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John emerged from his annual performance

The role of goal setting review feeling confident. A 32-year-old senior

computer programmer, John had just finished
in career management discussing his career plans with Mary, his
supervisor. John’s goals were crystal clear:
(1) systems analyst within a year;
(2) systems project leader in another two
years; and
Jeffrey H. Greenhaus, (3) head of the information systems depart-
Gerard A. Callanan ment within five years.

and Eileen Kaplan Mary was impressed with John’s clear think-
ing, as well as his concrete plans for accom-
plishing his goals. In fact, John was impressed
with himself, as he remembered the words of
the company’s director of human resources:
“If you don’t know where you want to go,
The authors
you’ll never get there”. No way will John float
Jeffrey H. Greenhaus is Professor of Management at aimlessly through his career!
Drexel University, Philadelphia, USA. Michele, on the other hand, was more than
Gerard A. Callanan is Assistant Vice-President at The a little concerned. A programmer colleague of
Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, USA. John, Michele was confused. She was not only
Eileen Kaplan is Professor of Management at Montclair unsure of her future in the information sys-
State University, New Jersey, USA. tems department, but also was beginning to
question whether she even wanted to remain
Abstract in the systems area. More and more, she
Examines the conditions under which career goal setting found herself thinking about a career in mar-
contributes to effective career management. Views career keting management, although she had no idea
management as a process by which individuals can make why. At age 35, Michele should have a firmer
informed decisions regarding their work lives. Highlights grip on her career, her supervisor commented
the role of the career goal in the career management to the department head. And Michele agreed!
process, and identifies the useful features of the goal- “What is wrong with me?” she wondered on
setting process. Reviews the concepts of career indecision more than one occasion.
and career decidedness, and specifies four subtypes – It is generally assumed that career goal
developmental indecision, chronic indecision, hyper- setting is beneficial, if not essential, to
vigilant decidedness, and vigilant decidedness. Discusses employees and their organizations. A career
the implications for organizations and their employees. goal can signify that an employee has a clear
picture of his or her future, and it can provide
a target that guides one’s actions towards the
satisfaction of important needs. Moreover,
from the organization’s perspective, a career
goal is thought to promote effective job per-
formance and can serve as a basis for effective
human resource planning. It is no wonder that
career planning programmes generally
include career goal setting as a central activity.
Most readers may congratulate John on his
decisiveness and chide Michele on her indeci-
sion. Certainly, social wisdom assumes that it
is better for employees to have a targeted
career goal towards which to strive than to
flounder in a sea of uncertainty.
Yet this assumption is being questioned
along several fronts. Hall and Richter[1]
The International Journal of Career Management
Volume 7 · Number 5 · 1995 · pp. 3–12 contend that long-term career planning may
© MCB University Press · ISSN 0955-6214 be unrealistic in today’s world. They argue
The role of goal setting in career management The International Journal of Career Management
Jeffrey H. Greenhaus, Gerard A. Callanan and Eileen Kaplan Volume 7 · Number 5 · 1995 · 3–12

persuasively that the turbulence experienced informed decisions regarding their work
by many organizations renders useless the lives[2]. This model of career management
traditional conception of career planning – a portrays how people should manage their
long-term series of career goals and strategies. careers, not necessarily how they do manage
Moreover, a specific career goal can create them. According to this perspective, individu-
tunnel vision, leaving employees so commit- als should engage in various forms of career
ted to a particular course of action that they exploration in order to enhance their aware-
resist new information regarding the viability ness of themselves (values, interests, talents,
of the goal[2]. Indeed, people can be so dri- and preferred lifestyle) and their environment
ven by the desire to accomplish a concrete (occupations, jobs, career paths, organiza-
goal that they lose flexibility and adaptabil- tions, industries, and family constraints). This
ity[3]. Therefore, we must consider whether a heightened awareness of self and environment
career goal is helpful or unnecessarily restric- should enable individuals to set realistic
tive, and whether employees who pursue career goals that are compatible with their
specific career objectives are better off than personal qualities which, in turn, should aid
those who do not. the development and implementation of
We believe that the usefulness of a specific appropriate career strategies or action plans.
career goal depends on the circumstances. The implementation of a career strategy
There are times when career goal setting is should provide feedback regarding progress
beneficial, and there are times when it is towards achieving the career goal, as well as
useless or even harmful. In this article, we will additional information concerning the appro-
examine our view of the career management priateness of the strategy and the career goal
process, discuss the relevance of career goal itself. Career appraisal, the ongoing utiliza-
setting to career management, give an tion of career-related feedback, perpetuates
overview of the concept of adult career indeci- the career management cycle.
sion, and identify those circumstances under What are the signals that a person is man-
which career goals can enhance or impede aging his or her career effectively? Certainly,
career growth and development. We close the advancement in rank, money, status, or power
article by presenting a number of implications does not, in and of itself, reflect effective
of our views for organizations and their career management, since these outcomes can
employees. be attained by individuals whose work life
brings dissatisfaction and unhappiness. The
external trappings of “success” tell us little
The career management process
about the appropriateness of career decisions.
Career management, depicted in Figure 1, is Rather, effective career management can be
the process by which individuals can make assessed by applying two criteria:

