Taking Aim – the transforming effect of having a career goal

I’ve been thinking recently about how important it is to have a career goal.

That might sound a bit obvious, but you would be surprised how many of us don’t. You will know by now of my abiding enthusiasm for 360 appraisal – for its various abilities to give a wealth of critical perspectives, to shine a light on our blinds spots and even to  reassure  us where we are doing just fine – but it struck me that all of that useful feedback still can leave us with the ‘so what?’ question.  Who cares, unless we have something to aim at. A career goal.

We have been doing some work with Oracle – working with some very senior managers and high fliers. They got the works – 360 evaluations, psychometric tests, the lot. When we contacted them a year later to find out what had made the most difference, overwhelmingly, the response was that it was the time spent discovering, focussing on clear personal career goals for each person.    I’ve recently been doing lots of 360 appraisals and I found that the most satisfying part was the time I spent – 20 minutes or so with each person – getting them to think about what their career goals were.

The fact is that having a career goal changes everything. I know that sounds a bit of a sweeping statement but think about this :  when you are at work, and performing a task, even something as mundane as sending an e-mail, answering the phone, attending a meeting,  you are performing that task in a certain context – fulfilling your contract, trying to please your boss.   But then stop and consider  – focus on – what your own, personal, long term career goal is.   And then think about why you are performing the task.  Consider whether it matters in terms of your long term goal. You see?  The context has changed.  And that can have life changing effects.

When I was in my 20s I was in HR. At 29 I was more or less an HR Director without actually having the title HR Director. I was way too young and, if I am honest, not that great!  A vacancy arose for an HR Director’s job and I applied. I wasn’t really thrilled about the job, but I felt it was the thing to do.  In the interview I was asked one question that I know now was a turning point in my life. I was asked “what is your career goal?”.  I was pretty sure I should say “to be HR Director” but in the moment,  I said “to be MD”.  And in that moment I was different.  I began to explore my career goal of becoming MD of my own company.  And, motivated by my goal I worked.  Last year I was MD of a business with a turnover of hundreds of thousands of pounds.  But then I realised  that, hard as I was working – and I was working hard – I wasn’t as motivated as I had been.  And I asked myself why.  And I realised that I had ticked off my career goal and I had become directionless.   I needed a new career goal.  And, after some coaching and thinking I realised that I didn’t want to be an MD and run a company. What I really wanted to do was create and own inspiring companies that do amazing things.  And now, driven, motivated by this career goal, I am two businesses into my career path and continuingly driven and happy.

Now a career goal has to satisfy two conditions:

  1. It has to inspire the individual, you have to want it. When you think about it people should see a glint of excitement in your eye, a lift of your head and a set of your shoulders.  The thought of it is going to take you through some tough times!
  2. It has to be grounded – it has to be more than something that is going to happen anyway and a little short of fantasy.  It has to be achievable.

But the most important thing of all about a career goal is that it has to be there.  Take some time to think about it.  Could be the most rewarding time you spend this week!

Elva Ainsworth


One thought on “Taking Aim – the transforming effect of having a career goal

  1. Hi, nice post! I really like your post about taking ams.

    My favorite part is “Now a career goal has to satisfy two conditions: 1. It has to inspire the individual, you have to want it. When you think about it people should see a glint of excitement in your eye, a lift of your head and a set of your shoulders. The thought of it is going to take you through some tough times! 2. It has to be grounded – it has to be more than something that is going to happen anyway and a little short of fantasy. It has to be achievable.”

    I cannot say it better.

    Keep the good work!

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