Jump to section
The word ‘goals’ is thrown around a lot these days. So much so that it can be confusing what a goal really is.
Are resolutions and objectives the same as goals?
Why do we need to set goals?
Research by a psychologist and career coach at Dominican University of California shows that there’s a direct correlation between setting goals and achieving success. Properly defined goals help trigger new behaviors and help you focus on what’s important to you.
Of course, it’s not just about setting goals. It’s also about achieving them.
Let’s take a look at the top strategies for how to set goals and achieve them in both your personal and professional life.
Goals: what are they, and what aren’t they?
Before setting goals, you need to know what a goal is.
A goal is something you want to achieve. It’s the desired result that you, or a group of people, plan and commit to achieving.
Goals are often long-term. They relate to people’s life and career plans or the long-term goals of a company or organization.
Put simply, a goal is a dream with a deadline.
Still a bit confused? Here are some characteristics of what goals are and what they aren’t.
A goal is:
- Your vision for the future. Goals should be the result of careful consideration of a personal vision statement and things you want to achieve.
- Time-sensitive. The most effective goals are time-bound. Goals generally have a longer time frame. They can then be broken down into smaller, short-term objectives.
- Large in nature. Don’t be afraid to set a goal that seems like a reach. Feel free to think outside the box and dream big. You can set smaller, short-term goals to help you get there.
A goal is not:
- An objective. While goals describe what you want to achieve, objectives are the steps taken to reach the goal. For example, “I want to become a confident public speaker” is a goal. “I will work with a coach to practise my public speaking skills by the end of this month” is the objective.
- A resolution. Resolutions are often temporary, giving short-term gratification (opposed to delayed gratification). While a resolution is a decision to do or not do something, a goal is what you want to achieve.
- A mission. Mission statements create a clear and focused direction to follow. It’s the statement of purpose from which a company, business, or individual operates. On the other hand, a goal is a specific aim you or your team works toward.
Why should you set goals for yourself and your team?
Here are some of the many reasons why setting goals for yourself and your team is important.
It gives a sense of direction
Taking the time to think about what you want in life gives you a sense of purpose.
For example, you could create a 5-year plan based on what you want your life to look like in five years. Having this long-term plan can help you move from just dreaming into actually doing.
In the workplace, setting goals helps to set a clear path of where you want your team to go. It also helps to set expectations of different team members.
It helps to see the bigger picture
Setting goals helps us take a step back and get some perspective on what’s really important in life. It’s the first step toward creating a life full of meaning.
At work, setting goals as a team helps everyone get the whole picture. Knowing the long-term goal and what a company is striving toward can help each team member perform better in their role.
It provides motivation
By nature, consciously setting goals gives you something to aspire to. Having a specific goal will motivate you to put your best foot forward.
As a team member, having a clear vision of what your team is aiming to achieve provides inspiration and motivation. Working with your team to move toward a common goal is motivating and satisfying, giving your team purpose.
It gives you greater control of your future
Setting goals puts you in the driver’s seat of your life. Just by writing down goals, you are actively acknowledging what you want out of life.
It’s the first step toward taking control of your future.
How to set realistic goals at work and in life
Now that you know how beneficial goals are, it’s time to dive into how to set goals and achieve them.
Whether you’re setting group goals for your team or personal goals, it’s important to start with goals that are realistic.
Here are tips for setting both personal and team goals:
Personal goal setting tips
Let’s take a look at three tips for setting personal goals.
1. Consider your passions
Part of the process for how to set life goals should be deciding what inspires you and what your values are. You should be passionate about your goals if you want to achieve them in the long run.
Your goals should be meaningful to you and provide you with a sense of pride once you meet them.
2. Set goals you can control
If your goal is based on something outside of your control, you won’t be able to control whether or not you actually achieve it.
Your personal goals shouldn’t be dependent on other people. They also shouldn’t be reliant on external factors that you have no control over.
Be realistic about what you can and can’t be directly responsible for.
3. Imagine your future
Take some time to really think about what you’d like your life to look like. What does your ideal future entail?
For example, if you’re setting personal career goals, ask yourself some questions that will point you in the right direction.
How much money do you ideally want to earn? Do you want to work for yourself? How many hours do you want to commit to on a daily basis?
Even if these questions don’t immediately help you pick a single job, they will certainly make you realize what you don’t want your career goals to be.
Tips for setting goals at work
Let’s take a look at three tips for setting team goals:
Before you write down the first goal that comes to mind, take time to brainstorm as a team. Asking big questions like “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” will get the creative juices flowing.
2. Include everyone
It’s important that everyone is heard during the goal-setting process. Each member of your team should feel they can speak openly and contribute their ideas for goals.
Having everyone’s input will help create goals that everyone is invested in.
Write down each team member’s ideas, no matter how silly, so that they feel heard. Together, you can go through each goal to decide if it works for the whole team.
3. Ask why
It’s important to discuss the purpose of your group goal so that everyone is on the same page. During your goal-setting session, create a relaxed atmosphere that encourages questions from everyone if there is any uncertainty.
What are we doing? Where do we want to be? What does success look like?
Every team member should have a shared vision for why you have set this common goal. It will give your team clarity on what you want to achieve and make it easier for everyone to work together.
10 tips to achieve your goals
Setting goals is just the beginning. After taking the time to identify what your goals are, achieving them is a whole other ball game.
Working to achieve your goals can feel overwhelming at times. Here are some effective goal-setting tips on how to achieve life goals to the best of your ability.