Figure 1 Model of career management

Information, opportunities, and support from educational, family, work, and societal institutions

Need to make

Career Awareness of self Goal

exploration and environment setting

Career Feedback:
appraisal work/non-work

Progress Strategy Strategy

towards goal implementation development

The role of goal setting in career management The International Journal of Career Management
Jeffrey H. Greenhaus, Gerard A. Callanan and Eileen Kaplan Volume 7 · Number 5 · 1995 · 3–12

(1) Has the individual made career decisions technological changes may eliminate old
that are compatible with his or her values, career paths in favour of new options. Merg-
talents, interests, and lifestyle prefer- ers, acquisitions, and corporate downsizing
ences?; and can severely restrict an employee’s advance-
(2) Can the individual adapt to changes in ment opportunities and, at the extreme, can
him/herself and the environment that eliminate his or her current position. Other
threaten the compatibility of career expe- sweeping environmental changes – such as the
riences with values, talents, interests, and modification of retirement regulations, the
lifestyle preferences? institution of a corporate affirmative action
programme, or the career demands of a
We examine these criteria in more depth.
spouse or partner – can influence the career
First, extensive research in vocational and
opportunities or restrictions experienced by
organizational behaviour has demonstrated
an employee. Again, effective career manage-
the importance of compatibility or “fit”
ment requires periodic adaptation to chang-
between a person’s work experiences and his ing circum-stances to maintain or improve the
or her underlying personal qualities. For compatibility between the employee and his
example, employees who work on jobs that or her work experiences.
support personal values and that involve tasks In summary, career management is an
that are intrinsically interesting are more ongoing decision-making process designed to
satisfied with their jobs and are more commit- promote employee wellbeing through com-
ted to their organizations than employees patibility of work experiences with personal
whose jobs are incompatible with their values qualities. Information is acquired, awareness
and interests[4]. Moreover, compatibility is heightened, goals are set, strategies are
between the demands of the job and the implemented, feedback is utilized, and adap-
employee’s talents and abilities enhances job tation is sought.
performance[5]. In addition, jobs and careers
that permit an employee to achieve a pre-
ferred lifestyle – effectively balancing work The role of goal setting in career
and non-work activities – can reduce stress management
and promote wellbeing[6]. In short, person- Central to the career management process,
job compatibility has been found as a reliable and the primary subject of this article, is the
indicator of effective career management. role of goal setting in career management. A
However, we know that people change and career goal can clarify thinking, motivate and
develop over the course of their lives, not only direct behaviour, and serve as a basis for the
through such dramatic events as family crises development of a career strategy. For exam-
and health problems, but in more subtle and ple, John’s career goals, described at the
evolutionary ways as well[7]. Values held beginning of the article, provided him with
dearly at age 25 may seem less important at specific targets towards which to strive,
age 45. Interests that lay dormant during early and suggested action plans to achieve his
adulthood may become increasingly com- aspirations. In pursuit of his short-term career
pelling during middle and late adulthood. goal – to achieve the position of systems ana-
The centrality of work so characteristic of lyst – John may decide to take extra courses on
ambitious young women and men can be systems design, he may attempt to learn more
replaced over time by a need to balance com- about the workings of the organization as a
mitments to different facets of one’s life. whole, and/or he may try to improve his com-
People who manage their careers effectively munication and group leadership skills.
are sensitive to such changes in themselves, Moreover, because of its concrete nature, a
and are sufficiently flexible to make career career goal can serve as a feedback and con-
decisions that are more compatible with their trol mechanism, providing information to the
emerging selves. For example, employees may employee on whether his or her career
seek a job transfer, change employers, progress is “on target”. John may speak with
redesign their jobs, or cut down on their work his supervisor Mary about the appropriate-
involvement in response to these internal ness of his goal and his overall progress. He
changes. can seek feedback on the usefulness of the
Additionally, employees’ environments systems design courses or his success in
are subject to periodic change. Rapid improving his communication skills. In light
The role of goal setting in career management The International Journal of Career Management
Jeffrey H. Greenhaus, Gerard A. Callanan and Eileen Kaplan Volume 7 · Number 5 · 1995 · 3–12

