“Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.” — Fitzhugh Dodson
Goals, whether personal or professional, are powerful motivators and opportunities for change.
As a project leader, you need to consider goals from two angles.
Firstly, you should establish your own goals and define a plan to achieve these outcomes. This will ensure you remained focused on the road ahead and experience each day with intent. Secondly, you need to work with team members to identify their goals and steps to fulfill their objectives.
Research conducted by the Harvard Business School demonstrates that assessing individual goals, aligning these goals with corporate strategies, and supporting teams in achieving their goals is vitally important to engagement and performance. Connecting individuals to their ‘why’ is a very powerful motivator.
In this article, I will outline some ideas to help you identify and set goals.
Why are goals so important?
A goal is defined as ‘the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result’. Goals provide focus and direction as we work towards the desired outcome, such as running a marathon or joining a new project to upskill.
Having a goal is key to staying motivated, particularly when plans go awry! Without a clear purpose or intent, it is too easy to become distracted, make excuses, and lose confidence in our abilities. A very simple example is deciding to train for a marathon. This seems quite easy during the summer months but becomes more challenging during winter.
If you really want to achieve this goal, you may decide to invest in a gym membership, join a running club, or buy new winter running gear.
Goals also improve time-management and emotional energy levels, helping you to achieve more in less time. Without a goal, you risk wasting time on irrelevant work, which in turn, leads to dissatisfaction and low energy levels.
How to Reach Your Professional and Personal Goals
1. Identify your goals
Identifying your goals may seem a little daunting but it is worth the effort! Your goals may relate to career, finance, education, family, and so on. There are no rules for choosing a goal except it must be important to you. Here are a few questions to get started:
- What do you want to experience?
- Is there something you want to stop doing?
- Do you want to improve your mental and physical health?
- What bad habits do you want to change?
- What skills do you want to learn?
- What other things have you been thinking about changing?
- Who can help you achieve these goals?
- What is the cost of these goals (financial and time)?
- Do you really believe in the goal? In other words, can you visualize reaching this goal?
Another method to help identify your goals is Warren Buffet’s famous 5-step process for success. Buffet’s approach may be summarized as follows:
- Think about what you want and create a list of 25 goals
- Pick your top 5
- Plan how you will achieve your top 5
- Forget about the other 20 goals you achieve these top 5. This is your ‘avoid at all costs list’
- Stick to your top 5 – you cannot focus on everything!
It is also worth considering the type of goals you wish to set as this will determine how likely you are to reach your destination. Research indicates that goals should be:
- Specific: This is pretty straightforward. Training to run 5km before moving on to 10km and so on makes more sense than trying to run a marathon on your first attempt!
- Difficult: Difficult goals tend to lead to higher performance than easy ones. Goals should test and expand your existing talents and skills.
- Group-centric: Focusing on a group-centric goal such as improving your contribution to team meetings yields better outcomes than egocentric, self-focused goals.
2. Create an action plan
Once you have identified your goal, you need to develop a realistic plan to reach your objective. A good place to start is with SMART:
- Specific: We already know that goals should be specific
- Measurable: Think about how you will track progress towards your goal. If you are undertaking training or certification in a particular area, it’s useful to identify grades or requirements to pass modules. These grades act as a marker of progress and development.
- Assignable: Whilst you are predominately responsible for achieving your goal, you should consider if anyone else can help and how, for example, if you would like to improve your coaching skills, can you seek help from your project sponsor?
- Realistic: Your goal must be challenging yet achievable. Spend some time researching your goal to identify what steps you need to take to get there. What are you already doing and what do you need to do to reach your goal?
- Time-Related: Set a deadline and stick to it! Depending on the nature of your goal, you may need to divide your schedule into smaller chunks (one year, six months, one month etc). Set time aside regularly to focus on the completion of your goals.
In addition to setting SMART goals, the following suggestions will help you to stay on track:
- Write your goals down to revisit when you are feeling demotivated or unsure what to do next.
- Share your goals with one or two people. This will make you accountable to someone else!
- Celebrate your progress.
- Review your goals periodically to ensure they are still relevant.
- Undertake time-management training to get more from your day.
- Things rarely go to plan! Be prepared to re-adjust from time to time but try not to become distracted from your end goals.
- Deal with overwhelm. Everyone feels overwhelmed from time to time; what’s most important is how you deal with it. Step back from the situation, relax, recharge and return to your work refreshed.
- If you are feeling stressed, ask for help from family, friends, work colleagues, or ideally your manager.
At this stage, you have identified your goal and determined how you will fulfill this objective. The next step: Start!
Often, we fail to make a change as we become overwhelmed with the enormity of the road ahead or want everything to be just right before starting.
If in doubt, consider this quote:
“It’s better to be at the bottom of the ladder you want to climb than at the top of the one you don’t.” ~ Stephen Kellogg