5 Criteria for Effective Goal Management

March 11, 2022 Watermark Insights


So what are your goals? To own your own business? To make partner or simply move up in the company? To publish a novel? To finish writing said novel? To say yes to an opportunity you've previously declined out of fear? To get one actual page of this stupid novel on paper if it kills you?!

Goals come in all sizes. Some are big; some are small. Some are concrete; some are abstract. Some goals can be relatively easy to achieve- others only by figuratively moving mountains (unless your goal is to build a mountaintop removal mining empire, in which case you're going to be literally moving mountains).

However, almost no goal, large or small, is achievable without a plan. When success coaches work with students, one of the first things we do is help them to set goals that are:

1. Actionable- Goals are always more frustrating and less likely to be achieved if there is no clear first step to achieving them. For example, it is a goal of mine to visit every National Park, but that goal means little if I never begin to figure out how I will get to Kobuk Valley, the country's least visited and least accessible (feet, dogsleds, and snowmobiles only, please) National Park, located on the Arctic Circle. Similarly, it's extremely important that my students and I talk about the first, second, third step, and so on, to accomplishing a goal (such as figuring out how your average success coach based in the Midwest can hitch a ride to the Arctic Circle.)

2. Manageable- One of my freshmen this year has an English teacher who has a particularly esoteric way of explaining things. Her syllabus, even for someone like myself, reads a bit like a riddle. So it's no surprise that Davin is nearly always at sea when it comes to knowing what exactly he is supposed to do in her class. In a situation like this, the most manageable first step is not to complete even a simple assignment- it's to schedule 10 minutes to speak with his professor after class in order to get more clarity on the assignment itself.

3. Specific- Goals are always easier to achieve the more specific they are. With my students, we break down goals into small and large, as well as short, medium, and long-term.

4. Prioritized- Based on our assessment of goals as either short, medium, or long-term, I use an ABC system with my students. Any work that needs to be completed and turned in within the next 24 hours is labeled A; work that I want to see completed by our next meeting (even if it is not technically due for another day or two) receives a B, and anything that a student could do but is long-term enough that it doesn't match the urgency of the As or Bs is labeled C.

5. Empiric- While on the road to goal achievement, it is crucial to be able to measure one's progress. When I am working with students who have assignments that may span two weeks or an entire semester, this is especially important A) in understanding whether a student is truly on track and B) in keeping a student motivated by acknowledging (and celebrating) the smaller yet concrete results on the way to achieving something larger.

I'd like to mention one more thing, and that's how technology has substantially improved my and my students' abilities to document goals and assess progress. For example, I have a student this fall who is taking an art class, for which he had a project due on Monday before we met. So I called him last Friday to see how it was going. He said that he was halfway through, so I simply asked him to take a picture on his phone of what he had so far and text it to me. I knew that if he didn't send me anything, his story was most likely untrue from the start, and if he did, he would know that I was holding him accountable to his word and for his work. Indeed, not five minutes later, I received an image of what certainly looked like a work in full progress.

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007. The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically. 

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