of his experiences, he can reflect on whether not “belong” to somebody else. Often
the position of systems analyst is still a people set career goals to please some
meaningful objective for him. A career goal, in other person, not necessarily to meet their
other words, can organize thought, direct personal needs. The chemistry major who
action, and serve as a monitoring device to selects medicine to please a parent, the
assess progress and identify obstacles to scientist who selects a management track
future satisfaction. to satisfy a boss, the attorney who takes a
Yet career goal setting is not without its position with a prestigious Wall Street
critics. Consider the following objections: firm to please a spouse, are all pursuing
• Everything is changing so rapidly in today’s someone else’s conception of what is best
world that it is impossible to plan one’s for them. People who choose career goals
career and set meaningful career goals. for that reason are courting disaster,
• The pursuit of a career goal encourages because such goals are unlikely to satisfy
rigidity and inflexibility that does not personal values and aspirations.
permit adaptation to change. (2) Individuals should have a dual concern
• An employee pursuing a career goal is so for present satisfaction and future satis-
preoccupied with the future that little faction. Employees who focus exclusively
attention is given to (and little satisfaction on the future and who see every job and
is derived from) performance on the cur- work activity merely as preparation for
rent job. some later assignment will probably have
• With the glut of baby boomers in the job difficulty enjoying their work. Planning
market and the trend towards corporate for the future is fine, but an absolute
downsizing and re-engineering, there are preoccupation with the future can be
fewer advancement opportunities, fewer unhealthy. There is no substitute for
goals to achieve, and therefore greater doing work that is interesting and person-
potential for career frustration. ally meaningful. Most employees can
We believe that these objections are based on accept brief periods of uninteresting or
two common misconceptions about the unimportant tasks in the service of a
nature of a career goal: first, that a career goal longer-term goal. However, when boring
necessarily represents a particular target job or distasteful work becomes the rule
that an employee is striving to attain; and rather than the exception, then the future
second, that a career goal serves primarily as a is dictating the present and satisfaction is
stepping stone to attain higher-level jobs in replaced by anticipation.
the future. (3) One’s career goals should incorporate
In reality, career goals can be less specific total lifestyle concerns. Effective career
and instrumental. Indeed, a career goal can, management requires an understanding
and often should, be a more general guide for of the relationship between an employee’s
the future, summarizing nothing more than work life and his or her family and per-
the broad-based work experiences an employ- sonal life. Many people pursue a career
ee wishes to attain. In this sense, the career goal without regard for its influence on
goal is a map of the future that takes into the different facets of their lives. Work can
account the tasks that one finds enjoyable and often require an extensive time commit-
satisfying, that provide appropriate rewards, ment that conflicts with other aspects of
and that permit one to achieve a desired our existence, including time for family,
lifestyle. Thus, it is our view that individuals leisure, community service, and self-
should have a balanced concern for the con- development. An employee’s career goal
crete, instrumental aspects of a career goal, as should take into account the balance that
well as for the conceptual and less specific the employee desires between work and
side. non-work involvements. This requires
Taking into account the prior research on considerable insight regarding the effect
career goals, we can offer several prescriptions of pursuing a particular career goal on
for when career goal setting is most useful. one’s family and personal life, as well as
(1) One should set career goals that are com- the consequences of family and personal
patible with personal values, talents, factors on the likelihood of attaining a
interests, and preferred lifestyle, and do career goal.
The role of goal setting in career management The International Journal of Career Management
Jeffrey H. Greenhaus, Gerard A. Callanan and Eileen Kaplan Volume 7 · Number 5 · 1995 · 3–12

