On Goal Setting at Work

If I’m being totally honest with you guys, much as I found goals extremely useful outside of work, goals at the workplace have seemed really arbitrary to me.

This is the result of several things. Firstly, after two and a half years spending merely four months at every job, I often started out with really vague goals. Managers didn’t do a great job defining their expectations for me before my arrival. And I was still meek and tame and didn’t push them too far. I was still in the phase of not wanting to step on anyone else’s toes. I wanted to make a good impression. I wanted my bosses to think I was easy to work with.

My good friend and professional confidant tried to explain to me the importance of setting SMART goals (as most companies LOVE referring to their goals these days) by pointing to my successes outside of work. But try as I might, I just couldn’t relate the two.

My perception of work goals was not helped by my first more permanent rotations where, for the first time, I saw the goals that were trickled down through the corporation from VP to director to senior manager and eventually to me. These goals were cryptic, consisting mostly of TLAs (three letter acronyms) and percentage points. They were like a foreign language to me. And this was what I was supposed to base my work on?! Letters and numbers? This wasn’t like a marathon training program at all. There was no clearly defined goal, for me, and no small steps on how to achieve whatever this goal may be.

This year, I was determined to change my perception of goals. After setting myself a goal that had nothing to do with running, and meeting said goal, I was more able to clearly see the power of goal setting in all walks of life.

So when my boss asked me to spend some time contemplating my goals for the year, I gave my professional goals just as much time and consideration as my personal goals. I thought about my interview with the company just a few months earlier. I thought about everything I learned in my six months of unemployment. And, after checking with my dad (who has managed people for decades), decided not to be so worried about people’s toes this time around.

When the time to discuss my goals for the year came, I was prepared and able to have a candid conversation with my boss about what it was I wanted to accomplish this year and where I might potentially want to be a year from now…not in engineering. I reminded him that when I interviewed I had mentioned an interest in project management and explained that I wanted to explore that further. Together we came up with a way for me to participate in training for project management and take on more project management focused work in my current team. This all went into my development plan. But I also keep a personal copy of my goals readily available and in my language for my sake.

My work goals for this year are still trickled down through the company, and though I haven’t seen them yet, I’m betting they’re made up of largely nonsensical numbers and letters that will make no sense to me. But in my personal development plan I was able to find a way to bring my professional goals into the work place. Hopefully it goes well. I guess only time will tell!

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