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Set Your Company’s Sights on Reaching Strategic Goals

By Marsha Lindquist

“Great ideas need landing gear as well as wings.”  ~C.D. Jackson

Your organization can’t have goals just for the sake of having goals, because you think you should or because it sounds like a good idea. If you create goals that are vague, confusing, and largely unreachable, you’ll not get more than a glance from your employees when you post them on the break room wall or send out a memo that gets filed away (or thrown away) and forgotten by those who should be a part of implementing them. Then, when goal-setting time comes around again, the next quarter or even the next year, everyone in the organization is understandably unenthusiastic about this waste of their time.

When people are confused by goals that mean nothing to them, the result is mediocrity. They simply can’t strive to reach fluffy, non-specific goals like, “To be the premier provider of chimes in the United States.” Overly general goals simply don’t tell you anything, including when you’ve reached them.

Goals that everyone in your organization can get behind must have the following qualities:

  • Contain specific action verbs: Strong goals contain powerful, action-oriented verbs, not passive “to be” verbs. Think of goals in terms of actions, like “to sell,” “to attain,” “to perform,” “to dominate,” “to compel,” “to overtake,” “to educate,” “to motivate,” etc. For example, a company that sells chimes may say, “Our goal is to sell chimes to the US market.”

  • Be measurable: Strategic goals must have a measurable outcome, a way to know when you’ve reached the goal or how close you came to reaching it. So our chime company may restate their goal as, “Our goal is to sell 500,000 chimes to the US market.” When you get to this goal, you’ll know it. Taking it a step further, goals should also be date specific, so an even better goal statement would be, “Our goal is to sell 500,000 chimes to the US market by the end of this year.” Now you have a standard to measure against, and you give yourself more drive to reach the goal.

  • Be realistic: If a goal is too lofty, and you know your organization can’t get there, don’t set it as a goal, at least for now. Realistic and attainable goals give you and your team more credibility and are more likely to give you the participation you want from your group. So if our chime company has never sold more than 100,000 chimes in a given year, having a goal to sell 500,000 this year may be too reaching. A better goal may be, “Our goal is to sell 250,000 chimes to the US market by the end of this year.” This new goal is a stretch, but not so far-reaching that employees feel it’ll never happen.

  • Make sense: Goals need to be clear and understandable to everyone in the organization. If the goals are significant only to management but not to any of the employees, then they’re ultimately useless. You simply can’t expect front-line workers to get behind a goal like “To prioritize strategies and implement key stakeholder buy-in initiatives.” Avoid this common goal-setting problem by inviting key employees to participate in the process of coming up with the goals. They can provide feedback about whether the goals are real, attainable, and meaningful.

Once you’ve set these specific, meaningful, measurable goals, how do you get your whole organization on board to achieve them? A surprising number of organizations and managers have a hard time explaining what they want and why they want it. They have an even harder time motivating their people to give it to them! Therefore, take the following steps before, during, and after strategic goal-setting to ensure success.

  • Set and achieve challenging goals for yourself. Be a positive performance role model and share your personal goals with the rest of your group to inspire them to be similarly committed. Modeling your own commitment to the process will be the single most important way to get everyone in your organization to enthusiastically embrace goal-setting efforts.

  • Be supportive and express confidence in your workers’ ability to achieve the goals you’ve given them. Management’s most positive expectations set the stage for high performance and are an essential part of creating an affirmative atmosphere in which everyone can reach goals. Make it clear that for management to achieve its overarching goals for the organization you need each employee’s supportive efforts.

  • Encourage employees to set their own goals and develop their own ways to achieve them. Let them take personal responsibility for the strategies to reach their goals so they don’t feel dictated to. Instead, ask them to participate in the process and take ownership of their part in it.

  • Give employees specific feedback and let them give you the same while your organization is reaching for goals. If you see results in what they’re doing, take the time to give them positive encouragement. If you notice commitment is flagging, discuss this with them and offer suggestions to get them back on track.

  • Remain flexible and seek balance. Be ready to adjust goals as necessary as new information becomes available. If your marketplace changes, you have to be able to react to that as soon as you can, not wait and further complicate your reaction by delay. What may be a good, specific goal today can become superfluous fluff when you’re not paying attention. Be prepared to rephrase or reframe goals as the marketplace changes, but also avoid changing goals too frequently or on a whim; you’ll appear unfocussed, so you need to strike a balance.

  • Track your progress against the goals you’ve set up. Avoid a “let’s wait ‘til we get there” attitude. If the goals are specific and attainable, and you’re tracking your progress, everyone’s excitement and interest in attaining the overall goal will be sustained as they see various milestones being reached.

  • Offer fair rewards at appropriate levels of recognition for having achieved specific goals. This doesn’t necessarily mean monetary reward but should at least be organization-wide acknowledgement of the part the employee played in reaching goals. Your people will see you as fair if the recognition goes beyond mere compliments to inclusion in the success of the whole organization.

Make it a Goal to Set Good Goals!  If you like the idea of setting strategic goals, but it hasn’t worked for your organization in the past, take a look at those old goals and see if they were realistic, specific, measurable, and translatable to everyone your organization. As you set about implementing your new, more powerful goals, maintain a positive atmosphere and excellent communication. When you do, you’ll see your organization take flight to new heights.

Read other articles and learn more about Marsha Lindquist.

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