Goal-setting is an important tool for career development through-out the year, but it can feel more significant as a we start preparing for the new year. A new year is like a blank page and consequently, often considered a perfect opportunity to not only reflect on your past achievements, but identify what you want to achieve in the future. This year has had it’s share of twists and turns and for many, the goals that were set at the beginning of the year were turned on their head after the introduction of COVID-19 and all of the associated problems that came with it; rising unemployment rates, border closures and social distancing. After such a challenging year, 2021 now looks especially shiny and hopeful for those looking to get their career goals back on track.
However, there is an art to goal-setting. Transitioning a vision or idea from your head into a clearly formed goal takes practice and the way your goals are set out will impact your chances of achieving them. Public Sector People examine the key principles of goal setting and how to ensure you give yourself the best chance at achieving what you need to in 2021.
One of the most recognised and established methods of goal-setting, is SMART goal-setting (first established by George T. Doran in 1981) which uses an acronym to ensure your goals are attainable. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based. When writing a SMART goal, you work through each term to build a goal that shares exactly what needs to be accomplished, when it needs to be accomplished by, and how you'll determine you’ve been successful in achieving it. Ensuring your goals are SMART is effective as the criteria eliminates generalities and guesswork, sets a clear finish line and makes it easier to track your progress.
How do you use the acronym? The letters, what they mean and how they can be applied are outlined below:
For any goal to be effective, you need to be clear about what you want to accomplish. That’s why the first criteria in setting a SMART goal is to be specific in what you want to accomplish and to delve into the nitty gritty details. To do this, ensure that you’re covering the ‘w’ questions:
Who- Are you setting a personal goal? Or will other people need to be involved for the goal to be achieved? For example, is the goal you’re setting relevant for just your marketing team, or a company wide goal.
What- What exactly is it that you’re trying to accomplish; increased sales? More followers? Meeting a project deadline? For each goal, specify one key thing you wish to achieve, what steps you’ll take to achieve it and make that your key focus.
When- Is the goal dependent on a particular time-frame? For example, does the goal need to be achieved by the end of financial year or by a particular trade-show or event you’re doing?
Where- Consider if your goal is dependent on a particular event or location.
Which- When setting goals, you need to think about any related obstacles or requirements that will impact or affect your ability to achieve said goal. For example, if someone sets a goal to create a web page, but has no prior experience in html coding or the back-end of a website, will this impact their ability to create a web page? Considering all potential factors surrounding your goal-setting beforehand will help you determine how realistic or achievable the goal is.
Why- Ask yourself why you’re setting this goal? Is the goal tied to your KPIs? Do you feel you need to achieve the goal for further career development or company advancement?
Thinking through these prompts will lay out what you’re aiming for, but also provides the necessary context that surrounds the goal.
Example: Grow the company’s email database. This will be achieved through targeted social campaigns.
Including specific metrics within your goals is integral in determining your progress as being able to quantify your efforts makes your goals more tangible and provides a strong indication of when you’ve reached the finish line. When thinking about what metrics to include, you should also consider any specific benchmarks or sales figures that you’re required to achieve.
Example: Grow the company’s email database by 20%. This will be achieved through monthly targeted Linkedin & Instagram campaigns.
This section focuses on the things you can do to make your goal attainable- no one wants to set themselves an objective they’ll never be able to reach or feels impossible to achieve. A goal is meant to inspire motivation, not discouragement. So, it’s at this point during the goal-setting process that you need to give yourself a serious reality check. Is the goal you’ve outlined so far, actually achievable? Is it something your team could realistically accomplish? Are there any conditions or limitations that might impede your goal- perhaps gaps in your skill set? Or maybe there aren’t enough resources? You can also analyse your past performance to determine how realistic your current goal is. For example, if you’ve set yourself the goal to grow your company’s database by 20% but last year you had only grown your database by 10% and one of your marketing team members have since left, this particular goal might not be realistic. Consequently, you would have to relook at your figures and determine what metric or action would progress the business forward, while still being achievable.
Example: Grow the company’s email database by 15%. This will be achieved through monthly targeted Linkedin & Instagram campaigns.
It’s also important to note, that sometimes you don’t have the luxury of setting your own goals for either yourself or your team. There are cases when you’ll be required to achieve tasks or goals set by a third party, or companywide goals, which might have targets you deem to be unrealistic. If this is the case, it’s important to flag the restrictions to achieving these goals clearly from the start, especially to those who are passing down the goal. Even if you can’t achieve or make a difference to the end target, at least you’re making your position and any potential roadblocks known up front.