(4) The employee should be flexible with specify a career objective at the present time.
regard to career planning. Since people Who is better off?
can become overly committed to a con- Recent research suggests that there are
crete objective, a thorough re-evaluation different subtypes of career indecision/career
of career goals is often difficult. Yet flexi- decidedness[8]. Figure 2 presents a matrix
bility is essential for effective career man- that illustrates these four subtypes.
agement. Career values and interests can Developmental indecision (upper left
change over time, talents can blossom panel) occurs when an employee experiences
with experience or maturity, and the indecision primarily because of a general lack
salience of family or personal interests of information. Our research shows that
developmentally undecided employees tend
can wax or wane over the course of a
to be younger (20s and early 30s), and in
lifetime. Any of these shifts can signal the
comparison with the decided groups, have
need to re-examine and revise one’s
more limited knowledge about themselves
career goal. People need to be sufficiently
and the work environment. In addition,
flexible to understand that their underly-
because of their ages, they tend to experience
ing needs and values can be met through
extensive family demands.
a variety of different positions and organi- We refer to the second career indecision
zations. subtype as chronic indecision (upper right
panel). This form of indecision represents a
Career indecision more persistent inability to set career goals.
We have found that chronically undecided
One of the major messages of this article is employees are comparatively older than their
that properly set career goals can promote developmentally undecided counterparts, and
career growth and satisfaction. From this display lower self-confidence, experience
central theme, two questions arise: more extensive fear and anxiety regarding
(1) it can be asked whether the setting of their decision making, and confront more
career goals is always appropriate; and extensive situational constraints than their
(2) what happens when individuals have developmentally undecided colleagues.
difficulty setting goals for themselves? The bottom half of the matrix shows two
types of career decidedness. Consistent with
The concept of career indecision can help us
the Janis and Mann[9] typology of decision
answer these questions and can give guidance
making, hypervigilant employees (lower right
on the conditions under which the establish-
panel) have selected a career goal, but their
ment of a career goal is useful, as well as when decision is based on insufficient knowledge of
it might be dysfunctional.
Career indecision (and its mirror image Figure 2 Subtypes of employee career decision making
career decidedness) refers to the absence (or
presence) of a career goal, as well as the
degree of certainty attached to the goal.
Employees are “career undecided” if they
have either: No Developmental Chronic
Selection of a career goal?

• not established a career goal; or

• established a goal with which they experi-
ence substantial uncertainty and discom-

Employees are “career decided” if they have Yes Vigilant Hypervigilant

established a career goal with which they
experience relative certainty and comfort.
Turning back to the examples cited at the
beginning of the article, John seems to be Low High
Decision making anxiety/pressure
“career decided” because he has selected a
career goal (systems analyst) with which he Source: This classification scheme is based on the findings of
Callanan and Greenhaus [8]
seems comfortable, whereas Michele is
“career undecided” because she is unable to
The role of goal setting in career management The International Journal of Career Management
Jeffrey H. Greenhaus, Gerard A. Callanan and Eileen Kaplan Volume 7 · Number 5 · 1995 · 3–12

