This is a guest post from UDLAB Products, a designer of unique and cutting-edge productivity products for the home and office.
As the year draws to a close, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the professional journey you’ve undertaken and set the stage for the upcoming year. We tend to think of goal planning as writing down some goals, then tasks we need to do to reach the goal — a roadmap, timeline, etc. However, we don’t always do the work beforehand to truly determine what career goals are important to us and our employers. In fact, before writing down a single goal for the coming year, try reflecting on the previous year to understand your achievements, goal changes, and even your letdowns. This will help you better create a plan for your new goals.
Reflecting on last year
- Celebrate Achievements. Begin your year-end reflection by acknowledging and celebrating your accomplishments. Take note of the goals you achieved, projects you successfully completed, and any milestones you reached. This positive reinforcement not only boosts morale but also provides valuable insights into your strengths and capabilities.
- Example: One of your goals was to eliminate unnecessary meetings from your schedule. Through the strategic use of Slack and stand-up meetings, you decreased your meeting time by 30 percent and your team increased productivity by 10 percent.
- Learn from Challenges. Reflecting on the challenges you faced throughout the year is equally crucial. Identify the obstacles you encountered, understand the lessons they imparted, and consider how you can leverage these experiences for future success. Turning setbacks into opportunities for growth is a key aspect of professional development.
- Example. Convincing the leadership team that you could reduce meeting time while increasing productivity was difficult, as they are big on in-person meetings. By finding ways to track you and your team’s productivity, you proved it was working.
- Assess Skills and Progress. Evaluate your skill set and professional development over the past year. Consider the new skills acquired, the knowledge gained, and areas that still require improvement. This self-assessment will guide you in making informed decisions about your professional development in the coming year.
- Example. What skills did you and your team acquire while reaching your meeting reduction goal? Perhaps more efficient communication, time management, and prioritization?
Setting professional goals
- Define clear objectives. Start by establishing clear and specific goals for the upcoming year. Whether it’s advancing in your current role, acquiring new skills, or pursuing leadership opportunities, clarity is essential. Define what success looks like for you and break down larger goals into manageable steps. One popular approach is asking yourself, “Where do I see myself in five or 10 years?” This isn’t the moment for details, but thinking about where you want to be in the longer term will help you set meaningful career goals for the shorter term.
- Example. Suppose you want to be Vice President of Customer Satisfaction at your new workplace by the end of five years. That’s not something you can just decide to do a few months before the deadline and expect miracles. Start planning now by incorporating that longer-term goal into your annual work goals. What will you need to do, starting now, to get to that position in that timeline? Perhaps a contributing goal for this year is to reduce customer service calls by 20 percent.
- Align Goals with Values. Ensure that your professional goals align with your core values and long-term aspirations. This alignment not only fosters a sense of purpose but also enhances motivation and commitment. Consider how your goals contribute to your overall professional fulfillment and life satisfaction. In other words, “What’s your ‘why’?” Obviously, if your supervisor is giving you goals to reach, THAT’S your why. Hopefully, before you were assigned specific goals you met with your supervisor to discuss goals that you both find relevant. When choosing a goal, consider how it connects to one or more of you and your organization’s values. “Our feelings tend to lead us to our values, and they’re useful for getting into action and staying engaged.”
- Example. Your goal is to reduce the volume of monthly customer service calls by 20 percent. With what personal and organizational values does that goal align?
- Goals should be specific and measurable. Most businesses use a specific goal system — SMART, KPIs, etc. — and you should use whatever your leadership team suggests. If you have the option of choosing your own approach, you can find summaries of other types of goal-setting here and here. However, remember to reward yourself for progress and creating new habits. Even if you didn’t reach that goal, you created better habits and accomplished much more than if you never tried. It can also help you determine your next set of goals. It’s cliché, but the journey is as important as the destination.
- Example. Sticking with the scenario we’ve been using, our goal is to decrease customer service calls by 20 percent next year. That’s a good specific goal, but how are you going to measure progress? Are you going to check every day, week, month? What is your plan if the number increases at some point?
- Don’t set too many goals. This can be tough to avoid. It’s easy to get excited when you first set your goals and think you can do everything. Remember to be realistic about your time and energy. Determine the top two or three (or one) goals that are the most important to you and your employer and focus mostly on those, or break them into monthly or yearly goals.
- Example. In addition to decreasing customer service calls by 20 percent, you also want to decrease call times and increase customer satisfaction scores. However, all three of these goals may be too much for one year. After some research, the team decided that reducing customer service calls is the first step to improving all areas of customer service, so it is your main customer satisfaction goal this year.
Tips for creating your roadmap and handling goal-setting anxiety
- Seek feedback and support. Engage with mentors, colleagues, or industry peers to gather feedback on your goals. Constructive input can provide valuable perspectives and help refine your objectives. Additionally, building a support network ensures that you have guidance and encouragement throughout your journey.
- Break goals into mini-goals. Staying with the goals mentioned earlier, what mini-goals can be extracted from your goal of reducing customer service calls by 20 percent? Perhaps you want to set monthly and quarterly goals that will get you to a 20 percent reduction by the end of the year, and you have specific areas of the business to improve to get there.
- Plan ahead. so you can more easily create contingency plans when obstacles crop up. Don’t forget to review at least monthly to see if you are on track.
- Break mini-goals into steps. You may have some mini-goals that need to be fleshed out a bit. Using the example above, once you have decided to decrease customer service call numbers, there are more steps. What other business teams need to be part of this goal? If people are calling because of quality issues, your production team needs to improve their work. If customers don’t understand instructions, perhaps they need to be rewritten.
- Regular check-ins. Check-in with your goals regularly – weekly, monthly, quarterly – whatever works for you. Of course, you should also plan regular check-ins with your team or supervisor. Reward yourself and your team if you’re on track. However, do not punish yourself or your team if you are behind. Remember, positive reinforcement is always better than negative. Note why things went off-track and brainstorm ways to improve. You may also need to revise the goal. This is normal, and nothing to worry about.
- Take action! Once you’ve set your goals and created a plan, you still need to do the work to achieve them; planning alone won’t get it done. Don’t wait to be motivated or you may not start due to anxiety.
Until you identify your “whys”, it will be difficult to determine your specific goals and how to accomplish them. Don’t forget to keep your goals where you can easily see and check in with them. Keep them in whatever planner you use — digital or otherwise. If you don’t use a planner, keep goals somewhere you will see them often — a sticky note on your desk, maybe. Do you prefer auditory notes? Keep your recording nearby. Achieving your most important career goals is a challenge but you can do it!