Get Better at Setting Goals

setting goals


SBC’s Weekly Newsletter for Professionals

We can all appreciate the value of setting goals in our professional and personal lives. Yet we also know our aspirations often bite the dust. (We’re looking at you, 2022 New Year’s resolutions.) To increase your odds of achieving your targets, it’s time to go beyond the classic SMART goals strategy. Widely embraced in corporate America, SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

According to Craig Wortmann, a clinical professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, the SMART formula is missing three vital elements. Wortmann chatted with host Laura Pavin on Kellogg’s The Insightful Leader podcast about what people often get wrong about setting goals.

setting goals

“What we know is from research into New Year’s resolutions and just any goals that get set, very few—less than 10% of people—come even close to reaching their goals,” Wortmann says. He explains that people forget to consider three things when setting goals: tools, support, and a stop button. Let’s take a closer look at these crucial elements.


“To maximize their likelihood of success, goal-setters should consider what tools they will need,” Pavin says. “These are the tangible things that will enable them to achieve their goals.” For instance, say you aim to develop your programming skills further. Joining an online community for programmers is one tool to achieve that. If your goal is to improve your public speaking, the local Toastmasters club is a perfect tool.

Another underused tool for goal setting is the premortem. By mapping out potential roadblocks to reaching your goal, you can develop strategies for dealing with setbacks.

Many people neglect the most straightforward yet valuable tool to reach their goal: a calendar. To Wortmann’s surprise, senior people often resist putting time blocks in their calendars to work toward their goals.

“And without that simple tool…they are putting a hurdle in front of that goal before they even start,” Pavin notes.


A manager can encourage your goal setting, but Wortman thinks of support more like coaching. “Turns out, you shouldn’t have just one coach. You should have multiple coaches,” he says. Rather than rely on one person to meet multiple needs, consider this. Are they the best person for the support you require? Or, are they overstretched?

As this piece in Harvard Business Review points out, by diversifying your mentors, you can “find the right people to help you navigate the problems they are uniquely well-suited to solve.”

“You may even consider having coaches in your life–like family members–who do nothing but hold you accountable for working toward your goal,” Pavin adds.

A stop button.

“A lot of people who set goals are already ambitious people with a lot already on their plate,” Pavin says. “Everything that currently fills their day feels essential. So, they just try to just cram one more thing in, which is a recipe for failure.”

The final element most people overlook is not employing a stop button. When coaching executives on how they can achieve their goals, Wortmann first ensures they find the tools and support they need. But then comes the bigger question: What will you eliminate from your schedule to make that happen?

“We all have the same time. It’s a question of priority,” Wortmann says. “It’s great that you want to increase your sales by 20%. What are you going to stop doing in order to achieve that?”

Reflect on how you spend your day, and you’ll likely find some activities that are lower priority than your goal. “This is what is so powerful about Stop,” Pavin says. “You can’t just manufacture more time, but you can reprioritize to make the goals the things you spend time on.”

Huzzah! You made it to the end of the post!

This post on strategies for setting goals appeared initially in the Blacklight, our weekly newsletter for professionals. At the Blacklight, we aim to illuminate with every dispatch that lands in your inbox. If you’re thirsty for guidance to help you slay it at work or as a student and move your goalposts closer, sign up today!


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