Goal Setting

As we step into the new calendar year and, for many organizations, the first quarter of the fiscal year many of us are starting to think about goals for the coming year. Some people are making New Year’s resolutions about the weight they are going to lose or the language they are going to learn while others are required to start looking at their workplace objectives to set their professional goals for the year.

A few weeks ago, we ran an article about goal keeping but how do we go about setting goals so that keeping them becomes more realistic? In my experience, good goals, whether personal or professional, have a few things in common:

  1. They are narrow and specific.
    A common mistake with goal setting is to focus on achieving or avoiding a general feeling. For example, a friend of mine decided last year that she wanted to stop feeling rushed all the time. That, however was too broad a goal so instead, she decided that her goal was to walk around campus from meeting to meeting instead of literally running around. As a result she felt less anxious and had more conversations with students and colleagues who were now able to catch up with her as she made her way around campus.
  2. They are more focused on process than result.
    Goals that are all result and no process almost always fail. Deciding that this year you will get a promotion without any plan for how to make that happen is not useful to you. Give some thought to the type of job you would like to attain and how to show your supervisors that you would be a good fit for that position. Set goals to talk to people who have your desired job and to talk to higher ups in your organization about your plans. It is fine to ultimately aspire to be promoted but start with how you are going to get there.
  3. They depend on factors that you can control.
    Chances are you have very little control over the world economy over the coming year and, as much as you would like to, you also have very little control over the behavior of your family and coworkers. For example, resolving to have fewer meetings in which your boss yells at his employees only works if your ultimate goal is to find a new job. Trying to make your current boss stop yelling is a fool’s errand.
  4. They can be measured quantifiably.
    The goal keeping article noted that you need to revisit your goals frequently to assess your progress. Find a way to measure what you have done toward your goal in a way that uses numbers. For example, if your goal is to find a new job, keep track of how many resumes you send out every month and how many professional contacts you make.
  5. They are based on some building blocks you already have in your life.
    There is a fine line between dreaming big and being unrealistic. While you should certainly push yourself, picking a goal that has nothing to do with who you are at the moment will often result in that goal remaining unfulfilled. For example, a friend recently told me that her goal this year is to run a marathon for charity. However, my friend has also told me on several occasions that she absolutely hates running and hasn’t run a step since high school. She does however, enjoy cycling. If her real goal is to do a challenging athletic event and raise money for charity, she would likely be better off striving for a charity bike race. In the alternative, if she would like to get into running, she would benefit from setting a goal to run three times a week for the next few months instead of jumping straight into a marathon.
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