themselves and/or their organizational envi- starting out on some new career path as a
ronment. In such situations, the career goal realistic option. But she is clearly not happy in
may have been hastily contrived as a response her present position.
to the extensive pressure, anxiety, and stress Coming out of a prestigious business
experienced by the individual. Unlike the school five years ago with an MBA, Ted
chronically undecided individual who immediately set career goals for himself, with
responds to extensive stress by postponing a an exact time frame for moving up the corpo-
career decision, the hypervigilant individual rate ladder. He has advanced pretty much in
prematurely rushes into a decision in response line with his goals, but the personal toll has
to extensive stress or other factors. been heavy. He just cannot seem to find time
for his family, and his wife has started talking
about a divorce. He envies other fathers who
‘…research indicates that vigilant career
are actively involved in their children’s activi-
decision making produces positive
ties. Ted has yet to recognize that his decision
work attitudes and least stress…’
to get an MBA and place himself on the fast-
track may have been inconsistent with his real
Vigilant employees (lower left panel) also have values.
selected a career goal. However, unlike their Kathy is pleased with her job as a sales
hypervigilant counterparts, their selection is manager. She is certain that her progress and
based on sufficient personal and environmen- her satisfaction are the products of her thor-
tal information and is made with a compara- ough approach to setting goals for herself.
tively lower level of stress and anxiety. Consis- Even back in college, Kathy was careful in her
tent with this reasoning, our research indi- selection of marketing as her major. She had
cates that vigilant career decision making participated in workshops that helped her
produces the most positive work attitudes and learn more about her interests and talents.
the least stress for the employee. Kathy also spent time talking with her family
An example of each subtype follows: and friends to find out more about different
At age 24, Kevin has been out of college for lines of work. All the information that she
two years. On graduation, he had taken his gathered indicated that the sales area was
current position as a junior underwriter with a right for her. Once in her career, Kathy con-
large insurance company, mainly because the tinued to be conscientious in her decision
number of available jobs for general business making. Her move into sales management was
majors was slim. Kevin really is not sure what again in line with her interests and lifestyle
he wants to do with his career. He has started preferences, and she pursued education and
going to the library to learn more about differ- experiences that facilitated her entry into the
ent occupations and industries and has asked management ranks.
his friends and family for advice. Next week In the first example, Kevin can be viewed
he will be attending a company-sponsored as developmentally undecided. Although he
career development workshop where they use does not currently have a career goal, he is
different self-assessment instruments to allow actively gathering information and exploring
participants to discover more about them- different types of jobs. In contrast, Joyce
selves. Kevin actively wants to get a fix on seems to be chronically undecided or indeci-
where he should be taking his career. sive. She has shown a persistent inability to set
Joyce’s career has been floundering for a career goals, resulting from high degrees of
number of years. At 36, Joyce has held a decision-making anxiety. Ted looks to be
number of different jobs over the past 15 hypervigilant in his career decision making.
years, none of which represented what she While he has established career goals, they
saw as a “career track” position. Presently she have been at odds with his true interests and
is working as a customer service representa- preferences. He had set goals for himself
tive, but she really does not like the constant without considering fully the personal and
dealing with other people’s problems. Joyce environmental information available and
has always had trouble setting goals for her- succumbing to social pressure. Finally, we
self. Whenever an important decision needs view Kathy as representing the vigilant sub-
to be made, Joyce gets anxious and “freezes type. She has been thorough in setting her
up”, leaving her unable to make a commit- career goals, careful to consider her own
ment. Because of her age, Joyce does not see personal desires and preferences. She has
The role of goal setting in career management The International Journal of Career Management
Jeffrey H. Greenhaus, Gerard A. Callanan and Eileen Kaplan Volume 7 · Number 5 · 1995 · 3–12

taken time to gather relevant information within organizations. The following experi-
about herself and her environment before ences can all serve as potential learning:
setting her career goals and undertaking • effective performance appraisal and feed-
related strategies. back systems;
As these scenarios suggest, the usefulness • education and training activities;
of a career goal is contingent on the circum- • temporary assignments;
stances at a particular point in a person’s life. • job changes and;
Goals that are compatible with personal • an expansion of the current job.
qualities can be set only when the employee is
Employees can gain most effectively from
aware of values, talents, interests, and pre-
these activities when they have an opportunity
ferred lifestyle, accepts these qualities as
to discuss the insights they have acquired with
legitimate, and is aware of the opportunities
other knowledgeable people, especially their
available in the environment. Career goals
own manager.
should not be set until the employee is suffi-
ciently aware of self and environment to make
Facilitate an awareness of the
a valid decision. Thus, there can be times
during a person’s life when indecision and
Extensive information about the environment
uncertainty are appropriate responses to
is necessary to set realistic and appropriate
personal and environmental conditions[2].
career goals. What rewards are associated with
When individuals lack sufficient information
a market research position? How much travel
and insight, developmental indecision is
is required for a product manager in this
appropriate and hypervigilance is inappropri-
company? What skill areas are most critical
for success as a sales manager? What is this
It is apparent that career exploration
company going to look like in one to two years
should precede the establishment of a career
or five to ten years?
goal, since it is through career exploration that
An organization can promote an awareness
employees gather information about them-
of the environment by providing employees
selves and learn more about their options.
with access to key information about alterna-
With this increased information base, employ-
tive jobs in the organization, such as duties,
ees hopefully can set realistic career goals that
responsibilities, required skills, travel, and
are consistent with personal values and aspira-
time commitment pressures. This requires the
tions and with environmental conditions.
organization itself to understand the behav-
ioural requirements of different jobs and
Implications for organizations and their career fields so that this information can be
employees provided to employees. Additionally, the
organization should communicate its mission,
Employees who set career goals in a vigilant
structure, and culture to employees who are
manner – based on insights into themselves
trying to determine the presence of a fit
and their alternatives as well as a balanced
between the organization’s needs and their
concern for their present and their future –
should have the greatest likelihood for pro-
In today’s decentralized environment, it is
ductive and satisfying careers. Organizations
likely that many employees will move outside
can promote a vigilant approach to career goal
their functional areas for their next jobs.
setting in a number of ways.
Networking – either through formal or infor-
mal corporate sponsorship – encourages
Facilitate self-awareness employees to broaden their horizons with
Reasonable and appropriate career goals are regard to setting future career goals. An alter-
unlikely to be developed without a foundation native is to provide exposure through ad hoc
of accurate information regarding one’s tal- groups or task forces as well as temporary
ents, values, interests, and lifestyle prefer- positions and/or lateral moves. These oppor-
ences. Organizations can promote self-aware- tunities provide a flexible approach for
ness by providing career counselling and employees to learn about other areas and
sponsoring career-planning activities. How- functions of the organization. Such activities
ever, considerable self-insight can also be have been found to be particularly helpful for
derived from everyday work experiences women and minorities who may be less likely
The role of goal setting in career management The International Journal of Career Management
Jeffrey H. Greenhaus, Gerard A. Callanan and Eileen Kaplan Volume 7 · Number 5 · 1995 · 3–12

