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Goal Setting for Accountants 101

Gusto Editors  
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Do you have an action plan for goal setting?

One of the most significant causes of apathy at work lacking goals to achieve. Complacency seems to be the preset mode when thinking about work. Often, it is easier to allow yourself to fall into a pattern rather than setting specific goals and working toward them. If you need an action plan for goal setting or want to create a clear vision of the future, this article is for you. 

We at Gusto are proud to partner with our friends at CPA Academy to bring you the webinar, “A Coaching Experience: Goal Setting.” This webinar dove into the principles of goal setting frameworks to improve your professional and personal life under the guidance of Amber Setter.

Amber Setter is an accountant-turned-professional coach who utilizes her passion for inspiring others to help them become the best possible versions of themselves, inside and out. 

In this article, we will take a close look at your skills and strengths, action plans for goal setting, and goals you can set as an accountant. 

Goal setting 101: overcome your fear and ask questions

The first step when setting any goal is to overcome your fear. In many ways, fear becomes the only thing holding people back in their careers. Fear pushes you into reactive tendencies that keep you from reaching your full potential and deter you from proper goal setting. Three of the most common ways fear manifests itself is through people-pleasing, perfectionism, and allowing intellect to overpower curiosity:

“There are three flavors of fear. One is people-pleasing—saying ‘yes’ to everyone and not saying ‘yes’ to yourself. That’s a problem. Perfectionism and high amounts of intellect versus curiosity [are the other two types of fear]. They are ineffective. You want to dial those down, which is kind of hard in accounting. … If you’re in public accounting, you tend to be a people pleaser because you’re working for many people, and there’s a lot of perfectionism that goes into it. It’s a challenge.”

– Amber Setter
Female business manager talking to an African-American colleague while working in office

After you overcome the fear of beginning the goal planning process, the next hurdle to overcome is indecision. One of the most significant difficulties in planning and goal setting is figuring out where you want to go. An excellent way to defeat indecision is to ask questions that guide you down the career path you want to follow.

“Sometimes the greatest challenge in the goal-setting process is the question, ‘What do I want to work on?’ I have several open-ended questions [for you] that are designed to have you take a step back and [think]. What do you want to work towards? What challenges do you have right now … and where do you want to be more steady? What is the cost of those challenges, and what are you not able to do because of those challenges?”

– Amber Setter

The conclusion of many of these answers comes down to life-work balance. Much of the time, work tends to become the overpowering side of this balance. Work becomes the boss of your life instead of having a balance of work and free time. The resulting imbalance creates many of the challenges faced daily:

“One area that’s very common [for challenges] in a high-demand profession is a work-life balance or work-life integration. The challenges are that you are working too many hours and don’t have enough freedom or time with family. … You are unable to go on vacation or pick your child up from school. … The ripple effect of that challenge might be showing up in the family. … All of that responsibility falls to your partner, and that’s uncomfortable.”

– Amber Setter

To counteract fear and the pressures of working in a high-stress environment, ask yourself, “What do I want instead?” You may not have the easiest path to reach your destination, but with proper planning and goal setting, the reward is worth the work. 

Develop a future vision to overcome challenges

Creating an action plan for the future is vital when setting goals. When you acknowledge what you want instead of imbalance, the next step is to look toward the future. Asking yourself how you want life to change is a great place to start when thinking about plans.

“What do you want to do instead? Life is what we make it. I have re-designed my life many times, and it’s not easy because, usually, you have to take the life you had and dismantle it. You may think, ‘Destruction’s not good,’ but it gives you a fresh start. A really powerful question [in goal setting] is, ‘If you had a magic wand, what else would you create?’”

– Amber Setter

Sometimes that future requires you to destroy and rebuild life as you know it; sometimes it does not. The only way to know for sure is to look inside yourself and realize your intended result for the future. If that task seems too daunting on your own, professional coaching may offer the support you need to create your vision of the future.

“Professional coaching is all about partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

– Amber Setter
Young woman writing on paper while sitting in front her computer tablet in a modern office

After developing your vision for the future, your next step is to set your goals. Goals vary between individuals, so do not be concerned if your goals are not the same as someone else’s. You are the only person traveling down your path.

Set goals to achieve your intended result

Once your vision is established, take the time to set goals that move you closer to that vision. The best way to set your goals is to make sure they answer the questions you need answered to create your idea of the future. If your vision and goals align with each other, your journey will travel in the right direction.

“Moving along, I have some goals for you to consider. They are things that I’ve worked on with other people and some general language that could help you. Maybe you want to increase your energy, lead a more balanced life, become promoted, take on a new project, or hone some expertise.”

– Amber Setter

Be sure to keep your skills and strengths in mind as you set goals for yourself. You do not want to set an unachievable goal that you are personally not suited to accomplish:

“Think about your own leadership and effectiveness. One tool I recommend when people ask, ‘How can I do that?’ is [the 360 Leadership Circle Profile Tool]. Go out and do a 360 and learn about your leadership effectiveness, then pick an area where you might want to focus.”

– Amber Setter

If you are unsure what your strengths are, a great tool to help you figure them out is the 360 Leadership Circle Profile Tool. The 360 Leadership Circle Profile Tool offers insight into your creative competencies and reactive tendencies to pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses. The results of this assessment will make self-reflection easier and point you in the right direction to set your goals.

Learn more about goal setting and creative competencies 

It may seem daunting to analyze your life and make plans to restructure it. However, your life will benefit when you focus on your strengths and construct your future vision around them. When you play off of your strengths, you gain the ability to step into the unknown and amplify your dreams.

“Ask yourself, ‘If I could do anything with my life, what would I do?’ That’s the place to spend a lot more time getting into SMART goal stuff. It’s the big picture of, ‘What’s going to be worth my energy and the investment of my time that will make a big difference?’ One of the things I try to do is get people out of their comfort zone and amplify their dreams. … What I want you to do is magnify and amplify that goal.”

– Amber Setter

If you would like to learn more about the SMART goals, be sure to look into our article highlighting that process here. You can also check out the entire webinar to learn how creative competencies can shape your mindset to gain more control over your life. Additionally, be sure to look into Part One of this webinar series to gain even more insight into how you can be intentional with the steps you take in your career. 

Our mission at Gusto is to help accountants and their clients gain peace of mind while on their financial journey. We partner with over 4,500 firms nationwide to promote financial security and develop a culture of empowerment in the office. Be sure to look into our People Advisory Program to learn how to connect with your clients beyond their finances. We also provide a partner blog full of resources for all your advising needs. Visit our Gusto for Accountants page for more information on utilizing people-based accounting within your firm.

Updated: March 31, 2022

Gusto Editors
Gusto Editors

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