System1Search Blog

Lack of Clearly Defined Goals

Wednesday, January 13th, 2021 | Uncategorized

This is the third of 20 blogs about the most common mistakes I observe in career management. These comments and ideas are from my experiences as a recruiter and working with thousands of people over the past twenty-eight years.

The third mistake is the lack of clearly defined goals

This topic may sound odd because most people assume defining goals, and working on them is commonly done. However, it can become a problem when the list of goals is limited in scope and does not include a broader range of career development issues. In the following paragraphs, I will include five common career goals and add several others for consideration.

The first goal many people speak about is financial. Most people consider financials a central component of their career progression. The idea is to make more with each passing year to fund a good quality of life, including personal desires, family, and retirement needs. This is reasonable but becomes a problem when it is the overriding focus of why people work. If all the attention is only about money, a career can turn into a dreary job with little personal satisfaction and joy. By comparison, a lower-paying job that still meets our financial needs might include a better quality of life, work environment, acceptable levels of stress, and personal satisfaction.

A second common career goal is career planning, generally over two, five, or ten years, etc. This includes the possibility of increasing responsibility, autonomy, direct reports, or a fancier title. However, traditional upward progression is not always the best choice. It is only worthwhile when it brings additional work satisfaction, meaning, and purpose. Increasing levels of responsibility, and especially direct reports, is sometimes not suited for all people. I am sure that many people reading this have worked for a weak manager who struggled to build teams and mentor people. A simple desire to have direct reports does not guarantee exceptional results. The skills of an individual contributor versus a manager are vastly different. In addition, some people are not adequately equipped with the business and people skills to manage more significant and complex projects. The point is career planning is more than fulfilling our career desires. It must also include the appropriate level of skills and knowledge for the role.

The third common goal is meeting and exceeding a company or a manager’s expectations. Fulfillment of this objective can lead to better financial rewards, more satisfaction, and possible promotional opportunities. This goal requires a clear understanding of the required performance metrics and an action plan to meet or exceed them. Do you understand how you are measured and how you stack up against the metrics?

A fourth common career goal relates to the type of work, technology, or day to day activities. People like to do something they find is interesting, challenging, creative, energizing, etc., and this varies significantly between people. All work has a level of routine or even boredom, and thus it is critical to have a role that contains stimulating activities. (This is something that some candidates fail to investigate when they interview. They accept a job and are disappointed when they find the work was not what they expected.)

Finally, a fifth common career goal includes what most people call the “company culture” or environment. This consists of the presence or absence of teamwork, social interaction, respectfulness, compassion, tolerance, etc. It also includes the personalities of colleagues and management. This is a two-way process and includes what we bring to the equation. If our goal is to work in a team environment with respectful, tolerant, and compassionate people, we must contribute the same qualities to the group. If we find essential qualities lacking in our company culture, the first place we need to look is at ourselves and discover if we are contributing our fair share.

The above goals are common when deciding on a new job or when looking at career growth. In summary, they include income, career progression, job expectations, and how to exceed them, the day-to-day work process, and the company’s culture or environment. All of these are valid, but there are other worthwhile goals to consider. These additional goals require a significant commitment of time, and energy to achieve. The following are a few examples.

Learning new skills and knowledge. Learning is the ultimate lifeblood of career and personal development. A job that offers the chance to learn leads to more ample opportunities in the future, but it also generally creates more stimulation and more job satisfaction. The ability to learn can come from on-the-job training and workplace classroom training, but it can also come from learning by pushing ourselves to heighten our skills beyond what is offered. The goal of learning includes the idea “there is always more to learn”. The learning process includes not only business skills but enhancements of our character.

Managing our stress levels. Stress takes many forms, and can express itself as  fatigue, irritability, moodiness, lowered motivation, difficulty concentrating, etc. The goal of managing stress levels is central to job satisfaction and performance. It requires building powerful coping skills such as resilience, tolerance, flexibility, self-discipline, or patience. This complex process is not easily achieved and requires commitment and energy.

Identifying our values and expressing them. All people have a list of core values they live by. While the list can be long, most people focus on a few values such as respectfulness, integrity, compassion,  gratitude, or commitment.  Defining these values and then expressing them regularly at work is a solid recipe for creating more joy and meaning.

Exercising our creative muscles. Creativity is the recognition of the need, followed by the ability to discover and ground new ideas. It is a common practice to stop at the first right or satisfactory answer to a problem. Creativity drives us to find the second, third, or even fourth suitable answer that may lead to even better results. Creativity is best invoked by a mindset that continually looks for discoveries and ideas, even when the tendency is to believe that there is nothing left to discover. Creativity is a quality that also leads to more enthusiasm for our work.  

So what are your work-related goals? Have you carefully defined them, and do you have a plan to pursue them as part of your daily process? Have they changed over time, which they sometimes do, and have you acknowledged this change? Have you looked beyond the primary goals of a job and considered other goals that relate to how you interact with others, yourself and your character? Do your goals include your vision of how you see yourself in the future, including the person you will become?