goal-setting energies.
You can do this in a fairly straightforward manner by creating affirmative statements that define your goals. “I’d like to spend more time with my family” is a goal that’s realistic, attainable and measurable. “I need to develop and follow an exercise and weight-loss program” has the same qualities. “I’d like to become better at managing people” is a worthwhile career goal.
Make goal-setting continuous
Making New Year’s resolutions is one of the most basic exercises in goal-setting. Alas, most of these resolutions tend to lose their punch after a few months, which points to a much better approach: Setting goals more frequently throughout the year, such as monthly, bimonthly or quarterly.
You can focus on incremental gains toward a large year-end numerical goal, for instance. If you’re engaged in an extended job search, make it your goal to increase the number of networking events you attend each month.
Set realistic goals
While it is always good to stretch your capabilities, setting the bar so high that you fail is sure to sour your goal-setting experience. You’ll need to bear in mind, too, that many factors are completely out of your control.
For instance, setting the goal of getting a job with 35 percent more pay is unrealistic because you cannot control exactly which employer wants to hire you or what you’ll earn. However, you can set a goal to pursue higher-level job postings or prepare to switch to an occupation that pays more or analyze what helped you succeed in the past and concentrate more of your efforts on what works for you.
The SMART acronym is useful in business planning because it teaches people how to measure the impact of their work. The “S” stands for specific, “M” for measurable, “A” for attainable, “R” for relevant and “T” for trackable.
By being as precise as possible, you can better measure your achievement. Also, make goal-setting as much as possible about your performance rather than specific outcomes. You control your performance, but you often have little or no control over outcomes because these are often subject to external influences.
Focus on processes that enable goals
This is more of a stealth approach to goal-setting. Instead of making your goals front-and-center of your life, focus instead on perfecting the systems, processes and habits that will make it most likely you will reach your goals.
In other words, make goal achievement a journey rather than a destination. This also helps you continue striving after you’ve reached a particular goal, when otherwise you might be tempted to slack off.
Replace ineffective goals
When you achieve goals easily, consider making them more of a stretch the next time around. This will challenge you and provide a greater sense of achievement once you accomplish those loftier goals. Likewise, when a goal proves too difficult, consider setting the bar a bit lower.
One final thought: If your work is uninspiring or you feel enslaved by your job, no amount of hard work, determination and diligent goal-setting will change how you feel. In such a case, instead of working harder and striving for a promotion, a better goal would be to find more meaningful, enjoyable work. You’ll get immense satisfaction from achieving such a goal, which is apt to endure for the rest of your life.Learn More: Click to view related resources.
- Amy Carlson and James Manktelow, "Personal Goal Setting: Planning to Live Your Life Your Way," Mindtools.com
- Steve Robbins, "How to Set Goals for the Life You Actually Want," Fast Company