Annual Reviews, Part 2 | Set Goals to Focus Your Efforts

Goal setting for annual review process

If you read my post last week, you got tips on how to structure the retrospective portion of your annual review at work. You also learned how important annual reviews are not just to your current role or job, but to your entire career.

This week, you’ll see why. While the backward-looking portion of your annual review is an important check-in to ensure you’re still aligned with your company values and performing well on a day to day basis, the goal setting portion of your review might just be the most important activity you undertake this year.

I’m a firm believer in setting career goals. Goals help focus our minds (for sanity and satisfaction) and our actions (for impact). They set boundaries around where you should – and shouldn’t – focus your time and energy and having clear goals is the most common trait of high-performers.

While many people think of their annual review at work as nothing more than a time to be told what they did or didn’t do well over the past year at work, annual reviews are a great time to focus your professional efforts for the upcoming year to align with your long term career plan. Focusing your future efforts increases your engagement and productivity at work. Ensuring your professional goals are in line with company goals will help you succeed at your current role and give you practice with high level, strategic thinking about your career.

Know your organization’s mission and goals for next year

Most companies have corporate goals, values or missions. If you’re in a public company, those company strategic goals are probably touted loudly and routinely – you should have no problem knowing where your organization intends to focus next year. If you’re not in a public company, and depending on your company culture, it might be more difficult to determine, but it’s a must for setting your personal goals.

If future company goals aren’t clearly stated, talk to your manager and colleagues about what the company is trying to achieve. Get an understanding of where management is focusing their efforts and resources, and how your team fits in. Consider yourself a journalist in this endeavor if finding company goals are challenging. Interview as many people as you can, read company-wide notices and try to understand the high level thinking happening behind the scenes.

As an added bonus, showing your interest in high-level strategic goals to upper level management will show them that you’re committed and invested in the organization and may even get you on the radar for a promotion or pay raise in the upcoming year.

Know your own professional goals for next year

Knowing your organization’s goals is one thing – it ensures you know how to support your organization and provide as much value as you can. Knowing your own professional goals, though is more important to you in the long run.

Take some time to think about where you want to be in 2-5 years professionally. What type of role do you want? Is it in your current organization or a different one? This is a simple exercise, but not always easy. It takes self-reflection and real investigation into what will make you happy, professionally. Hopefully this won’t be the first time you’ve thought about it.

When you’ve nailed down where you want to be in the near future, work backward to determine what you need to accomplish to get there – the milestones you need to aim for to get you closer to achieving your longer-term goals. What projects can you work on next year to get you closer to your larger career goals? What skills do you need to acquire or develop over the next year to get you one step closer? Who do you need to meet?

Write these down. Don’t just bounce them around in the echo chamber of your own mind. Get your goals and milestones out in tangible form. Writing often helps organize your thoughts, and being able to articulate your professional goals in clear language will help keep them top of mind.

Align your professional goals with your organization’s goals

Business people at starting line setting annual review goals

OK, I’m kind of cheating here because this was the final step of last week’s post, but it’s important. Your personal goals need to fit – in some way – with your organization’s or team’s broader goals. If they don’t, you might be in the wrong place.

Consider how pursuing your personal goals will further the company goals. This will make the sell of a promotion or just general kudos from management much easier. It’s an opportunity to say, “Look, here are my personal goals for next year, and they’re helping the company in these clear ways.” It makes your case for advancement stronger and if you’ve done some self-reflection, ensures you aren’t just advancing for advancement sake.

If you honestly can’t align your personal goals with your organization’s, it’s a good sign you should be looking to move over the next year. And, as an added bonus, the exercise of nailing down your personal professional goals will help you with that move.   

Get the Word Out

If your organization doesn’t have a required formal review process, make sure you lead the way and communicate your goals to your manager. Bosses like to know that they have employees that are invested and engaged at work. Showing that you’ve taken the time to develop a set of professional goals and consider how they fit in with the organization’s conveys that message loud and clear.

Got more tips for annual review or comments or questions about this advice? Let me know by leaving a comment below. If this is all new to you and you’re not sure how to begin taking your career seriously, schedule a free session with me to get started!

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