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Secrets to Goal Setting 

Published on August 11, 2022.

Well-designed goals are a powerful tool to inspire results and create focus on getting the most important work done. Many of us have been taught to create detailed SMART goals, but these often focus on tasks rather than big initiatives. Plus, they are often too rigid to allow for unforeseen changes in the organization.  

Instead, individual goals should describe what and how the staff or faculty member will impact their college or unit’s key priorities and how they will know they are successful in doing so. 

When creating goals, keep these four tips in mind:

  • Fewer is better. Identify no more than one to three important things the faculty or staff member needs to accomplish during the year.
  • Be specific. Describe both what will be accomplished and the behaviors needed to achieve the goal.
  • Align with college or unit priorities. Create goals that support your college, unit, or department’s most important priorities.
  • Describe success. Include information that answers the question, “How will I know I’ve achieved my goal?”

How the goal is reached matters 

When writing goals, describe both what will be accomplished as well as how it will be accomplished. The "how'' should articulate the behavioral competencies (e.g., skills, knowledge, abilities, and other characteristics) that are essential for success. Consider the employee’s role, skills, and interests to help determine how the goals will be achieved so the faculty or staff member is supported in their development.

Simply put, goals should answer two questions:

  • What will be accomplished? 
  • Which skills are needed to succeed?

Go big to win at goals

Beware of creating goals that resemble day-to-day tasks or a job description. Remember, a goal should describe a larger, more challenging contribution that will take time to accomplish.

In contrast, tasks are the smaller, simpler daily activities. Accomplishing daily or recurring tasks is important, but typically results in less impact on the team’s overall priorities. 

If you’re stumped on whether it’s a task or a goal, consider if there is a common result that can be achieved. For example, writing a newsletter, designing a slide deck, publishing a website and sending emails all can be grouped into one goal of designing and implementing a communications strategy.

Big, yet simple goals that are void of tasks allow for flexibility in the plans and actions for success. That said, it’s important to revisit goals often to track progress and make adjustments when the priorities of the unit change.

Goals drive employee development, engagement, and confidence

Goals also guide development by providing clear expectations from which to coach from. Each step toward achieving a goal is an opportunity to provide feedback and coach employees on their actions and behaviors contributing to their goals. Plus, talking with your employees regularly about their goals helps them to see their progress, and progress is both rewarding and addicting—progress drives more progress. Last, but not least, achieving goals builds character, confidence, and self-efficacy.