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Five Tips for Effective Goal Setting

by Nikki MacCallum

With a new year typically comes new beginnings. Revenue numbers and metrics reset to zero and you’re often asked to reflect upon the previous year. What went well? What could’ve gone better? Where were you the most successful? Shortly thereafter, focus shifts to the upcoming year. What will you do differently? How will you out-perform the prior year? What are your goals?

Goals hold you to milestones that help keep your progress on track. Goals are significant because they create targets to hit that will advance your career. And, it’s important to remember that career advancement can come in many different forms. It can mean a pay raise, a lateral move to an arena you’re more passionate about, or greater responsibility, just to name a few. Regardless, at the end of the day success is ultimately an accumulation of achieved goals.

Goal setting can be tricky, primarily because it’s sometimes hard to determine how far to reach. The higher you aim, the greater the risk of not meeting your goals. At the same time, with a lower bar, comes a higher probability of not making strides forward. Below are five tips for setting effective goals.

  1. Make your goals specific. The primary reason it is imperative to make goals specific is that you need to be able to determine what action items you can execute to achieve them. Often times, individuals will set vague goals like “I want a promotion,” “I want to have more responsibilities,” or “I want to be a manager!” These are all great things to want, but they lack specificity, and, without that, they are less attainable. What do you want to be promoted to? What responsibilities are you looking for? Do you want to manage people or projects? The more specific you can be with your goals the more likely you are to get what you want. That clarity will help you identify what you need to do in order to get there. It’s also important to be specific with your timelines because it adds a layer of urgency and accountability. “I want to have my Relativity Certified Administrator (RCA) certification by March 2020,” or “I want to onboard two brand new accounts by the end of Q2.” Deadlines are critical to your success, otherwise, you run the risk of something never getting done.
  • Less is more. Highly ambitious people have a tendency to set too many goals, which can be both a blessing and a curse…but usually, a curse. The more goals you have, the less focused you will be. Too many goals is a recipe for needing to prioritize. A need for prioritization typically means that by default, some of your goals won’t be met. The fewer goals you set, the more thought and resources are going toward each goal. That said, if and when you have more than one goal, you should prioritize them.

For those of us who have multiple goals and are forced to prioritize, there is a rubric I’ve found to be tremendously helpful, which I call the three-tiered pyramid approach. The top tier consists of one goal that must be met no matter what. If that top goal is the only thing you accomplish that is a win. The middle tier consists of two goals, which are both secondary. If you achieve them that’s great, if not, you’ve still won by achieving the top. The bottom tier has three goals and falls into the “nice to have” category. They’re important enough that you list them, but aren’t a top priority.

  • Make your goals measurable. It is always beneficial when it is crystal clear whether or not you’ve met your goals, otherwise, you won’t be able to tell if you’re actually progressing. The more specific the goal, the more measurable it is. Once the year is complete, there shouldn’t be a question or any gray area as to whether or not you’ve achieved your goal. Similar to specificity, the more measurable a goal is, the easier it is to determine what steps you need to complete in order to achieve it. In addition, when a goal isn’t achieved, as long as it’s measurable, it is easy to understand why it was not successful, which will help you adjust your action going forward.
  • Create action items and metrics that support your specific overarching goals. Once you have an overarching goal, you can backtrack and determine what metrics you need to hit in order to achieve your goal. For example, if your goal is “Become a Senior Project Manager by 2021,” figure out what you need to do in order to get there. Do you need to become an RCA? Do you need to run point on a case of a certain size? Do you need to lead a certain number of kick-off calls? Once you figure out what you need, you can set mini metrics for yourself that support your overarching vision.
  • Hold yourself accountable. When it comes to goal setting, accountability is half the battle. While vision boards often come with a stigma, I feel strongly that there is tremendous power in visually seeing your goals as often as possible. The more you physically see your goals, the more you’re reminded of what all your daily actions should support. I recommend writing your goals on a Post-it and sticking it somewhere you’ll see it every day. It will serve as a constant reminder as to why your metrics are significant and will help you prioritize correctly. I’m also a huge advocate of an accountability buddy. This means enlisting one of your colleagues, friends, or relatives with whom to share your goals, and check-in with them regularly to report your progress. It always helps knowing someone else will know if we don’t meet our goals. It’s also great to have encouragement and support!

Making your goals specific and measurable, only having a few of them, prioritizing effectively, creating action items and mini metrics that support your goals, looking at your goals every day, and holding yourself accountable are all key ingredients to successful goal setting. Play the long game and advance your career!

Nikki MacCallum

Nikki MacCallum brings over thirteen years of experience in the executive search space with a focus on litigation technology and eDiscovery. She’s spoken on panels and at conferences nation-wide (ABC News, Women in eDiscovery, LegalTech, CALSM, ARIAS) and was recently the key note speaker for a global Career Panel Workshop at American Express. Nikki is also a resident speaker at New York City’s Coalition for the Homeless where she privately mentors underprivileged women looking to re-enter the workforce.

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