Career & Work Life Matters, ISSN 2150-6299, Vol 3, no. 19
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2 Ways to Get Unstuck When Your SMART Career Goals Stall
|Have you used the SMART formula for your career goals? Does it help you make the progress you want? Although making your goals SMART often helps, sometimes you need to examine your career goals more closely. If you are feeling stuck, the 2 questions below may be just what you need to move forward.|
The SMART acronym remains a popular goal-setting tool. In fact, it has been around for nearly 50 years.
(If you are curious about its origins, it is attributed to Riaia, in a paper on goal-setting research published in the Journal of Management Studies back in 1965.)
Applying the SMART formula can be helpful when you are working on your career and job search goals. But what if your goals meet the SMART criteria, and yet you feel stuck, or your motivation is lagging. It may be time to ask some questions about your goals.
When A Specific Goal Is Not Enough
Mark is a smart well-educated competent professional. He is the person everyone hopes to have on their project. He is respected for his technical skills, easy to work with, and reliable. But he is feeling frustrated with what he sees as lack of progress with his career goals. A closer look helps to reveal why.
His career goal is to get promoted to a project leader within the next 12 months. It meets the SMART criteria. It is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. So why does it feel like a struggle?
He knows that achieving this goal requires a new focus on developing key skills such as delegation, giving feedback, and conflict resolution. Changes in ratings of these skills at his next performance review will provide useful information on his progress. But it all feels a bit overwhelming. He is beginning to wonder if he should ditch this SMART goal system.
In Mark’s case, focusing just on outcomes and performance is getting in the way of his progress. This concurs with research findings that when an individual does not yet have the skills, and perceives tasks as complex and challenging, it is more effective to focus on learning goals rather than outcomes.
Mark may feel less frustrated if he focuses not on his promotion goal, but on the learning that needs to happen if he is to master the necessary skills. Framing his goals in this way reduces the anxiety that often accompanies learning new skills. For example, he can allow himself to learn from mistakes, rather than see them as a setback in reaching his SMART goal of promotion.
When Goals Compete
When Mark explores a bit further, he discovers that he has competing goals that he was not aware of. He enjoys a reputation for meeting his deadlines. This is part of his overall goal to be a competent professional. Sometimes meeting deadlines means taking on extra tasks.
Although this worked in the past, it now competes with his new goal of developing his leadership skills. By taking on extra work, he has less time to focus on his learning. Moreover, he is missing out on opportunities to learn more about delegation, a key skill that he needs to master.
Once Mark is aware of his competing goals, he can make the necessary changes. This does not mean that it will be easy. He may experience new levels of discomfort, now that he is relying more on the performance of others. Recognizing this by focusing on learning goals will help him to make move forward with less frustration.
Assess Your Own Goals
If your SMART goals are stalled, take a closer look. In a recent article in the International Coaching Psychology Review, Anthony Grant described 20 different types of goals. It may be that you need to adjust your goals. Begin by asking yourself these 2 questions:
- Would learning goals help me to move forward?
- Do I have competing goals?
Questions & Comments
Share your experience of setting goals? What works for you?
What’s your biggest challenge?
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