Updated: Apr 24
The beginning of the year is often the period to reflect on our goals both personal and professional. Unfortunately, when we set too general goals such as "performing better at work" or "exercising more", we quickly forget about them.
In this article, I explain why and how you should set clear goals for yourself.
Why should we set specific goals?
A goal is an idea of the future or desired result that a person or a group of people envision, plan and commit to achieve. Goals give you direction. They allow you to stay mentally and physically focused on the road that takes you where you want to go. They act as a compass or a lighthouse.
For example, let's imagine that you have a goal related customer satisfaction's improvement. When it is clear, it will help you to make decisions, organise your day and prioritise your tasks in a way that you make progress towards that goal.
If you manage your goals carefully, it can bring great results in all areas of your life. However, they must be precise enough to allow you to see where you are going to. Otherwise, you will not really know what you are doing, or where you are if you just want to "lose weight" or "improve customer satisfaction".
Consider the long term for specific short-term goals
Having a goal that is too general is not necessarily a bad thing. You at least know which area of your personal or professional life you want to work on. Rather, it should be seen as a starting point for your reflection. First, you need to identify the long-term results that you want to achieve meaning in 5, 10 years or more. Then you work on what you can do in the shorter term to get those results, for example this year, next month, next week... then you can write clear and precise goals (see examples below).
Set SMART goals.
Goal-setting theory was formulated by Edwin A. Locke and Gary P. Latham. They found that specific, difficult goals lead to higher performance than either easy goals or instructions to "do your best", as long as feedback about progress is provided, the person is committed to the goal, and the person has the ability and knowledge to perform the task.
The most common method to set specific goals is the SMART method. It is a mnemonic acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.
Therefore, when writing a goal, it is necessary to clearly describe the result you want to reach, the timeline and how are you measuring success and progress. All this by making sure that this goal helps you to move towards you bigger objective in the longer term and that you have the capacity to achieve it. If it is too difficult you will give up and if it is too simple you will lose interest. If these are professional goals, make sure you discuss with your manager to learn about his own goals, those of the team and those more global and strategic of the organisation.
Example 1: Arriving to work on time
I will avoid arriving late to work this month by setting my alarm 30 minutes earlier each morning and leaving 20 minutes earlier than I do now.
S: The specific long-term goal is arriving on time for work.
M: 30 extra minutes in the morning, as well as 20 extra minutes of travel time, is measurable.
A: These changes are incremental and not drastic.
R: Both changes relate to arriving on time.
T: The time frame is one month.
Example 2: Create a uniform pricing system
I will create a uniform pricing system over the next two months by running a full stock inventory, then assigning two employees each week to price each item according to new standardized corporate guidelines.
S: Creating a uniform pricing system is a specific goal.
M: The time-bound goal is trackable.
A: A rotating schedule of two employees per week does not take too much time away from the employees’ existing workload.
R: Adding devoted time to the work will help reach this organizational goal.
T: The two-month time frame creates a deadline to work toward.
What other tools to create my goals.
The SMART method does not work for everyone. Some people do not fully understand the difference between "achievable" and "relevant". Others find that it is always easy to forget your goals... until the year-end performance review. Also the structure of SMART method might prevent them from thinking big. Everyone can try this tool and make their own opinion, but here are other methods that might be suitable for you. All of them are acronyms that make them easier to remember.
Collaborative. Your goals should be collaborative. They goals must encourage employees to work together. It is about reflecting on how we want to collaborate, and on the reasons behind.
Limited. A framework should be set for the goal: time, topic or geography... Consequences and actions implemented must be in line with this framework.
Emotional. Basically, this point is aiming to align your goals with your values. When emotion is linked to the goal, energy and passion can be used to achieve it.
Appreciable. It is about ensuring large goals are broken down into smaller goals. This makes it easier to identify actions to be taken and to monitor progress. It also helps to maintain motivation and tackle each step.
Refinable. Things can change along the way, unexpectedly. While a goal should be an important milestone, it should also be adaptable and flexible to take into account challenges, changes and new information as they arise.
Frequently discussed. Your goals should always be part of your daily life. They need to be discussed continuously and given special attention. This avoids the situations where you check the status without having looked at them for 11 months.
Ambitious. This means difficult but not impossible. Like SMART goals, they must be "achievable". But also, they should not be so easy that they are done quickly and simply.
Specific. Like SMART goals, FAST requires you to set detailed goals.
Transparent. Your goals should be visible to others. People then understand how their goals are related and different from those of other members of the team, the department and the organisation. In addition, sharing your goals allows other people to help you achieve them, which strengthens collaboration.
Purposeful. Your goal should be focused, have meaning. It must be relevant to your longer-term goal, and not just to your current situation.
Actionnable. Based on parameters that you can control.
Continuous. Many goals are not achieved because there may be so many options that you end up spending more time doing research than doing what will allow you to progress towards your goal. Continuous here implies flexibility. As you move forward, you can adapt your approach. We could also talk about continuous improvement.
Trackable. We are not talking about measurable but rather to indicate how you will track your progress. It is useful to know the final destination but also to have milestones along the way to make sure that you are not heading in the wrong direction.
The bottom line
Set goals that will inspire you to do more.
Whether the SMART approach is right for you or not, it is essential to use one method to set your goals. Don't be too general. Be intentional with what you want to achieve. Do not leave it to chance, but create goals that inspire and motivate you.