The beginning of the New Year is a natural time for looking back and looking forward. If you’re like most IT managers, you’ve got a list in your head of the things you want to get done next year at work. Last week, Artner’s Law discussed ways to avoid obstacles when setting goals. The response to that article and to the survey below demonstrated that we all need a refresher course on establishing effective goals. In this column, I’ll give you more suggestions on how to make those goals happen.

A goal-setting checklist
Setting goals for the coming year is a tricky business. On the one hand, if you don’t invest the time and resources necessary to accurately determine your goals and to follow through, your list will come to nothing. On the other hand, you can’t be a slave to your annual goals because you need to be able to adapt to changing conditions. That caveat aside, here are some suggestions that have helped me in the past.

Triage your own list
Most of us could probably sit down and, without too much trouble, compile a list of 50 improvements we could make to our unit or department over the next 12 months. However, when it comes to identifying these goals, less is definitely more. Limit your list to the three or four most important goals you need to achieve during the coming year.

Align your goals with your budget
It costs money to do almost anything in this world. If you’re not at least looking at your budget when setting your goals, you’re just wasting time. If you need more money to accomplish your goals, campaign for it in the budget process. If more money isn’t available, don’t set goals that presuppose increased funding.

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Get your boss’s buy-in
One of the best ways to build support for your goals is to run them past your boss. Of course, many organizations have a formal goal-setting process around this time of year. But if your firm doesn’t, schedule a meeting with your immediate supervisor and discuss your goals for the New Year, for a couple of reasons.

First, your boss will tell you if your goals are appropriate in light of the organization’s needs. The downside is that you may have to revise your goals after talking with your boss. The upside is that you’ll go into the New Year knowing that you and your boss are on the same page. The second benefit of this discussion is that once your boss knows and approves your goals, he or she is more likely to approve additional resources during the course of the year to meet those goals.

Make your goals measurable
While insisting that your goals be measurable may seem like common sense, technical managers often overlook this aspect of goal setting. How will you know if you achieved your goals if they aren’t in some way quantifiable? For example, rather than setting a goal of “Making internal clients more satisfied with the corporate help desk,” you might establish the following goal: “Increase satisfaction levels by 20 percent on corporate help desk survey.”

As this example illustrates, sometimes setting a measurable goal mandates more resources (in this case, a help desk survey). This is a complicated business. You don’t want to ignore certain areas for your goals because they don’t have established metrics. The good news is that very few areas of management can’t be measured, at least indirectly.

Faithful readers know that I think delegation is the answer to a host of problems, since too many IT managers try to do too much. For reaching your annual goals, it’s particularly important to both get your staff’s understanding and to delegate specific tasks to them. After all, if you could accomplish all your goals without the support of your people, you probably haven’t stretched yourself enough.

Set benchmarks along the way
Don’t wait until next December to measure how you’re doing against your annual goals. Set up interim goals and benchmarks along the way so that you can assess your progress throughout the year. This approach allows you to react to problems as they occur.

Stay flexible
As I said at the outset, you need to be able to adjust your goals to meet the changing needs of the organization. Your goals should be your guide, but you can’t be in thrall to them. When the organization’s needs change, your goals will have to evolve to match.

Setting goals isn’t an exact science. In some organizations, goal setting is mostly a top-down exercise. In your department, by contrast, you might have some of your subordinates help you brainstorm. However you come up with your goals, these suggestions should help you to achieve them.

Join the discussion!

What is your top goal for your department in 2002? How will you measure the results at various milestones? To add to the discussion, post your comment to this article. Each week, the person who provides the best feedback to an Artner’s Law column will win a nifty TechRepublic coffee mug.