Before you set off looking for a mentor or entering a mentoring relationship, it’s critical that you know what you hope to get out of the relationship. In other words, you need to establish goals. Setting goals increases your chance of success and helps motivate you. Having specific goals is especially important in mentoring relationships because your goals focus you and your mentor’s efforts.
Your goals should be things you really want. Seems obvious, right? Well, it is – but there are many things we want at any given stage in our life or career, but going after them involves effort and often sacrifice. So, when assessing whether you really want to strive toward a particular goal, be sure you’ve considered whether going after it is worth it to you.
The concept of SMART goals has been around for years. (It’s often attributed it to the late Peter Drucker’s work on Management by Objective.) By defining your goals using the SMART framework, you’re able to transform a general wish or desire into specific action plans.
S is for specific/simple/significant – We already discussed why it’s important that a goal be significant. It’s also important that it be specific. For example, rather than saying you want to lose weight, set as your goal the specific number of pounds you wish to lose by July 1.
M is for measurable – By setting goals that are measureable, you are able to track your progress. For example, if your want to increase sales, you might set as your goal to increase new sales by 15% next quarter.
A is for attainable/actionable – Is your goal something you can attain given your personal circumstances? One of the keys to setting actionable goals is to ask yourself whether the goal is something that you can control. A goal that ultimately rests on others’ actions or decisions is not within your control. For example, the goal of being elected president of an organization ultimately depends on others’ choices. A goal that you can achieve that is related to your desire to be president would be something like: attend all meetings of the organization over the next year and join two of the organization’s committees to increase your profile among members.
R is for relevant/realistic – By realistic we mean that it must be consistent with your current situation, your priorities, and your philosophy. And, depending on the goal, you should also consider whether it is relevant to your company’s strategies.
T is for time frame – When do you expect to achieve the goal? Put a time frame around the goal and identifiable milestones that will lead to achievement of your goal. Setting deadlines encourages action and commitment and allows you to track your progress.
Put it in writing!
Once you’ve settled on your goals, put them in writing. The simple act of writing down your goals:
• reinforces your commitment to them;
• provides you with a good opportunity to really refine the goals;
• gives you (and your mentor) something to refer to; and
• helps prevent you from forgetting them. (Yes, it happens!)
Still unsure about setting goals? Try these goal-setting and goal-refining exercises:
Goal-setting exercise (PDF)
Goal-refining exercise (PDF)