I wrote a little bit already about types of goals and SMART goals in this blog. Below I am answering some of the basic questions about goal-setting and how to go about it. This write-up will summarise my ways of approaching goal setting and career development. So let’s begin-
What is a goal?
A goal is a highlight of your career for the year if you achieve it. What is the highlight of the year? — It is quite self-explanatory but here is some elaboration — anything that you can feel proud about when you look back on the year and completing this added significant value to your professional career. Another way to see this is, can you boast about accomplishing it? Can you add it to your resume/portfolio? Can you talk about it in the next interview (yes, I mean it)?
Why should we set a goal?
Setting the goal will give you the (most sought) clarity on where are you heading for the business and for your own career.
At the heart of the high-performance culture, is to have each team member clear direction (aka goals). Generally, we do the goal-setting for the year and then keep refining those goals for the rest of the year on a regular basis. What’s interesting is that the goal-setting and check-in process is very much undermined across the engineering/tech community. So I decided to write down my framework of goals and how managers, leaders, and engineers can approach it.
What is a SMART GOAL?
By definition, SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. To create a good goal — one just needs to make sure the goal is Measurable and Time-Bound, the rest of the things will fall in place. The reason to prioritize these two is, as soon as you make a goal measurable and time-bound, it is very difficult to miss the other aspects like specific, achievable, and realistic. If the answer to the goal completion is a binary “yes/no” then the goal is a measurable goal. Any elaboration needed for answering the goal completion means the goal needs more tuning.
Some examples of making a goal SMART are -
Ex 1: Moving from “I want to learn React js framework” to “I want to learn React js framework and have 2 open source contributions by end of Q4”
Ex 2: Moving from “I want to release XYX to be GA” to “I want to release XYZ to be GA with 90% unit tests, no P0/P1s in prod, 80% e2e happy path automation”
What are the milestones/subtasks?
This is how you achieve your goals. To be precise, 3–5 steps/tasks in each goal that will help you to get to your goal. Not a laundry list but as measurable, and time-bound as possible.
What are the types of goals?
Generally, the goal would have two primary reasons, business development, and personal development. Business development goal aligns with your work to your business deliverables. Example: I want to launch X feature with (measurable aspects) by Y date.
This is also something that you align with your immediate team and business. Often times this goal is the same for most of the team members, with different milestones.
Personal development goal helps you uplevel your skills in lieu of achieving the big long-term vision that you have for yourself.
Example: One of my direct reports had a vision of shifting my career profile from an engineer to a product manager. So we had personal development goals for her that aligned with how she can learn and get closer to the expectations of a product manager.
Some of the managers may also benefit and help the team by adding an additional goal called the Stretch goal helps in getting all of us out of our comfort zone. These are mostly small exploratory tasks to go above and beyond and benefit by solving some low-hanging ones.
What is a business development goal?
The business development goal is to help you contribute to the business priority. This could be the goal common for you and your team. What might change is the how-to part for each team member, which means the milestones. This Drives the outcomes that you are accountable for along with your team.
Example: I want to deliver feature X which is accessible to my customers from the homepage with zero defects and 100% automation tests by Date Y.
What could be a timeframe for a business development goal?
A reasonable time duration for a business development goal can be anywhere from a few days to multiple quarters and sometimes multiple years.
What is a personal development goal?
A personal development goal will help you grow your skills on top of your business development goal and bridge the gaps in the expectations of the current level with consistency and will help you start meeting the next level's expectations. If your employer doesn’t define expectations clearly for the role, I encourage list down things that you are doing and get them checked with your manager and align on what are the gaps and what can you do completely meet the expectations at the current level and the next level (in case the current levels are met already).
What could be a timeframe for a personal development goal?
Timeframe for personal development goals should be around a quarter (2–3 months). If it is beyond a quarter, you may want to consult and take your manager's or leader's opinions on that.
What is a stretch goal?
“Growth happens out of your comfort zone”. A Stretch goal is an important fundamental in pushing you out of your comfort zone. Generally, you do take on a stretch goal that is low-hanging. Like one Open Source PR for the month, and one technical blog internal/external in a month.
These goals are small and will let you explore new areas. Stretch goals can also mean you are signing up for the time stretch in personal development goal/ business development goal in case applicable.
Example: Business development goal: I want to deliver feature X in 3 months with no P0/P1 issues.
(Stretch goal applied) Business development goal: I want to deliver feature X in 2 months with no P0/P1 issues.
What could be a timeframe for the stretch goal?
The ideal timeframe for a stretch goal would be around a month. Beyond a month you may want to consult your boss, as this may not be the right direction or the right initiative for the return on investment. A manager or direct report should keep in mind that not everyone, not every month might be capable of signing up for a stretch goal.
How to set the goals?
Business development goal — Do ensure this is the P0 for the business and that you are solving the prioritized problem defined by your employer. There are times when teams are mission-based or value-based. This is a good situation to be in. In case you work with your immediate stakeholders to figure out a backlog that you are solving and measuring the success against the mission.
Personal development goal — These are the expectations from your role and beyond if you are looking to get to the next level. The next level doesn’t just mean the title you hold, but roles and responsibilities.
Stretch goal — Something that you have been wanting to explore, and learn, that comes under stretch goal. As discussed earlier, these are the low-hanging fruits that will also have a high return on investment. Sometimes you may combine stretch goals with your personal development goal or business development goal.
How many goals should we have at a time?
Two to three goals: a business development goal and a personal development goal. A business development goal will help you contribute to the business in a meaningful way, while a personal development goal will help keep you steering toward your career aspirations. The third and optional goal is a stretch goal.
The general principle of growth is to move from an I-shaped model to a comb-shaped model, for the areas of expertise. This would apply to all professionals. Like the image below -
A typical T-shaped detailed model would look like this in reality for each area of expertise. In some areas, you would be a knight and in some, you would know just enough to get it done.
As you grow, the bars with knights would increase, and you would move from T-shaped to comb-shaped.
The above goal-setting framework helps an individual grow in depth of knowledge and also keeps broadening the areas that you can explore. Stretch goals will force you to add the new subjects that you explore. Over the period, you will become a subject matter expert in the areas that you are exploring today.