In a previous blog, I’ve written about the importance of mentorship and how mentors can help mentees achieve career goals. Since that blog hinted at the importance of goals, I thought that it might be useful to talk about goals more specifically in this blog.
Goals have been an often-studied area in organizational behavior research. Goals can be defined as some objective or metric that people strive to achieve. They set expectations for what tasks people work toward, how much time people invest in achieving a task and how hard people work toward achieving a certain level of performance. In society in general, goals are important. I think of the popularity of so many spectator sports. Football teams strive to reach the goal line. Basketball players have the goal of achieving a high score. The objective of baseball is to have a winning record.
Goals are important in education and in the workplace as well. I have seen many students who have a high need for achievement strive to meet goals to maintain a certain GPA or learn a piece of challenging content.
On a personal level, goals have been important to my own life. When I was working on my doctorate in Cincinnati, I had a goal of eventually moving back to my hometown in western Pennsylvania (though I, of course, also loved my time living in Cincinnati). I worked hard to complete my studies while teaching and researching. The reason is that I wanted to finish so that I could come back to the area. I thought there might be an opening back at Saint Vincent College (my alma mater) soon and I wanted to be finished as quickly as possible so that I might come back. I worked long hours and intensely on tasks that would help me finish my doctorate so that I could apply for an SVC faculty job when it became available. Because I worked toward this goal, I am fortunate to have been hired to the job of my dreams at Saint Vincent.
Any time a student meets with me to talk about the classes they should take or what they could do to build a career, my first question is always “what are some of your goals?” Granted, this is a tough question for many college freshmen (or even others later in their careers) to answer because they might not have enough experience to be able to answer it well. Yet, this is an important question for individuals at all stages of their life to consider because the answer to this question will help steer present-day activities and behaviors toward a direction, intensity and level of effort that will help create a desirable future.
Goal setting is hard! Here are some tips that have helped me, I’ve seen work for others and/or come directly out of organizational behavior research.
- Create better goals. In popular terms, people always talk about SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound). I agree that the more specific and measurable a goal is, the better because it is clear and offers feedback in terms of performance. Goal setting theory agrees with these traits as well but also suggests that a goal should be difficult (but not impossible) so that it stretches the person to not only improve performance but potentially also improve their knowledge, skills and abilities. Goal setting theory also advocates that the best goals are those that people are invested in. Goal investment could be increased if the outcomes meet some fundamental need and if an individual has a high level of control both in setting the goal and in determining actions to help achieve it.
- Goals can and should change. Some people are hesitant to set a goal because they are afraid that the goal isn’t what they really want to do (for example, some students really aren’t sure in what direction they want to steer their career early on). This fear, though, could be assuaged by understanding that goals can (and should) change. As people gain new experiences, try things that they like or dislike and develop new perspectives, goals should be adjusted. Just like the Operational Excellence philosophy suggests that job roles should be clearly documented (i.e., have clear goals and objectives) that can be rewritten when a better way to perform is found, so should all goals be flexible to adjust to the changing nature of the person attempting the goal.
- Stay positive. As mentioned, goals will change and some goals will not be reached. When these things happen, it’s easy to get frustrated and abandon goal setting altogether. Yet, goals are important because they give people something to strive toward. Remember when working toward, adjusting or setting your goal to not give in to negative emotions like frustration, fear, anger or sadness. Keep going – you’re working toward something! Set and try to attain goals – just like the classic statement says, “aim for the moon but if you don’t make it, you’ll still be in the stars!”
Might any of these tips help you set or accomplish your goals? I’d love to hear about your experiences! Email me at email@example.com, connect through Facebook (www.facebook.com/urickmj), add me on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/pub/michael-urick/a3/775/5b/) or type a message in the comments below.