goal setting

6 Tips for Effective Goal Setting

The beginning of the year inspires many of us to reflect, assess where we are professionally or personally, and, hopefully, set goals for the New Year.

There’s something about the flip of the calendar that fills us with a sense of opportunity, excitement, or curiosity for what the year ahead might bring.  

If the year just past was not what we’d hoped, we might look to the New Year as our clean slate; our chance to makeover some part of ourselves, our jobs, our organizations anew.  

However, inspiration can fall flat in no time if you don’t create an exact plan of action driven by a foundation of effective goal setting.

Why is goal setting important?

Think of goal setting as mapping a course.  Without setting yourself (or your team/organization) on a specific path, you might as well be a rudderless ship adrift on the ocean.

Where your ship lands might be lovely, but just as likely, your destination could be awful. You’ve left it up to chance.

How will you know if you’ve had a prosperous voyage if you didn’t know where you were sailing in the first place?

Does that sound like a plan for success?  

Success doesn’t usually happen by accident.

Goal setting propels you forward with inspiration, intention, and purpose.

The act of goal setting develops key characteristics of the successful person.

Research by Locke & Lathan in 2006 found that setting goals result in motivation, self-confidence, and autonomy.

These qualities not only breed success but happiness as well.

We know goal setting is a positive, but what does effective goal setting look like?

Six Tips for Effective Goal Setting

Tip 1. Be passionate

The best, most fulfilling goals are those for which you feel passionate.  

Ideally, this is not an “I should” kind of goal, because others tell you it’s important.  

Or, if it’s a team or organizational goal, craft a goal that is one your team/organization can genuinely get behind because it’s closely aligned with your core mission.

Without passion, you’re likely to flop.

Tip 2. Set a goal that stretches you

Being passionate about your goal is important, but setting a goal that insists on significant growth (and maybe even a little risk) is critical.

What do you really gain by setting a goal that’s too easy?  A checked box?  Bragging rights?

Who cares if there’s no real growth.  This is where a growth mindset is truly your friend.

Tip 3. Craft a goal with clarity

And, it’s not enough to think about a lofty goal in some vague, hopeful, unspecified terms.

Zero in on that passionate goal, but follow up with a detailed, clearly-outlined plan of actionable steps, and measurements to take to assess progress.

One popular system for setting and achieving goals is called OKR–Objectives and Key Results.

OKR was developed in 1975 at Intel by Andy Grove.  

Today, OKR is a system followed by the likes of Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, ING Bank, Target, and Bono, to name a few.

The key tenets of OKR are:

Objectives: The WHAT of your goal.  This is the passion and inspiration and can be a little more “big picture” rather than detailed.

Intel’s original model suggested monthly goals so they could be agile and adjustments could be made quickly.

For example, your objective could be–I want to be an attentive parent.

Key Results:  The ACTIONS or HOW you will go about attaining your goal and MEASURING your progress.

KRs must be quantifiable and should number between 2 and 5.

For the attentive parent example, your OKRs could be, I want to be an attentive parent by spending at least 30 minutes of one-on-one time with my child at least 4 days per week and initiate family time at least 2 weekends a month for the next month.

I will (Objective) as measured by (this set of Key Results).

For more information about OKR, check out this TED Talk or visit https://felipecastro.com.

Tip 4. Write it down

It’s not enough to feel passion, you must put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write down your goal.

Psychologist Gail Matthews at Dominican University conducted a 2015 research study that found goal achievement is 42% more likely when goals are written.

Tip 5. Accountability works

The same Dominican University study also found that people who not only wrote their goals, but shared their goals and/or action plan with a friend, and committed to periodic progress reports were significantly more likely to succeed in reaching their goals.

Commit to a friend to chat every week.  

Or for a team/organizational goal, schedule recurring progress review meetings and commit to making them non-negotiable.

Tip 6. Don’t quit when the going gets tough

There are times when you may need to abandon a goal.

This is especially true if it’s one that was ill-conceived—you’re not passionate about it, it was an “I should” goal.

But entrepreneur Molly Cain writing for Forbes warns us that more often, goals are abandoned prematurely because of fear.

Maybe it’s a fear of failure. What’s going to happen to my career if I don’t reach my goal? Or maybe fear of success. How will I possibly manage it all if this business gets off the ground?

Remember; growth involves discomfort.

Just like those leg pains you got as a kid before you shot up two inches, growth in your professional and personal life also involves discomfort.

Discomfort in the unknown. Discomfort in the uncertainty of success and putting your neck out there.  But, in the end, growth towards a goal for which you feel passionate is worth discomfort for the chance of earning exhilarating success.

What supports can I use to help me meet my goals?

Technology can be a powerful tool in achieving any goal.

The iStratus DayPlanner app for iPhone has multiple functionalities directly aligned with the goal-achievement process.

For instance, when you clearly document your goal, your actionable steps, and record progress measurements, those documents can always be at hand and top-of-mind.

By saving and storing them securely, you have ready access wherever you are.

Trying to map out your action plan?

Use the task list function tied to your calendar to make sure you are on target with scheduled tasks.

Keep yourself accountable by adding color-coded meetings on your calendar (or multiple integrated calendars, if needed) for progress check-ins and deadlines.

Keep your key results doc linked to your calendar at your goal dates to compare actual progress vs. plan.

By following the tips above to craft an inspiring, growth-oriented goal, to implement a clear action plan whose results will be accurately measured, accountability partner(s), and guts to persevere, you put yourself in the best position to set and achieve significant goals and experience personal growth.