Every now and then—and particularly at certain milestones—it's good to take a little time out to think about what our career goals are and how we're going to reach them. But what are the best ways to set goals? And how do you ensure you'll stick to them?
Richard Brown, managing partner at Cognosis, a London-based strategy consultancy, says: "You should have three goals or less. Any more and you won't be able to focus on them."
When considering your goals for the next, say, 12 months, think about how they fit into where you are heading over the next five years. "It may help to see them in the light of your longer-term vision for your career" says Brown.
"The two main factors are your personality and the nature of the goal," says Jane Clarke, a director at business psychologists NicholsonMcBride. "Where we go wrong is that we assume that what works for one successful person will work for you. But you will often find on some level that you don't want it enough. So you need to think about your motivation—for instance, is it status or work–life balance? Look back over your career—what has worked?"
Clarke also suggests using the technique of reframing, which involves trying to view goals that may not initially feel very "you" in terms of the benefits they can bring you. You could also visualize how you will feel when you have achieved your goals.
"Break them down," says Standolyn Robertson, a personal organization expert. "If any part seems overwhelming, then you have not broken it down enough. Individual tasks have to be within reach." For instance, if your goal is to change career, step one is rewriting your CV.
Robertson also advises getting organized, by which she does not mean tidying your desk (although that may help); rather, you need to deal with the problems that are preventing you focusing on career goals.
If you are serious about attaining goals, you should prioritize them over everything else, says Clarke. Just as important, you should make sure that those around you understand your priorities. This goes for everything from "I'm going to raise my profile" to "I'm going to pick my kids up from school twice a week."
This does not mean you should not do ordinary, day-to-day work; but it does mean that working towards the goal should not constantly take a back seat to ordinary work. Learn to distinguish between what is urgent and what is important. So, block off time in your diary to achieve your goal and treat it as you would any other business engagement.
You should also keep track of your progress. Give yourself deadlines and appraise yourself monthly or quarterly.
"You should keep your goals close to hand," says Brown. "Have them on cards on your desk or on a screen saver."
It is a good idea to share the goal with someone else at work. Two people are far more likely to stick with something than one. Alternatively, you could turn to a coach. "Anything that gives you accountability will help you achieve your goals," says Robertson.
It is a workplace cliché, but what do people really mean when they say you should be ahead of the curve? And how do you get there?
Where do you begin?
Broadly speaking, there are two overlapping aspects to being ahead of the curve. The first is informational: technical knowledge that helps you in your job. The second is personal: everything from networking to gossip to relationships.
Camilla Arnold, global head of coaching at leadership consultancy TXG, explains that you need to begin by saying: "This is where I want to get to and this is how I want to be perceived. 'The gap between here and there is this.' You should be doing this once or more a year."
Stephen Viscusi, author of Bulletproof Your Job, adds: "Sit down and write your résumé. If you don't like the way it looks, you should be doing something. Work out what it is.'"
You need to step back and think beyond the next meeting agenda. Moreover, you need to do more than just the basic daily routine of keeping up with news in your industry. "You might look at areas such as politics, economics, society, technology and law," says Robert Myatt, a director at business psychologists Kaisen. He notes that the internet makes life a lot easier. "Previously, you had to wade through papers and research. Now you can look at a video of a TED talk."
You can also set up Google Alerts, not just for you but for key customers, and also follow industry opinion formers on Twitter and so on. Of course, you need to watch out for information overload and be selective. But if you read more about a topic, you develop the right mindset, says Myatt.
You need to make an action plan, says Arnold. "Ask who and what can help you move forward, then bite the bullet and get on with it," she says. "Break it into manageable-sized chunks and work with your personality type... If, for example, you're going to network, you need to think about who you want to meet and what you can bring to the party when you meet them. Rather than throwing business cards around or inviting them on LinkedIn, ask yourself how you can create a meaningful peer relationship."
Viscusi says you should look at job websites to see who is moving where and what salary they command.
"Don't forget office gossip either," he adds. "It tells you things before they happen. Gossip is gold."
To operate most effectively, he advises: "Keep up with not only what your boss is doing, but also your boss's boss."
"Make sure your boss knows what you're doing," says Viscusi. Arnold agrees. "If you find something interesting and useful, e-mail your boss. You want them to see you as someone who provides solutions," he says.
Make yourself the go-to person for whatever your area is. Viscusi adds: "When you go in for an appraisal, go in with an up-to-date résumé. This tells them you're prepared—in more ways than one."
Excerpted from Chapter 8 of The Careerist: Over 100 Ways to Get Ahead At Work (978-0749465926), by Rhymer Rigby, published October 2012 by Kogan Page. Copyright 2012 by Rhymer Rigby. Reproduced by permission of Kogan Page.
Rhymer Rigby is an independent journalist. He writes a weekly slot for The Financial Times on workplace and career topics and has written for dozens of publications, including The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent, GQ and Arena. He is also the author of 28 Business Thinkers Who Changed the World (Kogan Page 2011).
[Image: Flickr user Grant Hutchinson]