1. Have SMART goals
You’re not going to achieve your goals if they aren’t SMART. If you haven’t heard of SMART goals already, they are goals that are:
- Specific. There’s no point in setting vague goals that don’t achieve anything specific.
Research by the creators of goal setting theory, Locke & Latham, found that in 90% of studies conducted, specific and challenging goals lead to higher performance than when people were set either easy goals, “do your best” goals, or no goals at all.
It’s important for both you and your employees to have clear and established aims, to avoid potentially setting goals so broad that they are overwhelming and therefore too difficult to set into action.
- Measurable. Once you have a specific goal pinned down, it’s important to be able to measure the success or completion of the goal.
This doesn’t have to be in the traditional sense, like on a numeric scale or a statistic, it just has to be measurable in some sense, so that it is clear when you have reached or are close to reaching your goal.
- Attainable. A SMART goal must be within reach. Lean on data, analytics, and research to help set attainable goals.
- Relevant. It is essential that any goals set for teams or individuals are relevant to company-wide aims.
Of course, goal completion is important, and having goals met or worked towards is the overall idea when setting them, but this is only really beneficial when the goals are productive in the workplace environment and will contribute to company success in some way.
As a manager, it is particularly important that you help your employees link their goals back to the wider team and company-wide goals. One of the best ways to motivate your employees is to make sure they know how their work is contributing to the bigger picture.
- Time-bound. Goals must be time-related. It’s not productive to set a deadline too far in the future for a simple task, or an unrealistically short deadline for something complex and time-consuming.
This common pitfall can be incredibly demotivating for staff. They’re either left with an abundance of time in which they are not pushing themselves, or left feeling stressed and demotivated when they fail to complete goals in the time frame provided.
By setting goals that have these characteristics, you’re setting yourself up for greater success.
SMART goals examples
Now, let's walk through some SMART goal examples.
S. Provide more growth and learning opportunities to each member of my team
M. Give feedback to each member at least 2 times per month
A. Feedback should come from the manager
R. Improves team communication and feedback culture
T. Provided before the end of the next quarter
S. Have customers complete satisfaction rating surveys at the beginning of their contract and again after two quarters
M. Increase customer satisfaction by 15% over the next two quarters
A. Customer success team to analyze and report improvements every two weeks
R. Become well-known as a company for our focus on customer satisfaction
T. The following 2 quarters
S. Begin new social media campaign
M. Generate 75 new content downloads
A. Marketing team responsible for running campaign and measuring performance
R. Promote our new feature
T. In the next two months
2. Write them down
Don’t just daydream about your goals — put pen to paper and write them down. This makes your goals more tangible and makes them seem more real.
A study by Dr. Gail Matthews of Dominican University of California shows the effectiveness of writing down goals. According to his research, people who write their goals have a better chance of accomplishing more than those who do not write down their goals.
3. Make your goals visible
To keep your eyes on the prize, put your written goals somewhere you’ll see them. It should be a place you visit regularly so that you’re constantly reminded of where you want to be.
If it’s your personal goals, put them on your bathroom mirror or fridge as a nudge every morning of what you want to achieve.
For teams, your group goals should be somewhere all your team members can see them. This could be a bulletin board or incorporated online into your group management software.
4. Break it down
Because goals are often long-term and abstract by nature, make them more digestible by breaking them down.
Use a “goal ladder” by writing your main goal at the top rung of the ladder. Work your way through the rest of the ladder steps, writing down the smaller goals you need to achieve in order to achieve your main goal.
5. Develop a plan
Now that you know what you’re working toward, it’s time to figure out how you’re going to get there.
Write down the individual steps you need to take to achieve goals. Creating an action plan will keep you on track. As you work your way through each step of your plan, cross it off so you can see how much further you have to go and feel optimistic about your progress.
6. Take action
Goals aren’t going to achieve themselves. Once you’ve got a clear plan of how you want to achieve your goals, it’s time to get proactive.
Put your plan into action. Even the smallest act makes you one step closer to your goal.
7. Keep perspective
It can be easy to become obsessed with achieving your goals. You might reach a point where you feel you would do anything you have to in order to get closer to achieving your goal.
But this can lead to burnout and even abandonment of your goal.
8. Identify potential obstacles
Be realistic in that you’re going to face challenges along the way. Recognize what these problems might be and make a note of them.
Being aware of your potential obstacles will make them less intimidating if you are faced with them along your journey toward success.
9. Be accountable
Trying to accomplish a goal entirely by yourself can be lonely and overwhelming. Accountability helps you make consistent, steady progress and keeps you striving toward your goals.
Keep yourself accountable by sharing your goals with a friend. If it’s a group goal, have your team share their goals with another team.
10. Reflect and adjust
Maybe you haven’t achieved your goals in the time frame you wanted to. Maybe your goals were a bit too unrealistic. And that’s ok.
Rather than feeling defeated, take time to review your goals and see what you can change. You might need to adjust your goals or maybe just tweak your plan to achieve them.
Ready to set life goals and achieve them?
Now that you know how important goals are, it’s time to take the first step toward setting goals and achieving them.
Whether it’s personal goals for yourself or company-driven goals for your team, the goal-setting process can help you find purpose and meaning in your life.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and your team members. Even if you don’t reach all of your goals, just having them written down can provide a deeper sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.
Still not sure how to set goals and achieve them? Or do you just need more help on your goal-setting journey?
Get in touch with a BetterUp coach to guide your team on the path to reaching their full potential.
Sr. Insights Manager