With the beginning of the New Year it is time to think about setting goals. It shouldn’t be restricted to a once a year exercise, but that’s the way many of us think. However, it’s too important to do so. Putting our goals in writing and learning to formulate them logically and realistically can make the difference between success and failure. It is a powerful process to think about our future and to turn that vision of the future into reality.

The process of setting goals helps us choose where we want to go in life. By knowing precisely what we want to achieve, we know where we have to concentrate our efforts. We’ll also quickly spot the distractions that would otherwise distract us from our course.

Additionally, properly-set goals can be incredibly motivating. As we get into the habit of setting and achieving goals, we will find that our self-confidence builds quickly.

Achieving goals is like a sporting event. No matter the playing field, whether it is a basketball court or the offices in an organization, those who succeed are the ones who move ahead and stay in front of the competition. They are the ones to move up the organizational ladder.

We need to ask ourselves, “Will I be one of those successful people? Do I have what it takes to succeed?” Although no one knows what the future holds, there are steps we can take to ensure that we are prepared for success. One of these steps is to put together a list of goals and objectives for both our personal and professional lives.

Goals serve as road maps to attain personal and professional dreams. Objectives serve as plans detailing how to get from point A to point B in a logical sequence. There are many books and articles written about setting goals and objectives. I’ll leave discussion of the differences to the experts and focus on a few basic rules for goal-setting. Goals should be:

Specific. Vague or generalized goals are not helpful because they don’t provide sufficient direction.

Measureable. Don’t say “I need to lose weight.” Instead say “I will lose 10 pounds by August 1.”

Attainable. Goals should stretch us but if goals are too aggressive they have the power to disappoint and discourage. When our goals are so far-reaching and impossible to achieve, they will only serve to demoralize and erode confidence. Resist the urge, however, to set easy goals because they are anti-climactic and serve as a false sense of accomplishment.

Documented. If it’s written down, it’s real and tangible. We have no excuse for forgetting about it. A written goal is motivating

Individual goals should be linked. Where possible link your goals to the success of others. You’ll be creating a web of support and accountability. Additionally, accomplishing individual goals will help everyone succeed.  

Synergistic. Goals should have involvement from those they affect. This creates engagement and synergy among others which will be highly effective.

Reflect critical success factors. Critical success factors are those issues, behaviors, performance standards and other elements that spell success. You should put primary focus on these goals.

Mutually reinforcing. One goal should not have to be achieved at the expense of others. Goals must be taken as a whole in order to be really successful.

Aligned with your values. The way goals are accomplished should not be separated from how they are accomplished. In other words, don’t just focus on the result but also on the means used to get there. Maintain integrity and honesty and ensure that you protect your value system.

Flexible. Most goals should be yours so they should be flexible. A flexible plan allows you to take advantage of opportunities that walk in your door.

Goals need action plans. Write out the individual steps to achieve the goal and cross off each one as it’s completed. This can be powerfully motivating.

Goals should include contribution. Developing oneself and developing others should be part of everyone’s set of goals. Sharing with and mentoring others is a critical part of everyone’s responsibility, but especially critical for those in positions of authority.

By following a few basic steps you can set goals with confidence and enjoy the satisfaction that comes from knowing you achieved what you set out to do.

 Jim L. Smith has more than 45 years of industry experience in operations, engineering, research & development and quality management. You can reach Jim at [email protected]