For a goal to be relevant it needs to fit in with an organisation’s broader business goals, beliefs, and culture. If your organisation is B2B, a goal to launch a new product designed for consumers wouldn’t align with the company’s purpose or values and ultimately wouldn’t provide any benefit to the company. In this step of the goal-setting process you must evaluate why the goal is important to you and your business as a whole. Using our example, growing a customer database can be important for a business as gaining more contacts means that you're increasing your brand awareness and consequently reaching new potential customers. Once this key benefit has been identified, it’s important to incorporate it into the goal, so that everyone reading the goal can gain the full picture and know what they’re working towards.
Example: Grow the company’s email database by 15%. This will be achieved through targeted Linkedin & Instagram campaigns. The majority of initial customer touchpoints is done through the businesses Instagram and Linkedin profiles and thus integral in helping to grow our customer base.
T: Time based
Goals aren’t supposed to stretch on forever. Providing a target date for any kind of deliverable is integral in ultimately determining the completion and success of a goal. Providing time-constraints also creates a sense of urgency, which helps to drive and motivate you to complete said goal. Consequently, when setting goals you need to carefully consider their goal deadline and what can be accomplished within that time-frame. Is the goal’s success dependent on a time frame- the end of financial year, or end of the quarter for example? If it’s a long-term goal and expected to take three months or more to complete, it’s useful to break the goal up into weekly or monthly installments, so that every few weeks or months, you can monitor your progress.
Final Example: Grow the company’s email database by 15% by the end of the financial year (2021/2022). This will be achieved through one targeted Linkedin & one targeted Instagram campaign each month. The majority of initial customer touchpoints is through the businesses Instagram and Linkedin profiles and thus integral in helping to grow our customer base.
So, you’ve created your goal and it follows each SMART criteria, now what?
Writing each goal you want to accomplish down on paper not only provides a constant reminder, but also provides a clear record of what you or your team needs to achieve. This ensures that if there’s any confusion about executing an aspect of a goal at a later date or when reviewing each goal, you can always revert back to the original document.
Furthermore, in a recent study at the Dominican University of California, psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews discovered after numerous studies on goal setting that respondents in the study were 42% more likely to achieve their goals, if they’d written them down first.
It’s important to remember that any goal worth achieving probably won’t happen overnight, which is why it’s important to regularly monitor your progress and identify any areas for improvement. It’s important to remain flexible during the goal-setting process. Objectives can change over time, perhaps due to external circumstances outside of you or your organisation’s control like technological innovations, changes in staff etc. Therefore it’s important to schedule regular check ins as a team so you can determine your progress and tweak and make adjustments to your goals if needed, to help keep you on track.
If there are areas you feel you are falling behind in, determine how to best address these; do you need additional support or training, does there need to be a bigger budget, do metrics need to be altered? Allocate time each few weeks- especially if it’s a long term goal- where you and your team dedicate yourselves to focusing on ways to improve your performance and ultimately get your progress back on track. Weekly meetings, project management systems and cloud based platforms like Google Docs are great ways for all members of a team to be aware of and track their goal or project’s progress. Having these recurring reminders and opportunities for feedback will keep everybody motivated towards the end target.
Another way to stay motivated during the undertaking of a major goal or project is to celebrate the small successes and milestones along the way. Especially for long-term goals, which might take up to or over a year to fully complete, the momentum surrounding these goals can slow down and an individual’s drive and effort can wane. By dividing a long-term goal into smaller, incremental goals or points of progress that you can use to pause and reflect, you can easily celebrate the steps taken to achieve your overall goal. For those aiming to grow their company’s email database by 15%, perhaps a great moment to reflect and celebrate their progress is when they increase their data base by 5% and then 10% and so on. Having these little moments of celebration are integral in seeing out your goals, as it rewards both you and your team for your hard work and efforts thus far and acts as a motivator for continuing to persevere with the goal. In addition, knowing you’re already halfway to achieving something- more followers, email addresses, sales etc. – encourages you to keep going as you’re now more inclined to believe it’s possible.
Not all goals are created equal. Vague objectives will lead you wondering what to do next and how you’ll measure success. Ensuring your goals meet the SMART criteria and are regularly monitored during their activation to determine progress, will increase your chances of achieving what you need to and giving yourself the best start for 2021.