Setting Goals: Guide

Setting goals is crucial for personal and professional development providing a roadmap for success. This guide aims to help managers better set goals to improve employers’ performance and guide conversations between managers and their direct reports.

Why are Goals Important?

Direction and Focus: Goals provide clarity and direction, helping you define what you want to achieve. They act as a compass, guiding your efforts and decision-making towards a specific outcome. Without clear goals, you may feel lost or lack a sense of purpose.

Motivation and Inspiration: Goals provide a source of motivation and inspiration. When you set a meaningful goal, it creates a sense of excitement and enthusiasm. Having something to strive for keeps you motivated, focused, and committed to taking action, even during challenging times.

Measurable Progress: Well-defined goals allow you to track your progress and measure your achievements. By breaking down larger goals into smaller, manageable tasks, you can monitor your advancement and celebrate milestones along the way. Seeing your progress can boost your confidence and drive you forward.

Prioritization and Time Management: Goals help you prioritize your tasks and allocate your time effectively. When you have clear objectives, you can identify what is most important and focus your energy on activities that align with your goals. This helps prevent wasting time on less significant tasks or getting distracted by irrelevant pursuits.

Personal Growth and Development: Setting goals encourages personal growth and development. It pushes you outside your comfort zone, challenges your abilities, and fosters continuous learning. As you work towards your goals, you acquire new skills, gain experience, and broaden your knowledge, which contributes to self-improvement.

Overcoming Obstacles: Goals provide a framework for overcoming obstacles and setbacks. When you encounter difficulties or face roadblocks, having a defined goal gives you the determination and resilience to persist. You can reassess your strategies, adapt your approach, and find alternative solutions to overcome challenges.

Accountability and Commitment: Setting goals holds you accountable for your actions. By setting specific targets and deadlines, you create a sense of responsibility to follow through and take consistent steps towards your goals. Sharing your goals with others or seeking support from mentors and peers can further enhance your commitment.

Enhanced Decision-Making: Goals serve as a reference point for decision-making. When faced with choices or opportunities, you can evaluate them against your goals to determine their alignment and potential impact. This helps you make informed decisions that are in line with your aspirations and values.

In summary, setting goals provides direction, motivation, measurement, and a sense of purpose. It empowers you to prioritize effectively, overcome challenges, foster personal growth, and make choices that lead to success and fulfillment.

Goal Categories

Performance/Operational Goal

Outline needed performance and/or operational objectives. These may include ongoing, routine, observable requirements such as timeliness, quality, resources applied, and milestones for completion.

Examples: Maintain a high level of accuracy and attention to detail in data management systems, ensuring that student records, financial transactions, and institutional reports are error-free and comply with relevant regulations and standards.

Project/Initiative Goal

List projects or initiatives that are sub-sets of performance/operational goals.  These are a temporary endeavor with a defined beginning and end. They may cover a span of performance cycles, but are separate from routine work.

Examples: Create a faculty development program focused on integrating experiential learning into the curriculum, with the objective of enhancing students’ practical skills and industry readiness, to be launched by the next academic year.

Competency/Interpersonal Development Goal

Describe desired/needed behavioral, qualitative examples of workplace opportunities, activities, or successes. (E.g., collaboration, initiative, receiving feedback, etc.).

Examples:  For leadership development, actively seek leadership opportunities, such as organizing a professional development workshop, or mentoring junior staff, to develop leadership skills; take courses and training on management/leadership skills and theories.

Professional Development Goal

Describe desired/needed professional development opportunities, relevant certifications, trainings, conferences and continuing professional education within or outside of the department or University.

Examples: To enhance educational technology skills, participate in training programs or workshops focused on leveraging technology tools and systems relevant to program management, such as learning management systems, data analytics software, or project management software, to enhance efficiency and effectiveness in program delivery.

Competencies as Goals

Everyone has the same five core Penn competencies

Each staff member also has five competencies, specific to the job family/job classification. ​

Competency descriptions will vary by the level of the position: ​

  • Entry/Support​
  • Individual Contributor​
  • Supervisor/Manager​
  • Director/Executive

Each competency is rated at the year-end review: ​

  • Needs Improvement​
  • Meets Expectations​
  • Exceeds Expectations​


Using the below guidance can provide simple framework for setting goals