How To Use Reverse Goal Setting To Move Forward in Your Career

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Whether you’re kicking off a new career or trying to score a promotion: Learning how to set goals will have a profound impact on the trajectory of your career. Setting goals will help keep you motivated, focused, and challenged. However, you’ll need a step-by-step plan to achieve your career goals and measure progress along the way. Reverse goal setting is the perfect solution!

What Is Reverse Goal Setting?

Reverse goal setting is the process of defining your end goal and working backward to map out the milestones and smaller steps you need to accomplish. Using the reverse goal setting technique is incredibly effective for several reasons: 

  1. Reduces Risk: It’s easy to start planning a goal, list the first few steps, and get started without fully developing your approach. While that initial burst of energy might feel productive, it can lead to unexpected roadblocks later on in the process. Starting with your end goal in mind gives you an opportunity to consider all the factors including any potential barriers to success!
  2. Maximizes Efficiency: Outlining your entire list of goals in advance allows you to eliminate any task that doesn’t actually align with your end goal. For instance, it would be a shame to complete a 6-month course only to discover it’s not required. Identifying each step in the process helps ensure your time and resources are being spent efficiently.
  3. Improves Performance: Without short-term goals, working towards a long-term goal can begin to feel discouraging. Even if you’re making significant progress, it can seem like there’s no end in sight. Breaking long-term goals into smaller achievements will help build your confidence and keep the momentum needed to hit your final target!

The reverse goal-setting technique can be applied in many ways. It can be used independently or it can be applied to other frameworks such as SMART goals and stretch goals. And, the process is easy to perform in just a few simple steps!

How To Begin Reverse Goal Setting

Consider the following example: Let’s say you’ve recently been promoted to Team Lead and your long-term goal is to advance into a leadership role. What steps would you take to begin working towards your goal?

  • Step 1) Document Your Intent: The first step is to immediately define and document your long-term goal. Write it down, type it out, or record a voice memo. This is your opportunity to clearly state your intentions. Put it on the record!
  • Step 2) Refine Your Goal: The long-term goal of “achieving a leadership role” is too vague. Start reflecting on the exact type of leadership role you’d like to pursue and give further definition to your end goal. In our example above, this might change your statement to “advancing from Team Lead to Director”.
  • Step 3) Break It Down: Divide the larger goal into smaller–but still significant–milestones. If your goal is to advance from Team Lead to Director, consider whether there are any additional steps in-between. For instance, depending on your company, you might need to pass through a Senior Manager position to eventually achieve your goal of becoming a Director.
  • Step 4) Create Actionable Steps: Review the milestones you’ve created, and split them into actionable steps. Look at your plan from a birdseye view. You should now have a comprehensive ‘task list’ along with target completion dates. For example, to move from Team Lead to Senior Manager, one action step might be completing a project management course by March 1st. Whereas, to move from Senior Manager to Director, your goal might be to find a leadership mentor before the end of Q4.

Now that you have a way to measure, you can improve! Don’t forget to reflect on your successes. We recommend the Keys to Performing a Successful Self-Assessment for some excellent tips on looking back, learning, and improving.

The Final Step

It’s the most important step of them all: Celebrate your wins! Share what you’ve accomplished with your friends, family, and colleagues. Be sure to thank them if they played a role in supporting you! And, of course, don’t forget to take a brief break before tackling your next goal. You deserve it!

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