Career Planning

Why goal-setting matters

John McGrath, McGrath Real Estate Founder and Executive Director on the importance of goal-setting

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The goal-setting card game

In our work we talk a lot about goal-setting. Why it matters. It’s place in career progression and gaining balance. Yet it’s all very well to talk about setting goals but where to start? How to articulate and prioritise the ones that really matter.

When I started at McCarthy Mentoring my boss handed me a bright orange set of cards the business uses to help clients set goals and asked me to use them to select and prioritise my own goals for the next 12 months. Frankly, on first impression, I wasn’t too sure about the idea. Yet as I went through each card I started to ask myself questions. Did ‘having a leadership role’ matter to me and where did it sit on my top 10 priorities for the year? Even tougher was the question, what strategies do I have to make that happen?

All of sudden I saw why they were so popular. These 60 cards with professional and personal goals – should I even be talking personal with my boss? – were clearly describing what I had struggled to articulate in the past. My challenge was that so many resonated. I started to think about why I was discarding some and retaining others.

I now see the magic of these cards for clients wrestling with what’s next. What’s important? How do I make that decision? It doesn’t matter if they are an engineer, lawyer or artistic director they all find it useful to have a structure to help them discuss their goals and ambitions with their mentors. It starts the process, helps them think more strategically about their career and lives and quickly takes both parties to the important conversations that make the difference.

Mentoring partners also like using the cards to create a framework for their sessions – identifying a goal each month and ensuring they have an action plan to achieve it. Others are encouraged to reflect back to see if they have changed over time.

I am now clear about my top 10 which I’m told means I’m 40% more likely to achieve them. With a mentor or someone to keep me accountable, that increases to 70%. That’s pretty good odds. I encourage you to give them a go.

Click here for further details or to purchase the McCarthy Mentoring one2one goal-setting cards.

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Selling your non-linear career path

Many successful leaders do not have a linear career path. In fact, breadth of experience and exposure to a range of disciplines and industries can be highly valued and lead to fantastic professional opportunities.

However this is not always the case. Sometimes your unusual career path doesn’t tick all the boxes of the hiring manager and they can’t see how your skills and experience can be transferable.

This HBR article offers some useful advice on how to translate your less-traditional career path into a clear story that connects the dots and turns you into a strong candidate. It recommends identifying themes that run through your professional life. Then turning your theme into a story.

It’s a simple idea that can be quite powerful if done well.

Read here: Turning Your Complex Career Path into a Coherent Story by Anna Ranieri, HBR, August 14, 2015.

Related article: How to map out your unique career path by Dev Aujla,,

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Mentorship disruption in action

Having an older and wiser trusted advisor is valuable but have you also considered a mentor who is younger than you?  What about someone who is like you? As Tony Featherstone mentions in this article “having a few mentors from different walks of life rather than always choosing them from the same company or industry, makes sense in a global economy where industry boundaries are blurring.” Read full SMH article here.

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Have “that conversation”: the simplest way to keep your most valuable people

Last week my colleague asked a new client why he was initiating a mentoring program for his firm. He said that he didn’t want to lose his best people simply because no one had had “that conversation”.

She was perplexed “What conversation?”

He explained that when he was a busy senior associate, working long hours and billing above expectations he felt unrecognised and after several job offers from other firms offered his resignation. Clearly they didn’t want him, no one had ever discussed partnership with him and others were making him offers.  The partners of the firm were shocked and immediately made a counter offer.  They claimed they had identified his leadership potential and had been discussing his move to partnership for months; however no one had shared this with him. They’d never had “that conversation”.

Perhaps it was his role to ask the partners for a meeting to discuss his future. Did he think it was inappropriate?  There are some workplace cultures that do not encourage this kind of initiative and employees wait for someone to invite them to have “that conversation”.

He vowed he’d never let this happen in an organisation he ran so ten years on and as Managing Partner, he is offering early career lawyers a more formal channel to discuss and plan their career paths – a mentoring program.

This story highlights some interesting issues that we see recur in so many organisations and are much discussed in mentoring relationships. The grey area of how to secure a promotion, or even discuss your career with your manager, if they never do.  Will you be perceived as pushy and self-promoting or are you missing an opportunity if you don’t take the initiative?

The blunt answer is that no one cares more about your career more than you do, so my advice is to take action and arrange a meeting. In the Managing Partner’s case there was no hidden agenda, the partners just hadn’t discussed their thoughts with him.

Organisations need to ensure there is a transparent process and that it’s someone’s role to recognise and reward their best people. It would seem the natural responsibility of a manager, but somehow it eludes many of us and organisations leak talented, valuable and expensive people for a completely preventable reason.

The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey (sample of 7700 people born after 1982 and based around the world) found that 1 in 4 employees during the next year ‘would quit his or her current employer to join a new organisation or to do something different. That figure increases to 44% when the time frame is expanded to two years’. More concerning is that ‘the least loyal employees are more likely to say that “I’m being overlooked for leadership positions and “My leadership skills are not being fully developed”.   Is this impatience or a sign of neglect?

On the flip side, some organisations really get this stuff right, as they know one of the top reasons people quit their jobs is lack of opportunity to advance and turnover costs are often estimated to be 100% – 300% of that employee’s base salary. Effective leaders know through experience that they can only deliver their vision with the right team around them.  They identify and develop talented people.  They extend them and help them see new and different opportunities and career paths.  They take an interest in their people, listen, understand and support their ambitions. They have “that conversation” and ask people:

  • What’s your career path?
  • Do you see a future for yourself in this business?
  • How can you contribute?
  • What’s your next role? Do you have a plan to get there?
  • How can I help you achieve that?

So if you consider yourself an effective leader or want to be one, then keeping your best performers should be on your “to do” list. You need to be personally involved in and have some understanding of how talent systems work in your organisation. It’s not just HR’s job. These questions might be useful to think about:

  1. How do you identify your top talent?
  2. Can you nominate your next leaders for critical roles?
  3. Are those people aware that they are on a talent list?
  4. How do you develop talent or your high potential people? Leadership & mentoring programs, 360, further study, secondments, sponsors.
  5. Do you have any key challenges in retaining these people?
  6. Do you have a diverse talent pool?
  7. As a leader in your organisation how can you affect these issues?

Organisations are about people and sometimes it’s the simplest gestures, like a regular conversation, that are important.

by Sophie McCarthy, Executive Director

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