Setting Goals & Prioritizing Progress



Goal-setting is an opportunity for collaboration between staff and managers, who bear the responsibility of crystallizing priorities for their teams. This collaboration can lay the foundation for the growth of intrinsic motivation and three of its main components: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Focusing on the “what” (outcomes and outputs) and not the “how” (schedules and “time in the seat”) will ensure everyone has meaningful work no matter where they do that work: full-time on-campus, remote, or hybrid.   

Paved roadway through forest with ups and downs

Many of us are experiencing a range of emotions as we look at the crux of the pandemic in the "rearview mirror." Considering performance goals for the new fiscal year might not be at the forefront of your mind. However, focusing on bite-size goals that can be scaffolded one upon the other may bring structure and accountability to your work in a way that is satisfying and promotes well-being. 

As the global community navigates the enduring challenges of the pandemic and the trauma it wrought, each of us can contribute to finding solutions to the challenges facing Notre Dame as we return to campus as changed people. Research has never been more important, and the University supports research and the opportunities it provides Notre Dame to grow in its mission to be a powerful means for doing good in the world. 

Ask yourself

Use the reflection questions below to identify the most important elements of your work and to narrow down what you can do to excel in your specific role.

  • Sphere of Influence: What is within my ability to control and execute?
  • Focus: Laser in on the “what?” – the outcomes, outputs, and contributions you want to make this year.
  • Help: What support do I need from my manager to accomplish my goals?
  • Backup Plans: What hurdles might I encounter with each goal? Could I write a “plan b” into the goal statement?
  • Wellness: Are my physical, emotional, cognitive, social, spiritual, and environmental needs being met, such that I can dedicate my work time to work? Can my work-life help fill voids in any of these areas (e.g. social - scheduling lunch or a Zoom session with a coworker; spiritual - contacting the faculty or staff chaplaincy; physical/emotional - giving yourself permission for a midday walk, etc.)?
  • Team: How can I contribute to my team? Is there a need everyone on the team has identified? How can I help move us towards a solution?
  • Room for Improvement: Are there processes or procedures in my area that need fixing or could be more inclusive? 

S.M.A.R.T. goals

The point of the S.M.A.R.T. goal template is to assist with creating and meeting your goals, not restricting your creativity or policing your progress.

  • Specific: Descriptive verb and specific result
    • Tip: If the nature of your work has changed, ask your supervisor for help brainstorming specific outcomes.
  • Measurable: Quantity, quality, yes/no
    • Tip: Focus on the what, not the how. Outcomes and outputs instead of minutes per day or days per week.
  • Actionable: Actions within the scope of the job
    • Tip: Let this guideline free you from your own unwieldy expectations!
  • Realistic: Reasonably challenging and achievable
    • Tip: Factor your circumstances into what you can accomplish. Give yourself time, space, and grace to get used to changes in your workspace, your team, and yourself as most of us return to campus.
  • Time-bound: Deadline, milestones, or frequency
    • Tip: Consider short-term goals of 1 month, 3 months, before Thanksgiving, etc.  Make sure to have interim benchmarks so that you can mark your progress more readily.

Goals can be modified through the year so work with your manager to re-orient your expectations if priorities suddenly shift. Well-crafted goals with intermediate milestones will help you recognize your progress and keep you motivated.


Tips for Managers

  • Ask yourself: What makes sense to tackle right now? Have you stepped back to assess your unit-level objectives? Does your team know if any priorities have changed? If your team does not know where you want to go, they cannot help you get there.
  • Provide the division and team objectives to your unit; then allow individuals to draft some of their own goals. Use guided questioning to help staff develop their ideas into goals that excite them and that they can control. It may be tempting to offer suggestions or even provide goal statements, but by using coaching strategies to develop goals, staff will have more ownership of their work.
  • Goal setting is a time to reflect on skill-building. A stretch goal provides the platform for developing mastery. 
  • Encourage staff to break down goals into pieces so that they start with a clear roadmap. Accomplishing small wins will provide a sense of progress, which is imperative to staying motivated and looking forward.
  • Ask your staff to identify the tools and support they will need to accomplish their goals. Once you know that the foundation for success is in place, let them take off! This empowerment is what fosters innovative and creative thinking.
  • Encourage staff to create plans for pivoting. Ask: How will you accomplish “b” if “a” can’t happen? And incorporate the backup plan into the goal statement. Flexibility and adaptability are just as valuable this year as during the crux of the pandemic. 

If you have questions or ideas for additional resources in this playbook, please contact the Director of Finance and Administration