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3 Key Elements to Effective Goal Setting

How do you set yourself up to achieve your goals? Every year, around this time, “goals” become a hot topic as many people start planning for the year ahead. But, looking back, how many of us have actually achieved the goals we set last year?


Goal “getting” isn’t as easy as writing down your goals and committing to them. Setting goals is the easiest part, but achieving them? That’s where the rubber meets the road.


How to Set Strategic Goals


In order to put ourselves in the best possible position to accomplish our goals, it helps tremendously to have thoughtful, strategic goals. If you’ve done the research, you’ll know there are different approaches to goal setting, like OKRs, SMART goals, backward and tiered goals, and so on.


However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to goal-setting. Over the years of practicing goal-setting, I have found that three factors play essential roles when crafting goals.


Here are the three key components of setting strategic goals:


1. Know Your Why


Taking the time to know the “why” underlying the goal provides you an additional level of understanding that both fosters motivation and can improve the goal. Without knowing the bigger picture, it’s easy to set great goals, but they don’t always move the needle on what matters most.


So, before you get down to the specifics of your goal, you have to uncover the why first. How do you find out the why? Start with what you want to accomplish and work backward by asking yourself why. Keep asking why until you’ve uncovered the central reason for the goal.


Here’s an excellent example of uncovering the deeper why behind a work promotion goal.


Why do you want a promotion? I want to make more money.


Why do you want to make more money? I want to save more.


Why do you want to save more? I want to be able to retire early.


Imagine how the goal might be different if, instead of wanting to save more and retire early, your vision was to take a big vacation next year or quit your job in 3 years to start your own business. Each of these core desires could lead to different short-term goals and tactics.  


Understanding the why will ensure that when you craft your goal, you’re designing the right measures for success.


2. Imagine What Success Looks Like


There’s power in visualizing what success looks like. When you see the positive outcomes and benefits of achieving your goals, you’re better able to plan the steps that will get you there.


Imagining what success looks like gives you clarity and helps you make the right choices along the way. As you imagine what success looks like, be as specific as possible about the measures of success. For example, wanting a promotion is a perfectly fine goal, but it might be more useful to know you want a certain pay bump that goes with that promotion, which will actually move you towards your savings goal. 


This is even more critical when setting goals as a team. We don’t want any ambiguity in our goals because we and other team members who are working towards these goals can get stuck not knowing what to do or, worse, making the wrong choices that waste time and resources.


3. What Could Go Wrong


After understanding the bigger picture of your goal and imagining what success looks like, the next critical component helpful in setting strategic goals and achieving them is brainstorming what could go wrong.


Let’s be clear: brainstorming what could go wrong enables you to be prepared and proactive. As you explore potential setbacks, you gain a deeper understanding of your objectives, allowing you to adjust your goals or tactics to make them more realistic and achievable. 


Use these warnings, watch-outs, unintended consequences, and potential problems to ensure the goal you’ve set is still the right goal and fine-tune the steps you’re going to take to accomplish the goal.


Continuing with our promotion goal example, you could imagine a scenario where there are no opportunities for promotions coming up. In this case, you might talk to your boss to find out what’s possible for a raise in your current role or consider looking for a new job that would come with higher pay.


Be a Goal Getter


We are all capable of achieving great things alone and with our teams. Using a well-thought-out goal-setting process moves you one step closer to achieving your goals. Whatever goals you have outlined for next year, I hope thinking through these three key components will give you clarity and your team the ability to make this year your best year yet. May we all transition from being goal-setters to goal-getters.


Listen to my entire solo episode  HERE  to learn more about effective goal-setting.


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The Modern Manager is a leadership podcast for rockstar managers who want to create a working environment where people thrive, and great work gets done.


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