Step inside a modern day secondary school and you’ll discover the pupils know all about goal setting. They may find it tedious, but goal setting in education is recognised as driving “value added”, and a focus for success. The same applies to our careers. We can’t just throw our mortarboards of success up in the air and amble onto a successful career without focus and drive. How can you expect to reach a destination when you haven’t even planned the route?
“The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.”
– Bill Copeland
That’s what goal setting is all about. Goals are about defining focus. They are a conscious decision to provide stretch, motivation, and ultimately success. Goals and objectives are also the markers of success and achievement. They are about progress, development and change.
If you feel that your career has become stale, perhaps has stagnated, or you feel lost or adrift from your younger self, the chances are you haven’t set clear goals and objectives, and certainly not a plan for achieving them. You need the awareness and understanding of your personal career goals to drive its success.
Even if you haven’t been to business school, you’ve likely heard of the SMART approach to objective setting. If you haven’t, here’s a quick recap. SMART stands for:
In short, the SMART approach to setting goals and objectives is about homing in on what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it, and by when. SMART objectives can be used for both short- and long-term plans. In the short-term, these goals and objectives are likely to be more specific and task-based, e.g. publish a paper on xyz. Whereas longer-term goals may be more generic about where you want your career to be in the future.
To utilise goal setting to your advantage you need both commitment and patience, but you also need flexibility. Goals aren’t always set in stone. In the pursuit of one you may re-set another. You shouldn’t be afraid to adapt and modify goals as time progresses. Your career is a long journey, not a sprint.
However, not all goals are as effective as others. There seems to be a key element though: you must write your goals down. It’s also been shown that sharing them can be powerful, too.
There has been some fascinating research into goals, and your success in achieving them by psychologist Dr Gail Matthews of the Dominican University in California. In her study, she looked at individuals who were on the Harvard MBA Program. Given the nature of this course, you would expect to see career-driven individuals. The individuals were evaluated on whether they had goals for the future, and specifically, whether they were written down.
The starting point was just 3% had written goals with accompanying plans to accomplish them. 13% had goals in their mind but not written down, and no plans about how to achieve them. 84% had no goals at all.
The group were followed up 10 years later. The results were incredible. The 13% who had goals were earning double those who had no goals. Even more astonishingly, the 3% who had written down their goals were earning, on average, a staggering 10x more than the rest of the entire study group combined.
That’s real motivation to set some goals for your career and write them down.
Of course, it’s not enough to establish your goals and objectives and then just leave them on a scrap of paper. The defining difference is having a plan that accompanies the goals as well as a reflective approach over time. As secondary pupils are encouraged to reflect on their goals and achievements, so should you. It’s through this analysis that growth happens. It’s here that you discover the roadblocks and the obstacles, and importantly, learn how to navigate them. You’ll achieve your vision if you define it and redefine it.
This is vital to your career progression. You need to firstly have the goals, but importantly reflect on them. Over time you should be coming back to your career goals and evaluating how you are doing. What is standing in your way? Do they need refining? This will give you renewed vigour to achieve your goals and objectives and to build the career that not only meets your expectations, but exceeds them.