As a professional, it’s no secret that setting goals produces positive results. We learn this concept from a very young age: reading, writing, speaking, and even more advanced ambitions such as becoming the new class president, making the basketball team, or getting accepted into our law school of choice. At some point along the way, we’ve all learned to set and achieve goals to get what we want out of life. Our professional endeavors are no different.
As we approach the end of another year—or rather the beginning of a new one—it’s important to reflect on our past and present situation(s), while considering improvements to the year ahead. Perhaps you aspire to attend more networking events, increase your business contacts, strengthen your online reputation, or become an expert on a certain subject. Setting goals, through a formalized plan, will help you prioritize your efforts and steer you in the right direction to personal and professional advancement.
Henry David Thoreau once said, “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” Earlier this year, Forbes.com shared the details of an interesting goal-setting study conducted on the 1979 Harvard MBA program, where graduate students were asked “have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?” Only 3 percent had written goals and plans; 13 percent had goals but they weren’t in writing; and 84 percent had no goals at all. Ten years later, the same group was interviewed again. The 13 percent of the class who had goals, but did not write them down was earning twice the amount of the 84 percent who had no goals. However, the real shock came from the 3 percent of the class who had written goals were earning, on average, 10 times as much as the other 97 percent of the class combined! Although this study only looked at earnings to measure long-term success, it serves as a great reference of why setting measurable goals—and drafting a written plan—is fundamental to success. When done right, goal-setting can drive long-term vision with short-term motivation, provide direction, keep you focused, track progress, and promote great achievement.
Have I inspired you to spend some quality time with your 2015 goal document? If so, here are five things to consider as you take your goal-setting strategy to the next level:
Take a step back.
Before you begin writing, give yourself the time and the freedom to thoughtfully consider your past successes and challenges. Then do the same for the things you would still like to achieve. Maybe you want to become a better public speaker? Or increase your client relation skills? Conversely, perhaps things are on the business development list that aren’t as important to you—or maybe you’ve tried, but don’t see any value in continuing? Whatever it is, take a step back to examine the full picture—focus your time and energy on the goals and tactics that are important to you because, in the end, those are the things that will keep you motivated.
Develop a plan.
Once you’ve gained a clear perspective of your future ambitions, it’s time to begin planning! Determine a timeline—I typically advise a full calendar year. This allows enough time to get your goals accomplished, evaluated, and shifted as needed. As you put your thoughts together, consider bucketing your goals into three key development areas:
- Individual development goals—how will I further my skills and lead myself this year?
- Team or business development goals—how will I lead my team or business this year?
- Client development goals—how will I lead my clients this year?
Once you’ve created a plan, use that as a road map for next year’s plan. Take the time to evaluate the goals that were achieved and the pieces that still need work. Each year, the planning will become easier because you’ve built a solid foundation and a tangible method for monitoring your progress.
If you’ve spent time setting goals, I’m sure you’re well aware of this one. Measurable goals equal quantitative progress. They provide the starting line for your race ahead. If you have the goal of becoming a good public speaker, measure your progress by identifying a starting line and timeline. For example, “To become a better public speaker, I will commit to conducting one public speaking engagement, each quarter, on the topic of prenuptial agreements.” This goal now includes a quantified target and a timeline for getting the goal accomplished. Life is full of everyday distractions. Setting measurable, time-sensitive goals will help you focus your efforts and energy in the right direction.
Break off tactic-sized chunks.
If you’re like most people, your big-time achievements are usually pay-offs from smaller, but longer-term investments into the goal-setting savings account. Define your goals in tactic-sized chunks. For example, one of the attorneys I work with has the long-term goal of becoming a top lead producer for our firm. This obviously isn’t something that will happen overnight. Instead, we’ll identify smaller tactics that will lead to that accomplishment within the next several years. He’ll focus on tactics such as increased networking opportunities to build trusted relationships with influential contacts and strengthened client relation skills to improve direct referral numbers. Over time, these smaller tactics, with measurable terms, will guarantee an increase in business leads.
Let the achievements drive momentum.
After all that work thinking and doing, tracking, monitoring and evaluating, by all means… celebrate! Reward yourself for your efforts and the results you achieved. After all, it’s reaping the rewards that will keep you incentivized and motivated throughout the process. Once you achieve one goal, use it as a foundation to create and achieve more goals. Perhaps as a young lawyer you have the goal of becoming more involved in your county bar association. As a result, and through your increased networking tactics, you become a member and work your way onto a committee. Once you’ve achieved that goal, why stop there? Maybe next you set your sights on joining a nonprofit board, or organizing a large fundraiser? Let each achievement help you gain more experience and motivation to propel you to the next level.
Stretch it out.
This is an important one. In each of my yearly goal documents I always add a little more for good measure; a “stretch goal.” In business, a stretch goal is one that cannot be achieved by incremental advancements, but rather one big goal that is achieved by fully stretching your limits. The fun part about stretch goals is that they force us to re-evaluate what’s possible. For example, maybe your annual stretch goal is to collect a certain revenue goal, or maybe you simply want a full year of five-star online client reviews. Don’t punish yourself if you’re unable to fully attain your stretch goal. The important thing is that they continue to challenge and push you to yet another high-achieving level.
A new year is almost upon us. Let the benefits and practices of effective goal-setting enable you to experience best accomplishments for your life.
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