UI’s Keys to Goal Setting

Goal-setting is a big deal at Urban Initiatives. From our internal operations to the curriculum we use with our participants, goal-setting is a skill that receives a lot of attention and we feel like we’ve gotten a pretty good sense of some of the best practices for setting goals to ensure success. We hope that as a member of the Urban Initiatives’ team you feel encouraged by our approach to goal-setting. 

Have you set goals time and time again only to stand by watching as you procrastinate, self-sabotage, or totally miss your mark?

Well, if I can offer you any comfort, let it be this: According to a research study conducted by the University of Scranton, 92% of people never achieve their goals and what’s worse, according to a Harvard study completed by their MBA graduating class of 1979, 84% of people didn’t even set goals to begin with. Goal-setting is a critical component of social emotional learning. It’s difficult to comprehend and even harder to master, requiring self-management skills like impulse control, internal motivation, and managing stress. However, there are three major keys that Urban Initiatives uses to teach (and implement our own!) goal-setting. 

Major Key Number One: Your goal needs to actually be SMART

More often than not, when an individual tries to set a goal there’s a piece of the SMART equation missing. Let’s review the acronym for a moment:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-Sensitive

Your first draft goal is likely missing one of the above attributes. Oftentimes, our goals are too big. When we reach for the stars, it becomes really hard to develop action steps that we can do right now. If we cannot take action today, our goals can wither away under the pressure and confusion of not knowing what to do first or they stall completely out of our impatience and inability to plan for the future and not just think about it. This is why it is important that our goals are time-sensitive. But, this doesn’t mean only setting a deadline for when you will complete your goal. You must also remember to factor in when you will start your goal, as well. An undefined start date can lead to a missed end date.

Break your goal down and be sure to consider each and every aspect of SMART! Your goal has unlimited potential, but you have to feed it and nurture it first!

Major Key Number Two: You’re lacking agency 

Agency refers to the thoughts and actions taken by people that express their individual power.  But, how much power you actually have is dictated by the structure of the setting you are in. Because of this, agency is oftentimes confused with responsibility. For example, at your current place of work, you are responsible for doing a good job with a host of action items. You know the expectations and you understand how to meet them. But, if you are not given the resources and time to meet those expectations, you in fact, do not have agency and therefore cannot do a good job, regardless of the skills and knowledge you possess. 

Ultimately, your agency is your ability to reach your goals without roadblocks getting in your way. The goals you set can be SMART, but if you are met with structural and systematic roadblocks that lessen your agency, it may become exceedingly more challenging for you to reach them. 

With our participants, we work to increase student agency to ensure opportunities for success, but it is equally as important to master the ability to recognize gaps in agency and the ability to advocate for increased agency for oneself. With our staff, we work to build in agency by allowing for greater autonomy and ownership within all roles and by encouraging staff to share if and when their agency is decreased The conversation around agency is a critical component of any conversation about goal-setting, but particularly for Urban Initiatives as we consider how the larger school system, opportunity gaps, and city at large impact goal-setting for our team and the youth we serve.

Major Key Number Three: You’re lacking accountability

Having someone there for you, to give you a swift kick in the butt, may be just what your goal is missing. Let’s face it, we’re busy! We have tons on our plates, and it’s all competing for our attention. Adding in layers of accountability to your goals will take some of the pressure off of you and allow someone else to care about the things you care about.

This is where Urban Initiatives sees the power of supportive teammates! There’s lots of ways to be a good teammate. Three of the most common types of “supporters” are: teachers, consultants, and coaches. Let’s take a closer look:

  • Teaching is when a manager models, guides practice, observes practice and gives performance feedback, and is appropriate when someone has a skill or knowledge gap.
  • Consulting is asking guiding questioning, giving advice, and co-creating, and is appropriate when someone needs a thought partner to help solve problems.
  • Coaching is supporting someone to uncover their internal obstacles and to learn how to manage them, and is appropriate when a manager realizes that skill and knowledge gaps are not the primary obstacle to performance.

Urban Initiatives creates a variety of supportive relationships for our youth. From coaches in school, to bringing teachers on to our team, or engaging families, when we set goals with youth, we ensure they have a vast support network to help them succeed. When we set goals internally for our organization, we are grateful to have the support of our staff, school partners, volunteers, and boards that help to cheer us on, provide advice, and share new resources. 

UI takes goal-setting seriously. From our staff to our participants, we have built a culture of goal-setting, but more importantly of goal achievement! We use these tips to accomplish our own goals and to support our youth as they strive towards their goals. Hopefully, these serve as a great reminder to you to continue to push for your goals and to help others do the same! 

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