How to Set (Realistic) Professional Goals

Happy New Year! All the #NewYearNewMe posts on my Instagram feed have me thinking of a different kind of New Year’s Resolution: annual work goals. Where I work, it’s required to set professional goals comes at the start of each fiscal year. Some companies may ask their employees to set goals when they are hired, and others may simply have a checklist of objectives for an employee to meet in a certain timeframe.

A few months ago, I wrote my very first  list of annual objectives and goals for my current job. I thought it was going to be a breeze. Armed with my official job description, I submitted my list of bullet points and outlined all my day-to-day responsibilities. Easy!

Turns out, my list of daily duties served only as a starting point. After multiple conversations with experienced department leaders, I finalized a list of goals for the fiscal year that was a mix of my everyday activities, and strategic ways to push myself and grow professionally. Here’s what I learned:

  • Get specific. It’s no surprise that most New Year’s Resolutions fail. That’s because people have a tendency to make overarching, general goals without setting a specific action plan on how to get there. Just like you can’t lost 50 pounds overnight, you can’t set a goal of “redesigning the company intranet” without explaining exactly how you’re going to get there. Map out each step month by month, including who you’re going to talk to, what tools you’ll need, anticipated roadblocks and how you’ll solve them.
  •  Show ’em the numbers. A common misconception of the communications field is that our work is purely subjective, meaning that rating it as a success or failure, or impactful or ineffective, comes down to a matter of opinion. In reality, there are plenty of ways to objectively assess the worth and impact of communications work. The easiest way? Metrics, metrics, metrics. But it’s not enough to just have the password to the team Google Analytics account; your value comes in by analyzing the results, preparing a relevant and easy-to-understand report, and recommendations based on the data. Then, set your goals accordingly, and include concrete numbers as goals you can reach and exceed.
  • Expand your horizons. Your goals are your opportunity to let your manager know of your professional interests. Let’s say your job title places you in internal communications, but you really want exposure to public relations. Figure out a way to make yourself useful to the PR team, then outline it, step-by-step. If you work at a company that doesn’t easily blur lines between departments, a detailed plan may be the convincing factor. Be sure to show how you expanding your reach will bring back value to your team, department, or boss.
  • Add some (healthy) pressure. It’s easy to set a goal for a date a year from now. Don’t do easy. Light a fire under your you-know-what and create a realistic timeline that builds in cushion time for unexpected delays, but doesn’t allow for major procrastination.
  • Be a resource. If you’re stuck for goals beyond your daily activities, strive to become a resource for your manager. Create a guide for the software that only you know how to use, create a new system for organizing your shared drive, or assign yourself to the one task that everyone drags their feet on.

Step into 2017 knowing exactly what you want to do, and how you’ll get there. Bonus: most of these tips work for personal goals, too! Now get out there and be your best self, at work and at home.


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