Setting Achievable Goals

Setting Achievable Goals

We’ve written before about the dangers of underperforming. Far too often underperformance is attributed to laziness when truthfully there’s often more to the story. It’s managers and HR’s job to identify the root cause of underperformance and create a path to correction, hopefully through an adjusted strategy, and perhaps, new goals.

Goals make the world go ‘round. Whether it’s #RelationshipGoals or New Year’s resolutions, our progress as a civilization is measured upon what we build and achieve. Setting professional goals is no different. Few people want to remain stagnant, working the same job until retirement, without seeing growth and an increase in responsibility or status. Businesses set quarterly and yearly goals to propel forward. Employees should adopt a goal-oriented mindset to do the same.

The Psychology of Goals

As far back as 1979, a study conducted on Harvard Business School students found that writing goals down contributes to its success rate. At the time of the study, the results showed that only three percent of the graduates had written down their goals and plans. 13 percent had goals in mind that weren’t written down, and a stunning 84 percent (of Harvard MBA students!) had no specific goals at all.

A decade later, the same people were interviewed. Unsurprisingly, the people who had set goals were earning, on average, twice as much as their fellow classmates who didn’t have any particular goals in mind. Similarly, the small three percent who had written their goals down were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97 percent. The study is proof that putting goals down on paper creates a level of accountability that extends beyond merely wanting to achieve something.

Similarly, by writing goals down, we create a concrete reminder of what we want to achieve and what we need in order to do so. Dr. Gail Matthews of Dominican University also conducted a study and also found that writing down goals was a key factor in achievement, along with accountability and commitment. Her study revolved around separating participants into five different groups with different levels of accountability and analysis in regards to how they planned to achieve their goals. Those that took the most steps to ensure their goal was met, like creating an action plan and updating a friend about their progress, were most likely to succeed.

How Goals Make us Better Employees

Employers and employees can easily set goals with a system in place that safeguards their progress through accountability. In the early 1980s, researcher George T. Doran published a paper in the November issue of Management Review titled, “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives.” This was likely the first instance of using the acronym S.M.A.R.T. to describe what is now a widely known system for goal achievement.

S.M.A.R.T. stands for the following:

  • Specific (strategic)
  • Measurable (motivating)
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable)
  • Relevant (realistic, resourced)
  • Time-bound (trackable)

The S.M.A.R.T. criteria create a basic roadmap for goal setting that helps employees identify and meet obtainable results. When used in business settings, S.M.A.R.T. goals help build a roadmap toward an employee’s goal by helping them to create an outline for how to achieve their goals. An example of how to apply the S.M.A.R.T. criteria to a workplace goal could involve steps taken in order to receive a promotion, or even something as simple as learning a new skill. Like writing down goals, the point is to create a strategy toward achievement, rather than guesswork.


Ready to make a change in your professional life? Create a plan and take action. Adopt a goal-oriented mindset when setting professional goals. Strategic goal planning leads to better results and greater success.

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