How to embrace workplace goal-setting

The annual review process can be a career builder.
By Dawn Wotapka

The beginning of the year means your boss is likely making you come up with professional goals to accomplish during 2019. But instead of just going through the motions, seize this as a chance to develop a career blueprint.

To get started, think back to what was asked during the job search: "Where do you see yourself in five, 10, or 15 years?'" said Joni Holderman, a career coach based in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

By using your answer as a blueprint for the future the goal-setting tradition can become a welcome chance to grow and groom yourself professionally. Here's how:

Break it down. Once you have your large goal in place, break it down into several achievable milestones. "You can't just say 'I want to go from Point A to Point B,'" explained David Almonte, CPA, CGMA, an audit manager at DiSanto, Priest & Co. in Providence, R.I. If you want to become a firm partner, ask yourself what you need to do to get there, Almonte suggested.

Michel Valbrun, CPA, an internal auditor with Verizon, also uses the step system. "If you don't have smaller tangible goals in between, you can become overwhelmed," he said. Valbrun, who is based in Atlanta, said his biggest professional goal sits outside of the typical internal auditing scope and is to help Millennials be more financially literate and responsible. He breaks down that lofty goal into achievable milestones that involve networking more, prioritizing personal development such as attending communications training, and increasing his perception as an industry authority by coordinating team training and community events about financial literacy in order to reach those younger audiences.

Strike a balance. Don't start with goals so complex that you set yourself up for failure. "A lot of times, people just take on more than any one person could accomplish, and they set themselves up for not accomplishing everything," Holderman said. "It's better to set one goal a month and accomplish it."

Of course, don't make it so easy that you'll be done early in the year. Almonte likes to pick a goal he knows he can accomplish and then stretch it a bit for a challenge. Instead of attending four networking events this year, make the goal six or eight. "You don't want to put goals you know you'll easily achieve," he said.

Be SMART. Next, Almonte and Valbrun suggest being more specific by using SMART goals, a tried-and-true way to set and evaluate milestones in any field. Start with something specific (S), then make it measurable (M), attainable (A), relevant (R), and time-bound (T). For example, "I want to attend four industry networking events by December 31" would work better than "I want to meet more people" because it states exactly what you want to do and by when.

"SMART goals are extremely important," Valbrun said. "They help you gain clarity. You want to make sure your goals are specific."

Share. If your employer does not make you formalize your goals, write them down anyway. You could try a whiteboard or a piece of paper at your desk. "Having something that's actually in writing does make it more real, instead of a nebulous idea that we can easily change," Holderman said. "We realize that it's important to us and it takes a much bigger commitment."

Don't think you have to keep your goals private, either. Find an accountability partner and set up times to check in with that person. Outside of the office, a significant other or friend can be a good support system. "Communicate your goals to others you trust so that they can help to hold you accountable," Almonte said.

Check in. Simply setting goals and then checking on them during the fourth quarter won't help much, so set times to evaluate your progress, whether weekly, monthly, or quarterly, Almonte suggested. This keeps them top of mind, increasing the chances you'll implement the change or meet the goal. If you don't, "you're going to forget what they are two weeks after you write them down," he said.

Almonte keeps several goals on a whiteboard at work, and he checks in on them often. Valbrun, whose 2019 goal is to be promoted to team lead, checks in with himself weekly. "If you're looking at your goals more often, it just increases your chances of success, instead of coming to the end of the year and saying, 'Oh, no! I didn't do X, Y, or Z,'" he said.

Be flexible. Don't worry if what seemed logical or desirable earlier in the year seems irrelevant as things change personally or professionally. "There can be new information that makes us realize that the goal is relevant in January, but it isn't so relevant in June," Holderman said.

Review. Finally, be sure to take time to reflect on what you've accomplished during the year. Even if you think you didn't finish everything you wanted to, you might realize you're actually farther along than you think, Holderman said. "We probably spend an hour, at least, thinking about the problems, compared with 10 seconds for how great we did," she said. "Celebrate the successes."

Dawn Wotapka is a freelance writer in the Atlanta area. To comment on this article or suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, associate director – content development, at

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