Whether the goals are short-term or lifelong, SMART or HARD, goal setting is a key component of our professional lives. At MSU, we go through various aspects of the Performance Excellence process throughout each year—from annual reviews to performance planning and everything in between—with goals as a primary benchmark against which we measure accomplishment.
If you’re accustomed to setting and meeting goals as a barometer of success, the COVID-19 pandemic has likely thrown you for a loop. Perhaps you had goals this past year that were impossible to achieve due to COVID-19 restrictions. Maybe you’ve had to relearn how to manage your daily tasks, let alone your goals, due to major changes in your workspace, be it on campus or virtual. It may benefit you to take the time to reexamine your approach to setting and meeting goals—whether for yourself or, if you’re a supervisor, for your employees—and how that may have shifted due to the pandemic.
Goals Are Tools, Not Anchors
To move beyond the countless disruptions and redefine who we are in our everchanging world, goals remain a crucial element to help us maintain purpose, focus and motivation. However, the rapid changes over the past 18 months have served as an important reminder that our goals should serve as tools, not anchors.
Goals can be powerful things, and the pursuit of them may drive you to do your best work and accomplish what might have previously seemed unattainable. While focusing on your goals may lead to success, focusing too single-mindedly on a goal and becoming overly attached to the outcome of your work can put you at risk when forces outside your control are unstable and unpredictable.
Instead of viewing a goal as a fixed North Star that keeps you stubbornly set on a specific endpoint, no matter what the circumstances, try instead to view your goals as flexible targets that allow for adaptability while still providing a framework and path toward achievement.
Own Your Goals
To benefit the most from your goals, never let your goals own you. You have the choice and ability to adapt your plans and goals and detach from the outcomes when necessary. This doesn’t mean being disinterested or disengaged but rather reprioritizing and not allowing any one goal or outcome to give you your sense of worth.
When we can release our own expectations about how things are “supposed” to be, we can engage with what’s actually happening and work to achieve our goals in ways that better align with the circumstances we can’t control. When you become too attached to an outcome that’s out of your hands, you risk missing the benefits of all the hard work you’ve put into reaching your goals if the end result isn’t quite what you planned.
Re-align Your Priorities
If you’ve found your professional identity has become upended during the pandemic, it may be helpful to examine your priorities and revisit your goals. You may be working from what organizational psychologist, Dr. Tasha Eurich, describes as a flawed goal-outcome formula in which you’re too attached to outcomes that are fully or partially out of your control.
Eurich notes that the pandemic has led to many of us losing parts of our identity that once defined us, which can be profoundly destabilizing. Unplanned changes to the routines that helped us navigate our days, our work location, or our ability to accomplish our goals may have us questioning who we are and how the world works.
Give yourself and your colleagues grace as we navigate this uncertainty and work to realign our priorities with our goals in ways that offer adaptability and healthy challenges. It may be helpful for supervisors and employees to review previously established goals through the lens of “goals as tools, not anchors” and see if any adjustments can be made to lead to greater engagement and effectiveness.
Additional information about Performance Excellence at MSU, including goal setting tips, a professional development impact map, and an expectation development worksheet, is available for both employees and supervisors. Looking for additional guidance? Contact Organization and Professional Development at email@example.com to learn about other upcoming opportunities.
Recommended elevateU Resources
How to Build a Learning Mindset (2-minute elevateU video)
Live Event: The Power of Insight: How Self-Awareness Helps Us Succeed at Home and in Life (Recording of 60-minute elevateU live event presented by Dr. Tasha Eurich)
Saving Time by Setting Goals (24-minute elevateU virtual course)