Learning to effectively set goals is a fundamental part of achieving fulfilment and success both personally and professionally. The following article looks to outline the different types of goal setting, how to set good professional development goals, and the importance of goal setting in Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
What is goal setting?
Goal setting is an individual or a group establishing something they want to achieve in the future. It is a plan and commitment to reach a desired result or outcome. The goal could be either personal or professional. Within goal setting, objectives will be set which are steps towards attaining the overall goal.
The American psychologist and pioneer in goal-setting theory, Edwin Locke, identified through studies in the 1960’s that the most productive goal setting is challenging and specific as opposed to easy and generalised. A common easy and generalised example would be “look to do better in the future” which does not define a specific outcome.
Much academic, psychology and personal development study since has established criteria for effective goal setting, the most well-known being SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time Based).
What are the best ways to set goals?
Goal setting begins with fundamental understanding and thought – what are an individual or group’s values, desires and ambitions. This identifies a potential goal and then criteria like SMART can be applied to effectively set this goal. The SMART criteria defines the following requirements in goal setting:
The SMART criteria
Specific - Goals should be well defined and unambiguous so that it is clear what is being aspired to.
Measurable - A goal and the objectives within should have clear ways of identifying if they have been achieved. For example, “looking to increase sales by 20% in 3 months” is more measurable than “look to have more sales”.
Attainable - A goal should be challenging but also realistic. It must be within skill set, talent and resource limits. If it is fundamentally impossible to achieve, it will quickly lead to demotivation.
Relevant - The goal and the objectives must be relevant to values and aspirations. They should align with overall career and life plans or they will prove unsuccessful.
Time Based - Goals need deadlines so they can be tracked. This is crucial to maintaining motivation and creating a sense of purpose. It also supports and ensures measurability.
Applying criteria like SMART forms the basis for effectively planning and building towards a goal, and ensuring the right objectives are adopted. It is also important not to set too many goals. Some Psychologists refer to this as “Goal Competition”. Too many goals battle for time and attention and will end up cancelling each other out and will all ultimately fail to be achieved. It is most effective to set no more than 2 or 3 specific goals.