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How to Set Goals (Then Achieve Them) Using CliftonStrengths

Setting goals doesn't just happen at the start of a new year, and achieving goals doesn't just happen because you set them. The best goals combine desired outcomes with realistic expectations -- so keep reading to learn how to achieve goals in a way that comes naturally to you.

What Is a Strengths-Based Goal?

A strengths-based goal is focused on positive outcomes -- and is created to cater to your natural talents while still challenging you to use those talents in new ways. You should set goals with your top five CliftonStrengths in mind. If you don't know yours, check out the assessment.

For example, you might say, "I will use my Achiever talents to send an extra 10 emails a day to sales prospects so I can meet my revenue goal this quarter."

Why is it important to set goals with your strengths in mind?

Because far too often, we set goals that are intended to punish ourselves for "poor" behavior, for a talent we don't have or for an accomplishment we haven't achieved.

Strengths-based goals offer a new approach -- one that allows you to look realistically at:

  1. what's important to you
  2. how you want to grow
  3. what changes you want to see

This approach helps you set goals that stretch you, that are exciting and that complement your natural talents.

Smart Goal Setting Begins With a Solid Approach

Set yourself up for success from the beginning by starting with a plan. You might be thinking, OK, so now I have to make a plan for the way that I set my goal, before I actually set the goal? The answer is yes (although that makes it sound like no fun). So, let's break it down:

Your goals should be either action-oriented or outcome-oriented and S.M.A.R.T.


Consider whether your goal is action-oriented or outcome-oriented.

Goals that are action-oriented focus more on the specific steps you'll take to reach them (e.g., "I'm going to work out three times a week"), while outcome-oriented goals could be reached in a number of ways (e.g., "I'm going to lose 10 pounds over the next four months"). This differentiation is important to help you determine what your desired outcomes are and what actions you'll take to get there.


S.M.A.R.T.: This clever acronym has been used for years to set high-quality goals. Your goal should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.

You can use this framework to set new goals or to audit existing ones to ensure they are, indeed, S.M.A.R.T. For a better chance of success, try to make sure your goals meet most (if not all) of these five standards.

Remember: Your goals should be an expression of your strengths -- a reflection of what matters to you, not a punishment or means of negative discipline.

Set Your Goals, Then Add Details

Different talents and motivations play heavily into goal setting. Let's look at an example to inspire some goals to set for yourself -- and to show you how to use your strengths to achieve them. Follow the framework from the section above, and then incorporate your strengths.

Imagine that you're a manager. You've noticed some low engagement on your team recently -- and in speaking with your employees, you've learned that they feel like their efforts and successes aren't being recognized or celebrated. You want to fix this.

Initial goal: Increase the amount of recognition that each individual receives.


Is this action-oriented or outcome-oriented? Identify as either or both.

The outcome of this goal is to increase the amount of recognition each team member receives.


Is your goal S.M.A.R.T.? Add details to help you succeed.


I want to increase the number of times I recognize each employee every month.


I will increase recognition from zero times to three times a month per person. At the end of each quarter, I will ask each employee to describe whether they feel satisfied with the amount of recognition they're receiving -- or desire more.


I will mark notes on my calendar throughout each week and at the conclusion of projects to remind me to reach out to my team, congratulating them on their good work.


My forms of recognition may not always be big, but they can range from a shoutout in front of the whole team to a brief note or email on the side.


I will set aside 10 minutes in my one-on-one meetings with team members to learn what channels of recognition they like best. I want to implement this goal by the end of next month.


Apply your strengths to this goal.

I will use my Individualization and Relator talents to ensure the recognition I give employees is both specific and genuine.

My Activator talents can help me give people recognition in real time so it feels timely and accurate. Instead of waiting for the best time, I can help employees feel appreciated in the moment.

I'll apply my Input talents to reach out and gather information on the most meaningful forms of recognition, and then ask employees how they specifically want to receive that recognition.

New goal: I want to recognize every employee at least three times each month, starting next month. In our one-on-one meetings, I will learn what types of feedback they value most and then follow up with them quarterly to ensure they're receiving the recognition they crave. Using my strengths, I will keep my recognition timely, fair and accurate -- all while ensuring it is unique to them. Calendar reminders will help me stay on track with this goal and give me time to reflect on the individual work of my team members.

What to Do If Goal Setting Doesn't Come Easily for You

We get it -- sometimes setting goals is overwhelming. Maybe you love achieving goals but you prefer when other people set the goals for you.

On the other hand, maybe the idea of goal setting excites you, but you have so many ideas and the possibilities are so limitless that you're not sure where to start.

This is totally normal. Similar to providing the example above, we've created a free, downloadable goal setting template so you have a clear place to start. Either come up with an idea for a new goal or fit an existing goal into this framework.

Remember: Goals can be intense and require massive changes, but they can also be modest and require smaller, incremental changes over an extended period. Take time to set clear goals and then truly commit to them, because committing to a goal moves you from being an observer to being a participant.

Use your strengths to be a participant in your own success. Don't wait for things to happen -- work for them to happen.

More CliftonStrengths Goal Setting Resources

Check out these resources on how to use your strengths to set and achieve your goals.

Why Setting Goals Looks Different Based on Your Strengths

Watch Video on why setting goals looks different based on your strengths.

Two Common Types of Goals to Set

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Reframe Your New Year's Goal Setting by Using Your Strengths

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How to Use Your CliftonStrengths to Set Goals

Watch Video o on using your CliftonStrengths to set goals.

3 Ways to Keep Your Goals Going Using CliftonStrengths

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How to Set Goals that Develop and Serve You

Watch Video on how to set goals that serve you.