With another New Year on the horizon, 'tis the season for career contemplation.
Perhaps you’re thinking of transitioning within your current organisation, looking for something similar with a different company or switching things up entirely and changing career.
Regardless of your motivation for desiring change, one thing’s for sure: you need to build a solid plan. But, where on Earth do you start?
I think it’s fair to say that everybody is aware goal setting is important. Whether we do it or not, is an entirely different matter.
Goals keep us motivated; they inspire creativity and drive us to achieve our full potential. At least, they’re supposed to. If it was as simple as just ‘setting a goal’, nobody would ever fail.
The truth is, we need to set goals - but we also need to draw up a plan to achieve said goals. Essentially, we need to know where we are, where we want to be and how to get there before we even start. So…
Hands up those of you amongst us, who set New Year’s resolutions but fall back into the same old routines by the end of January.
Hands up everyone who knows where they want to be in their career - but has no idea how to get there.
Hands up those of you who feel you are coasting in your career with little direction.
Want to know how to make your dream career a reality?
Then, this article is for you.
“Everyone has their own Mount Everest – we were put on this Earth to climb.” Seth Godin
Unfortunately, for those of us with busy lives, goal setting is often put on the back burner to deal with more ‘urgent and important matters. The thing is, if we go through life like this unless we’re incredibly lucky, that dream job ends up being just that: a dream.
Remember when I said that everybody is aware goal setting is important? Well, I’m going to hazard a guess that most of you will have heard of SMART objective setting, too?
Okay, don’t roll your eyes. Yes, I know, it’s an acronym that is slung around a lot in corporate land, but there’s a reason why this strategy had been rolled out in snooze-worthy PowerPoint presentations for decades: it bloody works.
So, with that in mind, let’s go through SMART objectives one more time:
SMART is a goal-setting acronym that stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Let’s look at each of these points in more detail:
There’s nothing more likely to fail than a vague goal. Having a non-specific objective either suggests that you still don’t know where you want to be (in which case, you really need to focus on finding that out) or it’s so wishy-washy that you find it hard to focus. Vague goals can be both overwhelming and incredibly difficult to track.
To demonstrate this, let’s use an example most of us will inevitably relate to come January:
“I want to lose weight.”
This is very vague. How much weight do you want to lose? When do you want to lose it by? If you write a goal like that, you’re heading for a whole year of “the diet starts on Monday”.
A better, more specific example would therefore be:
“I will lose a stone by the end of February.”
In the corporate world, when looking to change jobs, one of the first things you must have in your arsenal is a great CV. You may frequently tell yourself:
“I really need to update my CV.”
But what you should be telling yourself is:
“I will update my CV with new achievements this weekend, so it is ready to send to recruiters on Monday.”
Pay attention to the language here. Positive language encourages us, so it’s important that when we are setting goals, we leave the negativity at the door.
‘I want to’ or ‘need to’ denotes that the goal is something to be attained, but not that it’s necessarily attainable.
‘I will', on the other hand, tells us that we are going to achieve it and therefore focuses our brain on getting us there. It’s all to do with a part of the brain called the ‘Reticular Activating System’, but I’ll cover that in more detail in a different piece.
A good goal is one that can be tracked, tested, and measured and to do so, you must know your exact starting point. What I mean by this, is that you need to have full visibility of your current situation, so you know you are travelling towards your goal and not away from it.
In our dieting example, it would be as simple as knowing how much you weigh. Once you know, you can then weigh yourself again at regular intervals to ensure you’re on track to reaching your objective.
In the world of business, for example, this might mean using Key Performance Indicators to track your position against a target.
Great goals should challenge you, but not be too hard to achieve; making something too difficult could zap your motivation and mean you never get out of the starting blocks.
That doesn’t mean that your goal should be easy to achieve – it should be stretching – but at the same time, it needs to be possible.
Now, I know earlier I talked about making your dream career a reality, but I’m about to put a caveat on that: it must be a realistic dream to start with. I mean, I know I’ll never play centre-forward for Manchester United. Sure, it’s been an ambition of mine since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, but I know it’s not a realistic one (crying into my beer).
Bottom line, unrealistic goals are not motivating and can leave us feeling less-than.
At work, of course, many of us are limited by the parameters of company policy, resources available to us and our position in the hierarchy. That doesn’t mean to say you shouldn’t push boundaries – but don’t set goals where the desired outcome is largely out of your own control.
In our weight loss example, this is where you would look at the ‘how’ element. How will you lose weight?
“I’ll go to the gym five nights a week and cut out chocolate and booze.”
That sounds great, but will you do that? You know you; you know your capabilities and willpower. You don’t want to fall at the first hurdle.
We all have work habits too, especially if we’ve been in the same role for a while and some of those might just need breaking/changing to get you to where you want to be.
The ‘attainable’ element of this goal-setting system requires you to be brutally honest with yourself.
If you have no self-control or find it hard to stay motivated that may not mean your goal is unrealistic; you may just need a third party to hold you accountable.
More about that later…
What’s important is that you must know how you are going to achieve your goal. If you don’t know the answer to this question, then you simply don’t know if it’s attainable or not.
Another thing to bear in mind is that goals can sometimes feel unattainable because of the language you use when setting them. For example, if:
“I will lose 1 stone in 2 months.”
Is changed to:
“I will lose 2lb a week, for the next 2 months.”
It instantly sounds less daunting, right? Breaking big goals down into bitesize chunks can make them seem less colossal and therefore, more attainable.
Your goals must be aligned to where you want to be, both personally and professionally. An objective that is contrary to either of these things is nothing more than a distraction.
You must keep your eye on that end goal and avoid deviating from the path. It’s all too easy to lose focus and get side-tracked; often, it’s simpler for us to stay where we are, rather than put in the hard work.
When I started my coaching business, irrelevant distractions were everywhere. I was leaving my cosy, corporate life and I needed to have a solid plan to ensure I really did leave my comfort zone and kept moving forwards.
“Complacency is the enemy of progress." Dave Stutman.
I’m not exactly where I want to be yet; there are still several, relevant milestones to pass, things I must learn and networks I need to build. As long as I stay on course, however, I know I will achieve my target.
This element feeds back into our goals needing to be specific and realistic: to be both of those things, your objective must have a date stamp. You need to know when you wish to achieve things by, in order to drive yourself to complete them.
Not all of us are completer/finishers; we have personal lives, distractions and are often guilty of procrastination. Having deadlines for our personal goals holds us accountable to ourselves. Without an end date looming, “I’ll start it next week” is at risk of becoming a daily mantra.
“A goal properly set is halfway reached.” Zig Ziglar
Ultimately, good goal setting is a science and when done well, is incredibly effective.
It is challenging, stretching, thought-provoking and at times, frustrating – but it does encourage us to learn and grow and if you weren’t interested in doing that, you wouldn’t be here. Would you?
New Year’s is a prime time to start planning the next phase of your career and you don’t have to go it alone.
Our jobs can sometimes be lonely places, especially the more senior our role; it’s always good to have an objective, knowledgeable sounding board to talk shop with.
As an Executive Coach, I will help you identify your opportunities, set goals, write plans, and hold you accountable to sticking to them.
Why not pick up the phone and call me on 07799474776 or drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Let me help you to be all you can be, in 2022.