than white males to have had effective spon- ee may be reluctant to make any career deci-
sorship. sion for fear of making a poor one. The
employee may claim that more information is
Encourage experimentation needed to make a decision (more testing,
Much learning about oneself and the environ- more counselling, more course work, more
ment comes from active experimentation. stability in the industry), when in reality no
People can learn a great deal from taking on amount of additional information is likely to
new roles. A financial analyst or a salesperson move the employee closer to a decision.
contemplating a move into management We are not suggesting that managers
should be encouraged to incorporate manage- become therapists, but rather that they probe
rial responsibilities into his or her current job, the basis for employees’ indecision and rec-
perhaps through a special assignment or ommend appropriate courses of action. For
project. Experimentation can also take the example, since chronically undecided
form of seeking information from previously employees tend to be anxious and lack confi-
unfamiliar sources. Speaking with a counsel- dence in their decision making, they
lor about a career dilemma, joining a support might benefit from career counselling on a
group for newly-transferred employees, one-to-one basis as a supplement to
attending a seminar on marketing in the company-sponsored workshops. Since chron-
financial services industry, or enrolling in a ically undecided individuals may also mani-
graduate course or programme can all stimu- fest high levels of life stress, a critical aspect of
late an employee to think about his or her counselling is to determine whether part of
future from a different perspective. the problem involves a need for a more com-
prehensive form of support, such as financial
Respond to chronic indecision management skills or stress reduction before
Our prior suggestions are based on one rather undertaking any career goal setting. In short,
critical assumption: that the undecided simply providing more information to chroni-
employee needs simply to learn more about cally undecided employees may lack utility.
him/herself, the environment, or alternative
courses of action – that is, the employee is Discourage career hypervigilance
“developmentally” undecided. Perhaps recent Hypervigilant employees tend to make career
changes in an employee’s work situation, decisions in a reactive mode without adequate
family pressures, or career interests triggered time for reflection, preparation, and thinking
a re-evaluation of his or her future. Or through their options and alternatives. Often
changes in one’s personal life (ageing and this results in a decision that is not compatible
feelings of mortality), work environment with the employee’s values, talents, and inter-
(merger or acquisition, change in corporate ests, thereby setting up a cycle of dissatisfac-
strategy), or family environment (empty nest, tion or failure. For such individuals, getting
spouse’s career aspirations) have produced away from everyday pressures and concerns to
major uncertainties regarding career aims. have proper time to reflect is critical. Effective
Career indecision in the face of such changes career management programmes that enable
suggests that an adaptive, developmental these employees to distinguish between the
process is helpful in achieving career decided- different dimensions of career goals can be
ness. particularly helpful. As they reflect on what
However, as noted earlier, some employees may be truly fitting choices and goals, some
may be indecisive about making a career combination of seminars, workshops, com-
decision because of an extraordinarily high puter-based programs, and individual coun-
level of anxiety and stress surrounding the selling may be especially useful.
decision-making process. Managers should
learn to recognize when indecision about a Benefits to the organization
career goal represents a kind of chronic inde- While it may be desirable for employees to set
cisiveness and paralysis. Observations about realistic career goals, there has to be some
prior career moves might be helpful in this tangible benefit for the organization to pro-
respect. In addition, discussions with the mote such activities. One major incentive for
employee about his or her career attitudes an organization to encourage career goal
might reveal a considerable degree of stress setting is that its employees learn to take
about making a career decision. The employ- responsibility for their careers. A second
The role of goal setting in career management The International Journal of Career Management
Jeffrey H. Greenhaus, Gerard A. Callanan and Eileen Kaplan Volume 7 · Number 5 · 1995 · 3–12

