Can Setting Goals Improve Your Work Performance?

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Last modified 12 July 2024
Career & Development, Organisations & Culture
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Can Setting Goals Improve Your Work Performance?

The process of setting targets for accomplishment, also known as goal setting, is an important step in both our work and personal lives. Often overlooked by many, setting goals at work provides a number of benefits to professionals.

Goals can also be useful at an organisational level in areas such as quotas, objectives, deadlines and budgets. Taking the time to write goals for work can greatly improve your performance – read below to find out how.

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How does goal setting improve performance?

When you set goals at work, you are able to make the best choices about how to use the time and resources you have. Having clear goals means knowing whether what you’re doing will help you achieve tangible benefits. Here are five ways that setting goals can improve your work performance.

Focus on priorities

Setting clear and concise goals with your work gives you the ability to focus on your priorities. Goals that are properly thought out which reflect your intentions and desires will allow you to prioritise a lot easier.
After writing your goals, you must review them and order them by priority. This allows tasks to be completed in a logical order.

Prioritising your goals also encourages forward-planning. With this focus will also come less stress as you are better prepared and clear on what work you need to complete and by when.

Guide decision-making

Concrete goals serve as north stars in your decision-making process. Being aware of what you are trying to achieve allows you to evaluate each and every activity that you perform by asking yourself ‘will this activity get me closer to achieving my goal?’ This can also be applied at an organisational level whereby future direction is provided to your business.

Goals are also useful in decision-making when challenges are faced throughout a project. They allow you to reflect on the outcomes that you want to achieve and then refocus your decisions in order to achieve those outcomes.

Create responsibility for your own actions

Goals are a valuable tool for holding yourself accountable. Documented and defined goals mean that you are directly responsible for the success or failure for that particular achievement.

When you succeed in achieving all of your goals, you can feel confident that your work has contributed to larger organisational objectives. On the other hand, if you fail in achieving your goals you are also responsible for that. It is important to remember that very few of us reach our goals without some challenges along the way – failure is not necessarily a terrible outcome. Failures should therefore not be ignored; they should be used as an opportunity to learn.

Allocate time effectively

If time is a precious resource of yours, setting goals at work is essential. It is often very difficult to effectively manage your time without clear goals and objectives in place. By having goals, you can work towards achieving the most important tasks first. Goals also help to prevent you from working on tasks which are irrelevant to your project outcomes.

As Peter Drucker says: “if you want to improve how you manage time – stop doing what doesn’t need to be done”.

In the fast-paced business environment that exists today, any time-saving tool is one that should not be overlooked. Plan out your goals and ensure that every minute counts.

Measure and evaluate

When goals are set, outcomes are expected to be achieved, and therefore at the end of a project these outcomes can be evaluated. Measuring and evaluating your outcomes allows for analysis on what was effective and what could be done better.

Rarely does a project run smoothly and successfully from start to finish, so by evaluating the results we can learn what can be done better next time. Evaluation also allows for forward planning so that mistakes can be avoided and goals can be adjusted accordingly.

How to set goals for work

Setting goals at work doesn’t just help you understand what success looks like – it greatly increases your chances of achieving it. So how do you put goal-setting into practice? Here are four tips to help you set your professional goals.

Define what success looks like

As redundant as this advice may sound – a goal is a definition of success, after all – if your idea of success isn’t defined clearly enough, how will you recognise whether you’ve achieved it? As simple as it sounds, this is one step that a lot of people don’t get right.

Make sure you define success clearly enough that you can objectively say, without bias, whether you have or have not achieved it at the end of your efforts. Ideally this definition should include something that can be measured.

Align your goals to the broader context

When setting professional goals, there are two questions you should ask that will help you understand how they fit into the bigger picture in your workplace:

  • How would these goals support the business’s goals?
  • How would these goals make me more valuable to the business?

Choosing goals that either help achieve organisational goals (like achieving revenue targets or improving efficiency), or that increase your value to it (like earning an MBA), will go a long way to ensuring that achieving your goals will result in the greatest benefit overall.

Set an appropriate time frame

Going hand-in-hand with the two tips above, you should know exactly when you need to achieve your goals. Larger goals may take a year or more to achieve, and they will often line up with significant milestones like the end of a financial year. Other goals may need to be achieved within a business quarter, a month or even weekly for smaller goals.

Focus on what’s within your control

It may go without saying, but any goal you set yourself should be something that you personally have the ability to effect. Although it sounds simple, this can be more complex in the workplace than setting study goals.

While you obviously wouldn’t set yourself sales goals if you were responsible for operations, some lines are not as clear.  Even within specific functions, goals and influencing factors can be more interconnected than they first seem. When you set goals, you should have a good idea of what the main factors are that will influence it. If you can’t control most of those factors, it may not be the right goal for you.

Setting goals at work can help give you a roadmap to success

When you set goals at work you’re taking an important step to improving your performance. Not only do goals clarify what success looks like, the act of setting them increases your chance of success. What do you do to set professional goals> Let us know in the comments below.

This article was written by Laura Hutton on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources have been used to prepare this article: The Happy Manager; Small Business; Reference for Business; and Harvard Business Review.

Explore more AIB blog articles.

*The Australian Institute of Business (AIB) is Australia’s largest provider of MBAs. Source Ready, B. (2023) Domestic Enrolments Surged During COVID After International Students Locked Out, MBA News. Available at: MBA News.


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