Goals: Should we set them or not?

Will MullinNovember 22, 2017

Retirement Planning

About this time of year, most employees are asked to come up with a few goals for the next calendar year. For some, this task presents a period of anxiety, confusion and stress.  Many of the people trying to create annual objectives don’t believe they work or make a difference.

That may not be the case at all. In the late 1960s, Dr. Edwin Locke conducted research and published several articles on goal setting and its advantages. In his article “Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives,” he wrote that “clear goals and appropriate feedback motivate employees.” He is not alone in his research and others that have followed showed there was a direct correlation and that “working toward a goal is also a major source of motivation – which, in turn, improves performance.” Locke’s research pointed out that “the more difficult and specific a goal is, the harder people tend to work to achieve it.” 

Almost 60 years later, there are countless books, seminars and papers all praising the importance of goal setting and how to do it. I agree, I believe people should set goals. Most of the literature on goal setting tends to focus on five important elements, each with its own spin or variation. When I begin to set goals, I tend to refer to the acronym S.M.A.R.T. as my guide. I learned it at one of those seminars and have found it easy to remember. Here is what it stands for and a couple of points that might help you to understand.

  • Specific – Goals written down which are clear and concise tend to be more effective.
  • Measurable – Using specific numbers like 15% revenue growth over last year is much more effective than “I will do better than last year.”
  • Attainable – You do not want to set goals that you think or know you cannot achieve. Make them challenging, but not impossible. This is often the reason people give up.
  • Relevant – What good are goals that do not pertain to your team or company goals? Is it directly related to your job description? Are you accountable and responsible for the work and its impact?
  • Time – You should give yourself periods of time that will keep you interested and on task. Again, difficult, but attainable. A 10-year goal might cause you to lose interest. It is often good to break down larger goals into a series of smaller, shorter goals (Your annual goals can be broken down into weekly and monthly objectives.)

The research is strong and compelling and after years of writing down my own annual goals I cannot recommend this process enough. More important, why just limit this to work if it is directly correlated to higher performance and motivation?

It does not matter if it is related to health (Losing 15 pounds, running your first 10k, etc.) or something you have always wanted to do but did not know where to start (learning to play an instrument or starting a hobby) write it down and set a goal. I still have a copy of the personal goals I set for myself when I was leaving the Army. It is fun to pull them out every once in a while, to see if I have accomplished them and what was important to me almost 25 years ago.

So yes, set goals, both personal and professional.  Write them down. Make them S.M.A.R.T. and I hope that it makes your 2018 the best year you have ever had.

We look forward to meeting with you next year to review and discuss the financial segment of those goals. Contact your financial advisor any time.