advantage is that when employees become promote career management across the vari-
involved in career goal setting they are likely ous hierarchical levels of the organization.
to become more highly skilled and more The best way to ensure this is to incorporate
useful to the organization. subordinate career growth into each manag-
Moreover, many career goal-setting pro- er’s reward system. In light of our previous
grammes include analyses of employees’ skills discussion, the most appropriate criterion to
not only by the individuals themselves but apply is not whether the subordinate has set a
also by their superiors and/or peers. Under- career goal or is ready for a promotion but
standing how others view their strengths and whether the subordinate is being encouraged
weaknesses further encourages employees to to explore him/herself and the environment
improve, particularly when these views do not and is being provided with useful feedback,
threaten their self-concept. Taking stock of guidance, and support.
one’s plans can aid in determining what types Finally, it is important for organizational
of training and development activities are managers to recognize the need for consisten-
needed. Such activities should be viewed in a cy between the strategic needs of the company
positive light as they frequently result in more on the one hand and the career management
highly skilled employees. And in the event of a practices used by the firm on the other. More
downsizing, the employee has a “skills portfo- precisely, an organization’s business strategies
lio” to take along to another job or organiza- and other competitive factors will normally
tion. dictate the type and level of individuals who
are employed. The career management prac-
tices described in this article can help fulfil
‘…career goal setting is often in the best
these human resource needs by linking indi-
interests of the employee and the
vidual aspirations with organizational staffing
Knowledge of individual career goals can
For these reasons, career goal setting is often also aid senior organizational managers in the
in the best interests of the employee and the critical task of succession planning. Individu-
organization. Although there are certainly als with career goals that fit the demands of
risks to the individual (e.g. disappointment) top management positions can be targeted
and the organization (the potential loss of and groomed for these posts. Thus, a compa-
talented individuals), we would argue that the ny can take advantage of the embedded
advantages justify the risks. As with any devel- knowledge of its existing personnel by deploy-
opment programme, support from the organi- ing them in areas and in jobs that mesh with
zation’s top management is necessary for individual aspirations in the form of career
success. Of particular importance is the cre- goals. Without knowing individual differ-
ation of a work climate where individuals feel ences, organizations are apt to make unwar-
safe enough to engage in career goal setting. ranted or haphazard job assignments.
All too often in today’s business environment, In closing, we believe that organizations
employees are not willing to openly voice an and their employees can benefit from well-
interest in the subject. Many believe that an designed and maintained career management
interest in future career plans calls into ques- programmes. We have articulated how career
tion their loyalty to their present position and goals that are the product of a thorough
boss. In other cases, senior executives make assessment of one’s own interests, talents, and
positive statements about career issues while lifestyle preferences, as well as an examination
their managers ignore them in practice. of the work environment, can produce posi-
In our view, it is important for companies tive work attitudes. We also stated that career
and their managers to show a strong commit- goals which are set without benefit of this
ment to continued employee development thorough assessment can be counter-produc-
through career planning. Even under turbu- tive. Organizations that implement career
lent conditions, employees should be expect- management programmes to help individuals
ed to consider options and alternatives. All explore themselves and their work environ-
too often, however, managers believe that ment can reap rewards in the form of poten-
while they are encouraged to develop their tially more productive employees and a more
employees, they themselves are forgotten. efficient matching of employee desires with
Therefore, it is important for organizations to corporate human resource requirements.
The role of goal setting in career management The International Journal of Career Management
Jeffrey H. Greenhaus, Gerard A. Callanan and Eileen Kaplan Volume 7 · Number 5 · 1995 · 3–12

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