Goal Setting: An Integral Tool For Career and Life Success

We are now a couple of weeks into the new year.  How many of your New Year’s Resolutions are still in play?  That’s what I thought.

The truth is, New Year’s resolutions rarely have a shelf life of more than a week or two.  Most of the time they are given little thought, and even less real intention of being adhered to.  So instead of that time-honored, but less than successful, tradition, maybe it is time for us to talk about those two dirty little words:  GOAL SETTING!    There, I said it.

Let’s be honest–goal setting is not a sexy topic.  You’ve heard about it ad nauseum; you may even use it in business on a regular basis.  I’m right with you.  Personally, I used to loath the very concept – which incidentally makes me the perfect person to write this article.

As an executive recruiter for the past 20 years, a field that requires a great deal of self-motivation, I  had read the articles, listened to the tapes, seen the DVDs, and attended the seminars by motivational speakers, blah blah blah blah blah.  I really had no interest–I wasn’t “that guy.”   I fell into goal setting completely by accident.  I didn’t even label it as “goal setting” at first—I just started writing down some random thoughts during the holiday season one year.  Then a funny thing happened, I “magically” started achieving more and more of the things I wrote down.

I’m now a convert.  I now understand that applying goal setting to various areas of your life can have a profound impact.  You may even find that a disciplined goal setting process will enable you to overcome some of the inertia, and resulting frustration, that can so easily keep us from achieving all that we would like in our lives (big or small).

Overcoming your reluctance:

Perhaps the biggest challenge to buying into goal setting is to get over one’s reluctance.  First, you have to get over the stigma that goal setting is just something for those super-square motivational speakers.

But sometimes there is an even deeper reluctance.  In my case –and I have a suspicion I am not completely alone here–I have issues with control.  In short, I recoil at the notion of being controlled.  One day I finally made the connection: I had such a knee-jerk reaction to being controlled; I didn’t even want to be accountable to myself.  Making that connection was a big step in overcoming my reluctance to goal setting.

Creating a System:

You don’t necessarily have to jump into a complex program all at once (although that will lead to faster results.)   That said, building a framework (and we all know how Audit, Risk, and Compliance professionals love a good framework) allows you to make and monitor progress in more areas of your life.

There are many different ways you can do this.  My homegrown system involves breaking my life down into component parts.  The categories I use (your categories will vary) are as follows:

Professional goals are the first and most developed area of my process – in part because it is a driver for so many other aspects of my life.  If I’m not successful in this area, I’m likely not going to be able to attain some of the other goals that are important to me.  I typically break this down in to several pages of sub-goals.

Financial goals: This includes things like, how much money do I intend to contribute to my retirement plan, savings, or other investment vehicles this year, and what do I need to do accomplish that.  Do I need to cut back spending?    Or, do I need to change my investment/allocation strategy?  In some years, I’ve had the goal of reading some books and attending seminars on how to better manage my finances.  This could also entail things like: saving up for a down payment on a house or college for the kids; revisiting your insurance posture; or estate planning.

Health and Fitness goals encompass things like diet, exercise or weight-loss, as well as any health- related activities I can anticipate (dental and medical check-ups), or something elective like Lasik surgery.

Home or Household goals include any projects that you want or need to get done on your home — anything from a major remodel to organizing the garage.   Or, it could be a significant household purchase like a new 4K flat screen or that high end bbq you’ve had your eye on.

Personal goals could encompass any areas for personal growth—your interactions with other people, volunteer work or spirituality.  This category could also include personal enrichment goals , such as reading  x number of non-work-related books this year, learning a new language, or improving your culinary skills.  Personal goals could also encompass family or relationship goals (for example, I’ve been actively working on keeping in closer touch my cousins the past few years), or more frequent visits to your aging parents.

Hobby or Avaocation goals:  If you have a strong interest or hobby, it might merit its own category.   For example, I am a musician, so I might set aside some goals around things I want to work on in my trombone playing during the year, or certain performance goals for my brass group.

Travel goalsSince I love to travel, travel goals merit it’s own category.

Other goals:  This is a catch-all for things that don’t neatly fit into other categories.

Major goals. Once I have built out my categories, I will go through distilling 5-10 major or critical goals.  This help one to keep laser-focus on these key areas and to prioritize throughout the year.

