Goal Personas:

because personas aren’t just for designers


When I started as the goal scientist at BetterWorks, my first couple weeks were dominated by meeting new people. There were so many fresh faces to remember, and I knew that listening to all of these BetterWorkers was going to do me far more good than trying to make (or break) stuff right away. Four of the faces I met early on were Amy, Rick, Meagan, and Brad. These four spunky and entertaining individuals are the BetterWorks design personas. They inform all of our product/design team’s decisions, and we treat them like family.

The personas concept stuck with me as I set out to plot my path forward as goal scientist. The fantastic persona foursome isn’t fantasy or make-believe; it’s based on very concrete observations and data we’ve gathered from our platform. The product personas got me wondering if the same could be done for goals.

What interesting patterns could there be amidst 75,000 goals?

The first step on this persona journey was to dive right in. What interesting patterns could there be amidst 75,000 goals? The answer: lots. Lots and lots of patterns. What struck me was that some patterns emerged far more consistently than others. Across different roles, lines of business, organizations, and even continents for some of our multinational partners. Sure enough, some patterns evolved into full-fledged goal personas.

While this exercise was lots of fun for me (self-admittedly a weird source of fun), it has also had a significant impact on product decisions. Now, when we are contemplating a new goal creation process or a new dashboard visualization, we stress test against our goal personas.

Will this negatively affect “Verb X’ers?”
How can we make sure “Finish Liners” are feeling more love here?

Hopefully the rest of this post clears up some of that gibberish.


Meet the Goal Personas

Verb X:

The Levi’s 501 of goals. Understated, yet iconic. Incredibly versatile and begging to personalized. Everyone has owned a pair at some point, they’ve always fit well, and they’ve led to some serious cheers. And when you notice people wearing them, you know they’re doing something right.

These goals seem to fill in the blank of, “ I will _________.”

I will, “Accomplish X.”
I will, “Implement a new territory growth strategy.”
I will, “Publish the Kanye West album review.”

We are pretty big fans of Verb X at BetterWorks for two reasons:

  1. Verb X implies action. It implies doing. Yes, someone could have a goal that is just X, just the desired end state or object. Yet, the action verb at the start feels far more energizing.
  2. It lends itself very very well to the objectives and key results (OKRs) methodology. Verb X allows people to set aspirational goals that may not be especially measurable, but they can then have specific and quantifiable key results easily tacked on. All it takes is a small addition like so, “I will ______ as measured by ______.” The Verb X goal is a perfect fit for good key results.

Use it. Then, don’t lose it:

Remember playing king of the hill as a little kid? Maybe it was fighting over a small raft in the pool, or maybe it was securing a literal hill despite a ferocious siege by your friends. Use it, don’t lose it goals operate in a similar fashion. They commonly encapsulate two sub-goals: get to point A, and then maintain status at point A. Here are some real life examples:

Hit X% engagement and maintain for the quarter
Achieve 95% weekly accuracy and measure each month
Execute blueprint for accounts and maintain Y greater than 90%

The Finish Line

Another classic. Similar in its simplicity to Verb X. The Finish Line is, well, a finish line! The checkered flag. The red ribbon.

10 million X by Q3
CompTIA+ certified by Q4

The beauty of the Finish Line is that it’s clear as day when you’ve crossed it (or, if you haven’t.) On the down side, the Finish Line can feel like a KPI at times. When I look at goals like this, I see a milestone or key result rather than a goal. Many times, Finish Lines contribute upwards to a Verb X, which feels like a natural fit.


X is / Y’s are:

Don’t let the variable-heavy, math-esque persona name fool you. X is/Y’s are goals are very colorful and entertaining. We’ve talked a bit about verbs and nouns so far, but this goal type is adjective heavy. Rather than a quantifiable number or finish line, these goals have a desired end state. More often than not, these end states feel somewhat vague, but they can be emotionally compelling.

Long term transaction platforms are awesome
Infrastructure is rock-solid and easy to use
Customer experience is amazing and loved

There is something that grabs you about X is/Y’s are; they definitely put a smile on your face. But proceed with caution. These goals alone can be treacherous. They are inherently unquantifiable, which can lead to bad results. How do you know if this goal is completed? How do you know if a co-worker needs help on her X is goal? What’s the status of it? Difficult questions to answer (unless the X is/Y’s are is paired with some very specific milestones or metrics.)

Goals don’t necessarily need numbers, but they undoubtedly need specificity. You can’t quantify a Tarantino movie, but you absolutely know one when you see it. When dabbling with X is/Y’s are, keep that in mind.


Shake and Rate (or just “Rates”)

Rate goals are close cousins of Finish Lines, but their success is continuous rather than discrete. Say the scenario is obtaining 1500 marketing qualified leads by the end of the quarter. A Finish Line would be,

1500 MQLs by end of Q2.

A Rate would be,

500 MQls a month

Through our qualitative observations, we found Rates to be some of the most sophisticated goals. They are common at higher levels of an organization, where metrics are more ubiquitous. We frequently saw complex break downs of rates like

Increase rate of Y 11%:
- Chrome: 49% increase in Y
- Safari: 20% increase in Y
- IE: 6% increase in Y

Starting from (somewhere other than) the bottom:

Well, now you’re here. For most of our previous personas, the desired end state is what gets moved and manipulated. For Started From goals, both beginning and end come into play. We mostly see Started From goals as more specific forms of aforementioned goals, but this form is common enough to warrant it’s own persona. From a product point of view, this goal is very important for us to support.

Increase X from 60 to 75
Increase Z from 30% to 95% by year’s end

Drop it low goal

While we don’t want to admit it, there are always things we want less of. When it comes to goals, it’s usually much more effective to pursue or approach an end state, but sometimes it really does boil down to avoidance. For these goals, the structure is pretty simple:

Reduce X from 85% to 45%
Reduce Y by 30%

All Goals

Just being honest, All Goals are probably my least favorite of the personas. I try to avoid them as best I can, but I totally empathize with them when they’re needed (I currently have an All Goal myself, which I’ll note below). It’s easier to show what All Goals are, and then explain them a bit:

Hold meetings with all IT members
Distribute guides for all sales team members
All groups above 80 NPS
Certify all BetterWorkers in Goal Science (<- my goal)

So why are All Goals low on my “goaltem” pole? There isn’t a clear target. In fact, the target is always shifting.

As of last week, my certification goal was 100% complete, but this week it’s no longer at 100%. Why? Well, we hired an awesome new member to our customer success team (welcome Michelle!) and she needs to go through the certification process. This dynamic shifting of target, completion, achievement, etc. is not ideal for goals, but sometimes you really don’t know the final target until the relevant time frame has finished. If I knew for certain how many new hires we’d have in Q1, I could set a Verb X + Finish Line of, “Certify 7 new hires by end of Q1." Unfortunately, I can’t do that.


In Conclusion

We’re pretty passionate about goals here at BetterWorks. We have plenty of our own, but they all relate to yours, to making your goals better even if it’s just an increase of 1% (Shake and Rate!)

I hope you enjoyed this small window into our world, recognized your own goals amidst these personas, and are excited to reach them. Get back to it!

Catch the original post here on the BetterWorks blog.