What are some characteristics of strong R&D goals?

Five ACS Career Consultants share their approaches
Industry Matters Newsletter
Andreea Argintaru, Principal Scientist, Axalta Coating Systems
Andreea Argintaru, Principal Scientist, Axalta Coating Systems

R&D goals are usually set-up at a higher level, then cascaded to the different levels with guidance from the direct managers. Global R&D goals are aligned to have a holistic view of the business priorities, budgets, and target timelines to define milestones. All employees should work closely with their managers to ensure that their goals are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timed), and that the KPIs (key performance indicators) are clearly defined.  

Goals must be personal and realistic - challenging, but not impossible. Employees should expect their managers to communicate clearly what is defined as a strong performer, maybe even blending in some examples of how the goals could be overperformed.

Employees are the strength of any organization, so personal and developmental goals should be included in addition to the technical projects: learn new skills, attend professional conferences, increase visibility, or overcome weaknesses.


Roy Simmons, Managing Member, Simmons Management Services LLC
Roy Simmons, Managing Member, Simmons Management Services LLC

Goals for research should be S.M.A.R.T., of course. Avoid setting goals where probability of success (attainable) is too low, a specific experimental result, for example. An approach that I have used to success borrows from the Agile Project Management. Our approach was to hold a regular monthly meeting to decide what was to be accomplished in the coming month. An example might be to conduct a series of experiments to define a particular product attribute. Other good examples come from my experience as the manager of a New Product Development (NPD) Project Management Office. At implementation, we rejected the idea of setting a goal for new patents under the assumption that we would wind up with a lot of novel technologies with no practical market applications (be careful what you reward). We took a long and short-term approach. In the long term, we set the goal of having 80% of the R&D activities using the NPD Development Process within three years and doubling the percent sales due to new products in five years. A short-term goal was to advance the best three current major programs (from about 15) within the first year. 


Lori Spangler, ACS Career Consultant
Lori Spangler, ACS Career Consultant

Ideally, both you and your company recognize that projects and priorities within R&D change frequently, and your company offers a pathway for modifying your annual objectives when priorities change.

Before writing goals, ensure you and your manager/team leaders are fully aligned on your projects and their priorities. Once in alignment, draft SMART goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Part of being specific, achievable, and realistic means thinking about what you, as an individual, can actually accomplish. Do not include goals that require other people to complete. This will require you to think clearly about your specific role and deliverables within any broader team deliverable.


This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

ACS Career Consultants are experts and leaders working in the field of chemistry who have volunteered to support other ACS members’ career development through one-on-one career counselling. They can stimulate your thinking, ask important career planning questions to help clarify goals, provide encouragement, teach strategies for making meaningful career decisions, and aid you in your job search. Connect with an ACS Career Consultant today!

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