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Setting Goals: Why It's Easier Than You Think

September 30, 2015
Staff and manager at meeting

Admit it; setting goals sits on your list of favorite things to do somewhere in between your annual physical exam and filing your taxes. But all the evidence tells us the same thing: to be able to accomplish something important, you need to set goals. Goals provide direction and help you know why you’re doing what you’re doing (even when the going gets tough).

Goal setting should give you a sense of power and accomplishment, not dread, and inspire you to reach for excellence. Stanford’s Carol Dweck, a Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor in the Psychology Department of the School of Humanities and Sciences, has done extensive research on the mindsets that guide human behavior, and her research has shown that having a “growth mindset,” or the belief that you can achieve what you’re aiming for, trumps intelligence in structured human experiments. Her studies have also shown that praising effort vs. intellect provides more motivation, important guidance for managers working with staff as the effort to reach goals moves forward during the academic/fiscal year.

The Cardinal at Work website has information and tools to help you develop goals within your team.  Your school/VP area HR professional can also help you write meaningful, measurable goals.

Goal Setting Tips

Here are some tips to help with some of the common challenges in setting goals:

1. Identify Where You’re Headed

Often, goals are hard to write because you haven’t articulated what you would like to see in the future from a particular employee or team (or yourself). Imagine you’re setting a personal goal around physical fitness, and yet you don’t identify whether you are trying to get increase fitness, trying to increase strength or stamina, or wanting to lose five pounds.

  • Setting work goals also requires being specific about what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you needing to increase efficiency in a specific area? Reduce errors? Better serve the needs of our clients? If you aren’t sure, talk with your own manager to clarify his/her expectations or what problems are recurring that need to be addressed. Another effective option is to talk with your team to gather their input about what needs to happen. 

2. Clarify Expectations

Some managers may dread goal setting because they know goals must be measurable, not always easy to define despite knowing they should be SMART goals (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and timely). Goals should be measurable so that everyone knows when the goals have been achieved.

  • Using the personal goal of physical fitness: if you were trying to increase your stamina in walking or running, your goal might be; “I’m going to walk 10 minutes this week, then increase it to 12, then 15…”.  Maybe you would get a formal “report” from a pedometer, or maybe you would time yourself.  Maybe you’d measure progress in terms of time, or steps, or pounds on a scale.

Setting goals that include a way to measure success is a way to both check your assumptions and celebrate accomplishments.

3. Review Goals Frequently and Make Adjustments as Needed

Sometimes people fear setting goals because something might change, such as the scope of work may be more involved than originally thought. Just like you don’t let the possibility of straining your ankle stop you from deciding to walk more, don’t let the potential for future change prevent you from setting a target now. If you’re clear on the direction (step 1), it will be easier to adjust the goal; frequent review of goals and recalibration as needed is the key.

Reference Tools Available

Use the resources in the Manage & Lead section of the new Cardinal at Work website, such as “The Four Types of Goals,” “From Job Responsibility, to Goals, to Development Plan, and “Learn to Love Goal Setting.”

Learn & Grow, Manage & Lead