Ask a Career Coach: How Do I Set Goals in a Position That Has No Clear Goals?

Hi Kyle,

I’m an executive assistant. Most would say this position doesn’t have any goals, but our performance review system requires me to set goals. How do I go about this?

Signed,
Goal-Seeker

Hi Goal-Seeker,

Goals are in place to help us take care of business as usual, sure, but they’re also intended to challenge us to grow as professionals and advance in our careers. Everyone has them, no matter the position.

I get that working in an open-ended role such as yours that maybe doesn’t provide you with clear measures of success in the way that “grow sales quota by 11%” does may make it difficult to come up with an obvious answer. There’s no doubt that demonstrating your value at work is daunting when your role feels very day-to-day.

But, since all roles can be performed with an intent to succeed, there’s a straightforward way to go about creating goals that’ll both please your manager and get you ahead.

Find Things That Can Be Improved

Finding areas of improvement in your current role is a great way to get started. You may find there are issues in the form of scalability, communication, or the number of steps it takes to complete a daily task. For example, as an EA, let’s say you assist three executives with their scheduling, and you’re not thrilled with how their calendars are organized.

Is there a system you could implement to streamline things and make the schedules more digestible? If so, this is how the goals might look on paper:

  • Re-organize internal meetings to occur on the same day each week
  • Utilize a calendar application, like Calendly, to streamline one-off meeting requests
  • Establish flexible blocks of time to be updated with minimal notice, reducing conflicts

Consider the Long Game

Think about what you want out of your career. Even if you’re not a five-year plan person, look ahead to your future, and ask yourself what you see yourself doing. What’s your title? Your salary range? Do you have another degree? Are you managing others? Now, what will it take you to ultimately get there?

These larger career goals aren’t meant to be accomplished overnight (or lead to conversations with your manager in which he or she thinks you’re trying to steal their role); rather, they exist to help you figure out what you can be doing today that’ll get you where you want to be in a year or two.

Basically, once you know the long-term plan, you can break it into baby steps. The long-term plan stays in your head, the baby steps turn into the goals you share with your manager.

It could look as simple as this:

  • Present plan to eliminate bottleneck systems for overall efficiency
  • Connect with every department to assess needs for new tools and systems
  • Create email templates for various scenarios for faster response times

Take on New Responsibilities

If you’ve noticed a particular person or team struggling with their workload, there may be an opportunity to absorb new responsibilities and increase your workplace value. If you’re already handling travel for executives, could you handle it for another team as well?

If you like this idea, but you’re having trouble finding new responsibilities, talk to your manager. Work with him to find out what pain points you can relieve by taking them off of his plate—and make that a goal in and of itself.

It might look like this:

  • Own post-meeting communication
  • Build out consistent onboarding process across departments
  • Find ways to improve my boss’ day-to-day (you can elaborate on this as you figure out what will help)

When it comes to setting goals, we often start out ambitious and then lose steam as time goes on, which is why it’s important to think of truly actionable tasks. The items shouldn’t be things you can just check a box on, but it’s OK if they seem sort of simple. After all, if you overshoot, you’re more likely to give up.

But really, no matter what kind of position you have, there’s a way to define and refine your performance in a way that allows you to further the company’s mission and your own career growth.

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