Setting goals is a common part of the annual review process at many companies, as a means to keep employees engaged, challenged, and consistently growing and improving. To set goals that are achievable and will support your ongoing personal development, consider your overall career expectations, what you can realistically accomplish in a given time and how you will evaluate your progress.
Before setting your career goals for your manager, consider what you’d like to accomplish in your career over the next several years. If you want more responsibility in your current role or are striving for a promotion, develop goals with this in mind. For example, if you want to move into a management position, add completing a management training course to your list. You may even qualify for tuition assistance, or be able to access an internal training course, making the goal more achievable.
It’s important to keep your career goals realistic. You undoubtedly have responsibilities outside of work, as well as work responsibilities, so talk with your manager about the company's priorities for the next year, and how working toward your goals will fit in with upcoming projects and other expectations. You may need to scale back on your ambitions or start small to see how well you can manage everything – not to mention, if you're planning on seeking additional education or training on the company dime, you'll need to seek your manager's approval. If you are having trouble refining your goals, working with a mentor who has already blazed a trail similar to the one you're pursuing can help you set realistic goals and move forward in your career.
Make your goals measurable so you – and your manager – can easily evaluate your performance throughout the year and for your annual review. Setting generic goals isn't really helpful because then evaluating your success is subject to interpretation. One useful approach is to follow the model set by George Doran in the early 80's, which indicates that goals should be SMART – an acronym for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. If your goals meet these criteria, you will stand a better chance at achieving them at the end of the year.
Once you set your goals and discuss them with your manager, evaluate your efforts at least four times a year to ensure that you're still progressing. It’s easy to forget about career goals when you get busy with day-to-day activities that aren't related to your goals. You can’t avoid the work you need to do on a daily basis, so you need to work towards your goals a little bit at a time. Begin by spending just one hour a week on the projects included in your career goals, and evaluate your progress after three months and make adjustments as needed. Discuss your goals and your progress with your boss regularly, so he can support your efforts throughout the year.