How do I set career goals and how do I achieve them?

BY THE OFFICE COACH - APRIL 8, 2016

Before you start any goal setting exercise, you need to be clear about where your motivation comes from. Are you thinking about what makes you happy or are you trying to fulfil expectations set by your friends, family or society?

The first step to setting meaningful goals that you have a real chance of meeting is to understand what drives YOU. In my training, I regularly facilitate the production of a “dream sheet”, a visual representation of what success looks like to people.

Without fail, the first version of these dream sheets contains pictures of a nice house, a smart car and a family. Do these things really make people happy?

My experience is that there needs to be a deeper analysis of our goals if we are to achieve a sense of success and fulfilment. Try looking from another perspective; identify what your personal values are. Oxford Dictionaries define values as “principles or standards of behaviour; one’s judgement of what is important in life”.

These are the elements that you should aim to fulfil in your life. I challenge you to think carefully and in detail about your top five values. It won’t be easy; I have a document that lists 128 different values to choose from!

Now, look at the past year and identify moments when you felt truly alive, inspired and energised. This will give you an idea of what you are passionate about.

It’s here that you are likely to do your best work. If you are struggling to identify these moments, ask people around you when they noticed you shine or really contribute in a positive way. You may be surprised what people observe. Remember to seek feedback from people who are objective and constructive, otherwise, you risk hearing commentary that is tainted by hidden agendas.

Look at what you were doing when you were at your best, what are the underlying themes e.g. were you thinking creatively and innovatively, were you developing others, were you expressing your artistic talents? Take a step back and identify what led you to each of those moments.

Was it working for a particular manager or in a particular team? Was it when you let your guard down and acted instinctively, rather than in accordance with company expectations? Try to identify how you can recreate those opportunities in the short- and medium-term.

This will give you a chance to have some fun while you work towards your long-term career goals. It may also lead you in an unexpected direction; you may identify talents and passions you didn’t know about and you may see a new future for yourself.

Now, go back to your list of values. Imagine what the ultimate manifestation of that value might look like. For example, one of my key values is collaboration; to work cooperatively especially in a joint intellectual effort.

My vision of what that looks like on my dream sheet is a place where like-minded, energised people can meet to work together on skills development projects that inspire and challenge them. It’s open-plan, with high ceilings, brightly painted walls, advanced technology at our fingertips, P!nk playing in the background... That’s the long-term goal!

From there, you need to drill down into some detail to make it achievable. A good starting place is to apply the SMART methodology i.e. your goal should be S-pecific, M-easurable, A-chieveable, R-elevant and T-ime based.

Once you have articulated your long-term goals in detail, you should break each of them down into components that can be achieved in the short- and medium-term. Your short- and medium-term goals should be stepping stones to the achievement of your long-term goals i.e. there should be continuity between them.

For example, I am not going to be able to realise my long-term collaboration goal unless I know who I want to collaborate with and have engaged them (medium-term). I cannot engage with them until I have articulated my value proposition; why they should engage with me (short-term).

Finally, share your goals with people. Sharing them makes them more real and tangible. It also makes you accountable; if you tell people what you want to achieve, they will be watching to see if you do so.

Sharing your goals is also an effective way to connect with people who can make your dreams a reality. You may find opportunities and new connections opening up just because you shared your goals with the right people.