You know that setting goals is a good thing to do for both work and for our own personal development and happiness.
But did you know why and how best to set goals?
It turns out that there is over 35 years of research on goal setting and a number of frameworks that can help us master this key life skill.
Must-know goal setting research
There are 4 key ways that goals help us, but there is a condition. Goals can’t be easy, and more specifically, they actually need to be hard. That means that setting easy to achieve goals is out.
This is why:
- Goal focus our attention on the activities that are most important and away from those that are least important
- Hard goals make us try harder, easy goals, well, we obviously don’t need to try as much
- Hard goals prolong our effort for longer and when we focus on the same thing for longer we achieve more
- Hard goals force us to upskill, learn, collaborate and even innovate
So if you think that low-balling your goals is doing you a favour, think again. It could actually be harmful.
What does best practice goal setting look like?
At the simplest level you can set SMART goals.
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.
For example, if your work in PR for a fashion client, one of your goals might be to:
- Get featured in 10 of out 50 target publications in June
Now, if you know the science you’ll be able to see the problem. There’s nothing specified about the goal being hard. In fact, it clearly states ‘achievable’. A perfect invitation to play safe.
If you want to start building the concept of ambition and stretch in, you should look at OKRs, which stands for Objectives and Key Results.
OKRs are designed to be hard with a great result being achieving 70% of the target and 100% being amazing.
In the above example, the OKR would be something like:
Objective: Amazing campaigns get outstanding coverage
Key Result: Get featured in 20 out of 50 target publications
Key Result: 5 of the features are > 1 page long
What you will notice is that Objectives read like ambitious, motivating mission statement. Plus you can have more than one measurement or Key Result.
One to four Key Results in normal. Each Key Result has a measurable outcome and by having more than one you can create a more ‘balanced’ and better goal. This example balances quantity and quality.
Another aspect of OKR is they are designed to align with Company Objectives and are created in a more autonomous way than typical company goals.
Don’t set too many goals
If you really want to move the needle and achieve more, you actually need to focus on less.
You only have so many hours to apply to achieving an outcome, and the more goals you have the thinner that effort is spread.
So if you can focus on one ‘game-changing’ goal at a time, that’s going to help you achieve more.
Don’t set and forget
Goals that you set and rarely look at are again less likely to be achieved.
Return to your goals weekly and update progress, share issues with friends or colleagues and keep going.
Make your goals public
Sharing your goals makes us more likely to commit to them.
Who wants to fail in a very public way?
The pressure of achievement is good for us so don’t be afraid to share what you’re trying to achieve.
It’s safe to fail
Setting hard goals and then missing the mark is how we develop and learn.
Remember 100% is not the only definition of success.
The degree of challenge, the effort you applied, and the learnings you acquired are also measures for success.