By Lauren Beam (’07), Associate Director, Mentoring and Alumni Personal & Career Development, Wake Forest University

Personal writing on sticky note with planner and laptop on desk

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

In our work with Wake Forest alumni, our Alumni Personal & Career Development Center team often hears alums voice similar challenges that they are facing both personally and professionally. One issue that alumni tell me they struggle with is when their boss and/or leadership doesn’t provide any goals for the work they are doing.

This is a conundrum for several reasons. First, as someone lower on the totem pole, it’s difficult to know what projects are most important and valued by your organization. Second, not having goals can cause anxiety and stress for employees – How will you be rated as an employee during your annual performance review? What will be considered a “success” at the end of the year? And, how can you track and measure your own growth and development?

If you find yourself on a team or in an organization where your manager and/or leadership do not provide clear cut goals (or any goals at all!), here are a few things that you can do to take ownership for your work:

Review your job description and other relevant company documents/annual reports.

To determine what projects or programs are most important to your team and organization, take a look at past annual or quarterly reports. Or, if your organization sends out regular correspondence to external or internal audiences, read messages to determine key company initiatives and how you might contribute based on the work that you do. Additionally, review your job description and identify the main responsibilities and objectives of your job role.

Identify areas for growth and development within your current job role.

What skills do you need to further develop throughout the next year? Are there certain technical skills or content areas where you’d like to stretch yourself? For example, perhaps you’d like to work on your public speaking skills and can identify opportunities to make presentations to clients or at a professional conference. Another way to determine growth areas is to look at the next level/job role above you. If you’d eventually like to get promoted into a higher-level position, what experiences or skills must you gain in order to be qualified for that job role?

Write your own goals.

Come up with 3-5 goals (along with specific action items under each goal) for your job role based on your job description, your organization’s key initiatives, and the areas in which you hope to grow and develop in the coming year. This SMART Goal-Setting Worksheet is a great blueprint to help you get started.

Share with your manager and ask for feedback.

Every manager is different, so you will want to determine the best way share the goals you’ve created with your boss in a way that will be well-received. For example, in a one-on-one conversation, you might say, “I was thinking about the key projects I’ll be working on this upcoming year, along with areas where I’d like to grow my skill set. I thought it’d be helpful to write down some goals and action steps to keep me focused. Could you take a look and see if I’m on the right track? I’d love your feedback.” Ideally this will open the door to continued conversations throughout the year with your manager regarding your progress towards these goals. And who knows, perhaps you’ll inspire your boss, team, and organizational leadership to be more intentional about goal-setting!