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Mar 20, 2023

By now, everyone should know that most employees’ annual goals are horribly uninspiring.

For instance, in the study Are SMART Goals Dumb?, we discovered that only 14% of people say that their goals for this year will help them achieve great things.

Moreover, (and perhaps more worrying), a massive 70% of people indicate varying forms of procrastination (or a general lack of urgency), for their goals in the first place.

But as bad as these numbers are, there’s one statistic that, in 2023, should deeply concern every leader and company.

This is the fact that only 20% of employees believe that their assigned individual goals for this year will help them progress in their careers.

This finding comes from the new study Career Growth Or Stalled Progress, and the 3,577 participating employees reveal a disturbing lack of alignment between goals and career growth.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy however, is that people have 158% higher employee engagement when they see the links between their goals and career growth.

Goals need aligning properly

It’s really not that hard to better align career development plans with employees’ annual goals.

In fact, there are three steps every company should take immediately:

First, whenever you’re beginning a goal-setting conversation with someone on your team, ask them, “Picture yourself five years from now; What work are you doing, what’s your role, how happy are you, who are you working with?”

It’s a variation on the clichéd question about where you see yourself in five years, but this alternative fosters more visualization. And, as we learned in the aforementioned study on SMART Goals, people who use visuals to describe their goals are 52% more likely to love their job.

Second, now that you’ve got a better idea of your employee’s short-term career aspirations, you can start to dissect precisely what skills and competencies they need to develop in order to turn those aspirations into reality.

You can accomplish this by asking them, “What specific skills will you need to develop in order to achieve the five-years-from-now goal you just described?”

Don’t worry about lack of skills gaps

When you get an answer, you’ll likely find that many of your employees haven’t fully thought through their skills gaps.

While some leaders get annoyed that employees have robust desires without considering the skills they’re missing to achieve those goals, I’d encourage you to instead see this as an opportunity.

Why? Well, you’ve uncovered what your employee would like to achieve. Your job, as a leader, is to how to help them develop the necessary skills to get there.

This gives you a wonderful opportunity to articulate the skills they’ve yet to master and outline the work necessary to develop them.

Remember, you’re not discounting their desires; at this point, all you’re doing is helping them contemplate the work required to get there. When you tie those skills development opportunities to career and annual goals, you’ve demonstrated the alignment between their career aspirations and their annual targets. And you’ve already seen the data demonstrating how powerful that is.

Nudges please

Third, now that you’ve done the hard work of eliciting their desires and mapping out a plan to get there, your next step is simply to nudge them along that path.

At the very minimum, check-in with staff monthly to ensure they’re making progress. This isn’t to punish or chastise; rather, it’s first to keep them from falling behind in taking the steps that you both know will advance their career.

Second, checking-in gives your employee a chance to tell you when they lack the time or resources to pursue their goals.

Remember that the best leaders aren’t helping employees pursue career growth only because it’s the right thing to do (although it certainly is). They’re also doing it because it’s one of the most powerful ways to engage and retain their people.