Goal-Setting Doesn’t Have To Be Complicated
10 Tips to set better goals in your company
I’ve had the privilege of leading teams of 12, 50, and 160 people across industries as diverse as software, retail, and financial services.
In these roles, I’ve repeatedly learned the power of goal-setting, both at a personal and an organizational level.
But even though I’ve witnessed the power of goals, I’ve been amazed by how many people struggle to set meaningful goals.
I suppose this struggle is natural. After all, most high schools and colleges don’t teach goal-setting. It’s not sexy or interesting, so most people don’t take the time to read or think about it.
However, well-chosen goals can be the difference between productivity and aimlessness. Shared goals ensure everyone is working on the most essential needs for the business rather than marching off in a million different directions.
“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”
-Stephen R. Covey
Why Are Goals So Darn Important?
Goals narrow focus. They help you prioritize. Equally important, goals help you determine what you should say “no” to doing. They clarify and illuminate what is most important.
“A few extremely well-chosen objectives impart a clear message about what we say ‘yes’ to and what we say ‘no’ to.” -Andy Grove
Goals allow you to break a big concept (like a vision or a 5–year plan) into manageable chunks. They prevent people from wallowing in despair, thinking about how large and unattainable a multi-year plan seems when viewed in isolation. By slicing big plans into manageable chunks, everyone involved can envision the path to success.
Goals also improve personal accountability and ownership. Even the act itself of setting goals prompts self-reflection and creativity.
Specificity Is Key
It’s often tempting to write generic, ambiguous goals like “Improve customer service” or “Shorten turnaround time on case requests,” but such goals are not helpful because they are not specific.
A well-written goal explicitly conveys what you’re aiming to accomplish. At the end of the month/quarter/year, you should be able to look back and unambiguously determine whether you accomplished what you set out to do.
A Quick Word About SMART Goals
As many other writers have expressed, one of the best ways to write effective goals is to use the “SMART goals” technique. Although SMART goals have become ubiquitous, the concept is worth reviewing briefly because it is a powerful concept. There are several definitions of the “SMART” acronym, but here’s the one I follow:
- Specific — Well-written goals define what “done” looks like. They are specific enough that anyone should be able to objectively state whether the task was accomplished.
- Measurable — Whenever possible, goals should be quantitative. Rather than “Improve customer service,” a better goal would be to “Increase our net promoter score (NPS) from 30 to 40 by December 2019.”
- Attainable — Every goal you set should be realistic. It’s good to stretch current abilities, but you don’t want to take that idea too far because unrealistic goals can be demotivating.
- Relevant — Every goal should be something worth doing. An irrelevant goal is one that would have little to no impact on the team or business, even if you accomplish the goal.
- Time-Bound — Set deadlines. Put a date on every goal. For instance, notice how the NPS goal above references that the improvement should happen by December 2019. Without that date, it would be difficult to gauge success.
10 Tips for Setting Better Goals
Here are ten additional ways to set better goals for your team or company:
(1) Put goals in writing. Writing your goals makes them tangible. It takes them out of the ether of ideas and into the substance of action.
(2) Make your goals visible. Tape them to your desk, computer monitor, or wall. Visibility keeps everyone focused on the goal. One of my past managers began every weekly team meeting by reviewing the team’s “BHAG” (big, hairy, audacious goal). After reviewing the BHAG, every team member shared what they planned to do that week to progress toward the overarching goal. Such activities focus the entire team upon the task at hand.
(3) Incorporate accountability. Share your goals publicly so others can hold you accountable for achieving them. For team goals, assign portions of the goal to individual team members. For example, one of my colleagues divided her team’s five primary functions into separate objectives — each of which could be “owned” by an individual team member. She said that strategy enabled each person to feel ownership and accountability over their slice of the team’s work.
(4) Whenever possible, connect team goals to company goals. Doing so will ensure your team stays focused on the most significant tasks the company has identified. It also shows team members their work is significant and meaningful because they can see how it connects to the overall business.
(5) Balance input and output goals. Input goals articulate what actions you’re going to perform, whereas output goals articulate what outcomes you hope will come from those actions. In other words, input goals are controllable, while output goals are often dependent upon outside forces. For example, a sales rep may set an input goal of making 50 cold calls per day and an output goal of bringing in $5,000 in new revenue each month. The sales rep can control how many calls they make, but they cannot completely control how many people say “yes” to their pitch. By setting both types of goals, you can better delineate what is fully within someone’s scope of control while also working toward big initiatives that may depend upon external factors.
(6) Break big goals down into smaller ones. Too often, people set goals that are so broad that it’s hard to determine what can be done today to begin working toward the goal. How can you take action today? Set mini-goals for every day, week, or month.
(7) Incorporate checkpoints to stay on track. If you have a goal to finish something by the end of the year, determine how much progress you want to make by the end of the first month, quarter, etc. Use those checkpoints as timelines to evaluate your progress.
(8) Retrospect. If you’re one month into a one-year goal and you’re far behind where you had expected to be, step back and think about what could be wrong. Brainstorm new ideas for completing the goal.
(9) Edit your goals as necessary. If your original goal turns out to be unmanageable or irrelevant as you gather more information, edit the goal. Goals are meant to drive action and accountability — two things that will be in short supply if you determine the goal wasn’t appropriate in the first place. Treat your goals as living, breathing documents that can be updated as you gain new information.
(10) Know WHY you’re pursuing each goal. Understanding the deeper meaning behind the goal can help you and your team push through the struggle when things become difficult.
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Setting goals doesn’t have to be complicated. With a few tweaks and increased specificity, as described above, anyone can create goals that motivate and challenge the team to succeed.
If you’re looking for more resources on how to set effective goals, I’ve found these books to be helpful:
- Measure What Matters by John Doerr
- Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras
- High Output Management by Andy Grove
- The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker