10 Ways Bad Goal-setting Can Torpedo Advancement

Some people find goal-setting comes naturally, but many struggle to create goals that actually lead to career advancement. As head of Jackson Spalding’s Mentor Program, I’m often asked to help coworkers establish and fine-tune their annual goals. Usually my suggestions are welcome, but sometimes it can be a gentle tug-of-war. Here are 10 ways I’ve seen talented people torpedo their progress. Don’t let these bad habits sink your success.

Being Vague. You wouldn’t plan a trip without establishing a location, timeframe and budget. So why leave your career to chance? You’ve heard it before: SMART goals work. They are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Results-Focused and Time-Bound. Focus on crafting strategic goals with supporting tactics. Make sure they ladder up to corporate and/or client objectives. This will be your roadmap for a positive review, and you’ll feel more and more confident as you cross off accomplishments throughout the year.

Setting too many priorities. It’s great to be goal-oriented, but chasing too many at one time is counter-productive. Five well-crafted strategic goals with tactical targets layered below should give you plenty of challenges to chew on.

Ignoring feedback. We all have blind spots, but we shouldn’t let them blindside our careers. When you complete your annual review, take the time to consider the observations of your peers and supervisors.  If you see a theme – even one you don’t agree with – use it to shape a new goal. After you complete a big project or presentation, be proactive about seeking input and acting on it. Perception is reality when it comes to coworker and client feedback, so check your pride at the door, commit to self-awareness and eliminate the roadblocks.

Emphasizing challenges over strengths. Earlier in my career, goal-setting focused on shoring up deficits. But behavioral science has turned the tide on that. It’s now considered a better idea to maximize strengths rather than wasting time on traits that will never come naturally. If you aren’t sure where to start, take the DISC or StrengthsFinder assessment. Jackson Spalding even builds teams that emphasize a diversity of strengths.

Avoiding accountability. Have you ever known a colleague who gave lip-service to goal-setting, but never seemed to get around to it? Or someone who had a million excuses for why the goal wasn’t met? Or what about a person who set the goals, but forgot to revisit them until a week before their review? You’re much more likely to reach your goals if you keep them top-of-mind and identify a mentor to encourage you along the way. Our company relies on a systematic mentoring program to coach team members to their potential.

Shying away from deadlines. One of the most common situations I’ve observed is the colleague who sets a goal but is reluctant to attach a timeline to it. In their heart, they know they can do it, but they are afraid of nailing it to a specific date. Work with your coach or supervisor to determine a reasonable timeline for each goal. If you are extra competitive, set a “stretch goal,” and you may be surprised how that motivates you.

Coasting for comfort. Most everyone experiences a time in their career when they catch themselves coasting. They may have increased personal demands, like a new baby or a health challenge. Everyone should get a pass on progress occasionally, but it’s dangerous to settle into inertia, keeping the same goals year after year. I’ve found people often coast because they resist change. But change is a healthy catalyst for growth. Check out what these books have to say about that.

Keeping goals a secret. Yes, your goals are personal. Every person has a unique path to progression.  But don’t keep them to yourself. Find accountability buddies who can help you across the finish line. That’s another reason why a mentor program is such a great tool for organizations. A mentor can help evangelize the goals you are working on so that others know where you want to go. This gives you multiple accountability partners who can hold your “cold feet” to the fire if necessary.

Clinging to clutter. We live in an age of incessant distractions. Screaming headlines, expanding social media options, cell phone expectations, etc.  The more physical and emotional distractions you have, the harder it is to dig in every day and tackle your goals. Clear out the clutter and clear your way towards success.

Obliging your “Obliger.” Author Gretchen Rubin tells us that most of us are obligers. We’re wired to stop what we’re doing to help others, which is a lovely thing. However, if you lean this way, as I do, you sometimes end the year short of your goals while helping others reach theirs. The best fix is to be aware, find strategies for staying focused and learn how to be nice while sometimes saying no.