Again, your categories will be unique to you.  You may have a category for adventure goals, or bucket-list goals.   Foodies might have a goal of working their way through the top new restaurants.  Some people might have a “new things to try” goal—5 things you have never done before.  It all depends on what is important to you.

Why Goal Setting Can be Particularly Important for Audit, Risk and Compliance Professionals:

Whereas some fields (sales, Olympic swimming) naturally lend themselves to goal setting as they have easily quantifiable metrics, the Audi, Risk, and Compliance fields can be a bit more nebulous.  Moreover, most people working in the Audit and GRC fields work for companies (either in industry or consulting) and thus don’t have control of the projects or audits to which they are assigned.  As a result, without having a careful eye to one’s own career development (career goals), it can be easy to get stuck on a steady stream of audit/projects that don’t really contribute to your growth or longer-term career objectives.

Goal setting will help you to:

  • Clarify focus on training and experience directly related to your career development objectives
  • Lobby for projects that will grow or enhance your skills and support longer-term goals
  • Seek out additional training not provided through your current company
  • Attain your long-term career objectives.

Goal setting in this area can also help you recognize when a change of scenery (either within or outside your company) might be required to sustain your growth, learning, and to avoid becoming stale.

Example of a Break-down of Audit and GRC Skill Goals:

A quick sample breakdown of professional goals for someone in the Audit field might include:

  • Communication skills both verbal and written (better more efficient writing; exec communication skills; efficient writing with less revisions)
  • Relationship and or Networking Skills (attending more networking events; maintaining contact with key people in your network)
  • Technical Skills or other areas of Subject Matter Expertise (this could entail training or reading or coursework outside of work if your responsibilities are not building your skills or supporting your longer-term goalds)
  • Business Knowledge goals (reading business books and journals; staying abreast on events/trends that impact your company or industry)
  • Education/Certification or other Credential goals
  • Supervisory or Leadership goals (looking for ways to take on more responsibility within your organization; discussing career path with your leadership)

The key is to break each area down into real, ideally measurable, metrics that you can monitor as the year goes on.

Key Goal Setting Success Factors:

  1. Set goals that challenge you but that are also realistic. The idea of goal setting is to push yourself to achieve things that are important to you but that you otherwise might not attain while cruising on auto-pilot.   It’s good to stretch, but if the goals really are beyond realistic reach you will likely become discouraged and give up the exercise.
  2.  Follow up and review is key!  If you merely write down your goals at the beginning of the year and never look at them again, you may still achieve some of them (as you may have committed these goals to your subconscious).  But for the process to really have consistent value, you must have regular review.  I recommend reviewing your goals at a minimum once a quarter, and even better, once a month.  This schedule should be built into your calendar.  I typically link my goal setting to the time I am paying bills each month; it’s amazing how the process of paying bills can add some clarity to some of your professional  and financial goals.
  3. Look at your goals holistically, and then prioritize. Sometimes it won’t be possible to attain all of the goals you set for yourself.  After all, there are only so many hours in the day.   So you may have to “backburner” some goals for the year in order to emphasize others.    If you are pushing for a major career advancement or starting a new job, that might be a year to back off on travel or avocational goals.   Similarly, if you are going through a significant health, family or life event, it might not be the ideal time to make that big push at work.
  4. Find the balance between pushing and being kind to yourself. It is important to push yourself to make progress, and to have a disciplined approach.   However, if you are so hard on yourself that it becomes an odious task, you likely won’t continue with the exercise.    The key is to find the right balance, to push yourself, but also to cut yourself a little slack when you occasionally slip.
  5. Sometimes you just have to punt. There are going to be times/years where things just don’t go according to plan).  Changes in the market, economy (e.g. the economic events of 2008/09), or personal life can significantly alter the goals you set for yourself at the beginning of the year.  Sometimes you have to look at the circumstances part way through the year and devise a realistic Plan B.

As one who once equated goal setting to the equivalent of a root canal, I am here to say that if you give goal setting a chance; it can have a powerful impact on your life.  I am proof of that.  My top goal for 2008 was to figure out where I wanted to be professionally for the next 5-10 years.  If not for goal setting, I can guarantee that I would not be sitting here writing this article celebrating the six year anniversary of starting The Weinman Group.