Using Smart Goals to Advance Your Career

March 14, 2019

Are you eager to move up to a managerial, executive or leadership role in your profession but can’t seem to make it happen? Chances are you need to be more strategic. At this stage in your career, getting to the next level requires a focused, even analytical approach. Here’s a 10-step roadmap that will help.

Step 1. Identify your overarching career goal. For example: “I want to advance from my current role as an independent sales or IT professional to one where I manage a team and eventually move into an executive position.”

Step 2. Reflect on why you want to reach this career goal. How will achieving your goal energize your work life? How will it fulfill you personally? Does it align with your core values and vision of who you want to be? Getting clear on these types of questions will energize you for the work ahead.

Step 3. Gather information. What skills do you need to develop? What experience or professional training will help you advance? Where do your strengths and weaknesses lie? Start by asking a mentor or coach. Ask others whom you trust, such as your boss, teammates, colleagues, direct reports and even friends. Tell them you’re on a personal fact-finding mission. 

Step 4. Make a list. Based on your research and self-reflection, organize what you’ve learned into categories such as:

  • skills to develop
  • training or education to pursue
  • relationships to cultivate
  • goals or thresholds to reach in my current job
  • deficits or weaknesses to overcome.

Step 5. Prioritize. Narrow down your list so you can focus your energies on those areas that will be of most value and where you feel most motivated to act. This is also a good time to do an authenticity check: Are your goals in sync with your values? Are they aligned with your strengths?

Step 6. Develop smart goals for the items on your list. Smart goals are specific, measurable and realistic. This means that rather than setting a general goal like, “I will improve my management skills,” you identify the specific areas of management you need or want to improve, such as coaching direct reports, giving timely feedback, fostering teamwork. Then you set specific goals for each area. 

Here are a few tips for setting powerful goals:

  • Write down your goals.
  • Use positive language.
  • Define how you will measure success.
  • Set a timeline.
  • Make sure your goals reflect your own desires, not someone else’s idea of what you should do or be. 
  • Set goals with the appropriate degree of challenge – neither too easy nor too difficult. Goals should stretch you but not so much that you end up discouraged.

Step 7. Create actions plans and a timeline. Break your goals into bite-sized pieces, then outline the steps and specific tasks you will take to achieve each goal, along with a timeline for each. This step is key. It’s where you actually do the work that will move you ahead.

For instance, if your goal is improving your management of direct reports, your action plan might include meeting with team members weekly, giving on-the-spot feedback to three people every day and completing a course in becoming a leader-coach by a certain date. If your goal is to network more, your action plan might be to attend three professional conferences in the next 12 months and to connect with a certain number of influential people at each conference. If your goal is to improve your presentations to upper management, you might commit to joining Toastmasters and to giving your first public speech within the next three months.

Step 10. Be accountable. Most of us can’t do this work alone. Working with a career coach, leadership development coach or management coach will give you an accountability partner who provides objective feedback about your path and your progress, including a gentle push when you need it. 

Finally, and importantly, don’t be shy about your intentions. Let your boss, colleagues, friends and acquaintances know about your career goals. Whether at your current place of employment or externally, be sure to focus on how your success will benefit an organization.

Here’s to your success!

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