Tips for Achieving Career Goals and SMART Objectives

Importance of Setting Career SMART Objectives for Executives

Successful companies set priorities, identify targets and plan ahead to achieve objectives. Equally, individuals need to set priorities, targets (goals) and career development plans. Setting goals and objectives for employees can be used in a wider company context to manage performance, develop skills, optimise talent and oversee succession plans. Also, see our other article on Tips on Setting Objectives for Career Success with Executives.

However, we find that many executives fail to apply a ‘core management methodology’ to themselves and often avoid planning their own careers in the way they should do so to maximise opportunities and potential at the highest level. So, even if employers can facilitate this process, executives must take control and be sure to have somekind of long-term career plan (or vision) in place, aligned to specific objectives or executive level goals.

Setting Career Objectives for Executives

Employers usually create a framework for career development and objective setting, so giving executives the opportunity to develop and progress. Usually, a defined career path can emerge and, if with the right employer, the necessary steps will be put in place to achieve these objectives. Plans can include executive leadership programmes, effective mentoring, executive coaching; skills training, MBAs and other professional development.

The reality is that things happen, people get distracted and there is often not enough time in the day to focus on the importance of career objectives. Equally, direct line management maybe too busy to follow-up and offer the support required to develop individuals or teams in the way they should, so potentially undermining career progress for their teams.

Defining Career Objectives

Having an ultimate goal or objective can be motivating and inspire people to better things. The onus is very much on the individual to setting clear objectives and be prepared to follow them through. Overall, executives have tended to be more successful as they have taken control of their own careers, though sometimes there is a tendency to drift or become complacent towards reaching intended objectives.

Setting SMART Career Objectives

Career objectives need to incorporate ‘SMART’ elements and need integrating into a wider career plan. Setting SMART objectives can help focus the mind for developing wider career development plans, providing they are: Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Relevant and Time focused.

Specific:  Executives usually define a target role, certain level of progression or company they wish to focus on. Having a clear focus gives a stronger sense of direction, purpose and motivation, though objectives may need to be reviewed or adjusted depending on changing circumstances.

Measurable: Executives need to evaluate or benchmark objectives against performance by reviewing what has been achieved, making adjustments and staying on course. The idea is to measure performance against pre-defined criteria in terms of stepping stones and stages of progression. An executive may enlist the help of an executive mentor to help define measureable career objectives.

Achievable: Fundamentally career objectives must be realistically achievable. Being too ambitious or not setting tough enough targets can be de-motivating or executives simply lose impetus to eventually fail in their plans. Harder objectives are going to be more difficult to achieve and take longer, so it is important to define stages of progression and action plans to remain focused.

Relevant: Relevance is often overlooked as it can give a stronger sense of direction and purpose, aligned to a planned strategy. Having relevant objectives gives important context, industry expertise and builds on a well-established track record. However, relevance could be an issue if trying to change career paths or move to a different industry sector, so choices need to be backed-up with solid rationale.

Time-Focused: Executives need to specify important timescales or deadlines to achieve objectives, otherwise potentially delaying plans or even objectives going unmet. Be realistic with timescales as they say ‘Rome was not built in a day’. Well-structured plans should allow for some flexibility and adjustments as well as giving motivation, purpose and urgency to spur executives into action.

Importance of Career Objectives for Executives

Defining objectives is an important framework to facilitate overall career success. They form an integral part of defining executive career development plans* and providing executives adopt a ‘SMART’ approach then there is a greater chance of remaining focused and achieving career objectives. If there is no structure, planning or clear vision of where executives want to end up, then plans can disintegrate and become confused. Equally, career objectives will need to be reviewed periodically and adjustments made given changing circumstances, whilst allowing for some flexibility.

* Link to the IMD Organisation gives an outline of a typical executive development programme, outlining ways of learning and designing tailor-made programmes to meet individual requirements.


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