How Do I Set Clear Goals?

Blog | People Skills Development

The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.” —Bill Copeland

This is so true. Clarity is everything and if you Google quotes about setting goals you’d find loads more of this kind of thing. All thought provoking and true; all telling you the what but not the how. So, I am going to put a bit of how to this to help you set clear goals in business and why it’s important to do so.

It is really worth putting in time ensuring your people are engaged and understand the business vision. In return you will have more engaged people who focused their energy and effort on what is important. So once they understand the overall business vision and plan you can distill this down to how they are contributing to that. This is where clear goals setting comes in. You have probably heard of SMART goals already. If not Google it. You will find lots of images explaining the acronym.





Time Bound.

These are good, common sense and to a degree practical. But they maybe need modernising for todays fast paced global worksforce.  Let’s look at SMART first as its and easy to remember word.

Specific – So if you are going to ask someone to do something you need to be specific. Common sense hey? But this is often the first hurdle that people fall at. ‘Just more’ is not specific enough. It needs to be specific to the person’s role and linked to the business vision / plan. If the plan is for growth, the sales team may become targets on an increase in sales volume or maybe increase in profit margin. The former is about getting more customers the second about increasing the profitability of each customer. Both drive growth, but one is focussed on increase in margin in that growth! Hence, being specific.

Measurable – Without a way to measure your success you miss out on the celebration that comes with knowing you have actually achieved something. So before setting a goal or target make sure you have the mechanism for measuring the the current performance and the change in performance. Check that the measure is using the correct data points and that is robust and easily accessible for all.  Transparency is key. Long gone are the days where a performance review was a surprise. Data that is used for goal and target setting should be easily accessible to those who are being measured by it.

Attainable or Ambitious? – In SMART the A is attainable and it has to be said that if the goal is not attainable or even perceived as attainable or you consistently set unattainable goals your people will become disengaged and not even attempt to reach the goals. However, is it ambitious enough? If you are not being ambitious how can your business keep pace or evolve in this fast paced global economy?

I would recommended getting your team involved in the setting of goals and how they might go about achieving them –  they may come up with creative ideas that take you beyond your original thinking. And if you have their buy in from the start the chances of achieving them are much higher.

Relevant – this is relevant to me and the role that I perform for this organisation. Like attainability, relevancy drives engagement in the goals. If you ask me to reduce costs when there is nothing within my role or remit that enables me to reduce costs I will instantly disengage. And this disengagement is likely to impact relevant areas of my role too.

Timebound – every target or goal should have an end date. A date to focus on, a date to plan to and forecast actual versus performance to date and a date by which you can say yes we did it or no we didn’t! Without a specific date performance will just drift off to the next important or urgent daily challenge .

And this is where I would add some more thoughts. Too often goals are set in line with a businesses annual plan. ‘So John we need to increase sales volumes by 20% by year end’. And then John is left to get on with it; if he’s lucky he’ll get a quarterly review. To truly drive vision and strategy execution across the business goals should be frequently discussed and assessed throughout the year. Continually assessing the evolving performance.

So when looking at your goals setting does it pass the ‘so what?’ test? Vague or generalized goals are unhelpful because they don’t provide sufficient direction. Remember, you need goals to show you the way. Make it as easy as you can to get where you want to go by defining precisely where you want to end up.

Finally, don’t confuse effort with energy. People often value input more than output. Don’t fall into this trap. It doesn’t matter about the number of hours put in or how much effort expended, when it does not produce the expected results. Keep your goals and targets output focussed – with the goal in mind.