5 Steps For Setting Business Goals (That Actually Succeed)

5 Steps For Setting Business Goals (That Can Actually Succeed)

You are about to set some goals for your business or organization, or you have some goals already and want to make them happen.

You know too often business goals start with fanfare and then crashes and burns within a matter of weeks. And you don’t want that.

You want to know how to do it (and you want to learn quickly).

If that’s you, here is a quick guide to better goals at work (if you want a more detailed guide, check out The Definitive Guide to Business Goals).


In this guide, we will cover the most important principles you need to know for setting business goals that won’t flop and the steps you need to implement at your work.

Step 1: Look at your mission

The first step you need to take for setting business goals is to look at your mission in your mission statement. If it’s written and implemented correctly, then it is the center of all you do in your organization.

Whatever goal you set, you need to make sure it helps you move toward your mission. If it doesn’t, then it’s not a good goal (either that or you may need to revisit your mission).

(To learn more about writing mission statements, read our article on writing a great one.)

Step 2: Look at long-term & short-term

There are different ways you can set your goals. One way is to focus on your mission statement and do short-term goals (1-year goals, for example) that move you toward your mission. Another is to set long-term goals and then set short-term goals to help you accomplish them.


To set long-term goals, look 5-10 years into the future. Where do you want to be? What do you want to have accomplished?

Use blue-sky thinking – if everything was possible if the impossible was possible, what would you be doing? Where would you be toward your mission? Where would you be financial, with products, with employees, and so on?

Write it all out. Do a brainstorm or whatever you need and get all the ideas for where you want to be.


After going deciding on your long-term goals (we will dive deeper into how to write and pick in the next step), look short-term.

For this year, for example, what goals should you have that will move you toward your long-term goals?

Brainstorm and write those out as well.

Step 3: Pick the right goal(s)

Setting business goals - Pick the right goal(s)

Okay, this is where we dive a little bit deeper into the other sections and how to pick and write goals effectively.

Long-term goals

Let’s go back to long-term goals. You’ve brainstormed, and you’ve come up with a lot of great ideas. Now it’s time to pick.

Remember first that your goals need to move you toward your mission. Beyond that, it’s up to you what your needs are and what you find most important.

You may find that you want to do something for different areas of your business or something related to customers, employees, products, and so on.

If you take the time with your board or leadership to deep-dive into where you want to be, with some discussion, you likely can whittle down to what you find most important.

However, be careful not to have too many goals. Ideally, you have one major goal for each area, maybe 3 areas. It could be more or less, depending, but remember that the more goals you have, the greater the chance of none of them getting done effectively (We’ll discuss why a little further down). Try to whittle it down as much as you can to your core goals.

Short-term goals

Once you have your long-term goals chosen, set short-term goals that will help you accomplish your long-term goals.

You may have a short-term goal for each long-term or you may have a couple for each. You may have it for the year or you may have one for each quarter. You may even break your short-term goals up into shorter-term goals.

How you do it is up to you.

Pick what you will work on now

Once you have your short-term goals, here’s the kicker – you don’t try to accomplish them all at once. Instead, you want to pick one goal at a time (2-3 at the most).


For a couple of reasons.

First, when you have a lot of goals, you spread yourself (and your employees) thin. When you do that, none of the goals are going to get done as well as they could because you are trying to do everything.

Second, it also creates overwhelm. If you have many business goals, it’s easy for your employees to get overwhelmed and not do much of anything. Then you have another failed goal attempt in your pocket.

However, when you have one goal (2-3 at the most), you can focus on that goal full-steam. You aren’t stretched thin, you are focusing fully on those goals.

And it’s more motivational that way. Saying “we are going to do this! And This! Oh yeah and this! And this! And, wait, this too!” isn’t motivating – it makes you run.

When you say “This year/quarter we are going to focus wholeheartedly on X goal.” It’s something everyone can get behind and focus on accomplishing.

How do you decide?

Pick the goals that will have the most impact on your business. You focus on that one goal, finish it or make it part of routine and culture, then go to another, and so on.

Choosing only one goal may be the opposite of what you may normally think, but if you focus on one or a few at a time, you likely will find you get a lot more done, faster and more effectively.

Step 4: Write your business goals effectively

Setting business goals - Write your business goals effectively

How you write your goals matters. Just the way you write can determine success or failure in your goal.

Let’s look at the best practices of goal writing:

Make it specific and clear

Make sure your goal is specific and clear. Vague goals are anathema to success.

Think about it. If your goal is to “increase sales” or “earn more profit”, what does that mean? If you make one more sale, do you succeed?

It’s like setting a personal goal of “getting in shape” – you don’t really know what that means, so it’s harder to get motivated, or stay motivated, about it. Without being specific, and saying exactly what you want, you and everyone else will have a harder time getting behind it.

If it’s specific and clear, people know what the aim is. It’s more motivating and can be inspiring.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • “Earn more profit” vs. “Increase profit by 20%”. With the second, you know exactly what you are aiming for and everyone can move toward making that happen.
  • “Spend less” vs. “cut expenses by 5%”. With “spend less”, you buy one less page of paper and you succeed! The specific 5% is clear and specific and everyone knows what they are trying to accomplish.
  • “Increase sales” vs. “Generate 5 more sales per week” or, in that, “contact 5 more potential clients a day” or “increase current sales presentations by 15%”. With the second option, you know exactly what you want and can chase after it.

When it comes to your goals, make them clear and specific. Everyone should know exactly what you are wanting to accomplish just by looking at it.

Make it short and concise (with no corporate talk or jargon)

You want your goals to be short and concise.

Think about it. When it’s long, it’s often too wordy and can be more confusing. It’s also less likely to be read as much and is less motivating and inspiring.

If you are trying to look at the goal every day or read it to your team, if you have to read a giant paragraph every day, it’s likely not to happen. Being short and concise makes it easy. You quickly know what you want to accomplish, and it’s more motivating as well.

Look at these two and tell me what’s better:

We aim to develop the technology we need to travel into space. We want to build the capabilities to put people in space and then travel to the moon. We then want to land on the moon and come back.


“..before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” – J.F. Kennedy


We want to help our clients by offering more services to them that will help them succeed. We will make it achievable by increasing the amount of time we spend per customer. We will develop custom software…


We will increase customer satisfaction by 20%


We will increase customer retention by 30%.

Business goals that are short and concise is more inspirational, motivational, and clear. It’s more likely to be read when sent or posted. When read or spoken, people are more likely to understand it fast.

You’ll read some examples of going through the acronym SMART and writing a sentence for each letter or such. Don’t do that. Try to stick to one sentence and make it as short and clear as you can.

Give it a deadline

All goals need a deadline. Parkinson’s law says that work fills the time allotted for it.

Deadlines are motivating. They encourage us to start and finish. Without a deadline, it’s easy to put it off till later.

If Kennedy didn’t put the “before this decade is out” part, there wouldn’t have been as much motivation or effort to get it done as fast as they did.

For me, deadlines even affect the books I read. When I’m reading about a subject, I’ll get some books from the library and some of the books the library doesn’t have I may buy.

Guess which books I read and which ones I may not get to. I almost always focus on my library books first. Why? Because they have a deadline. They have to be turned in at a certain point. The books I bought? They can be read anytime.

When you set your deadline, consider making it a little challenging. Push yourself to do it a little faster than you normally would.

Make it measurable

If it’s not measurable, then how will you know when you accomplished it?

Measurements let you know how well you are doing and how far you have to go. Measurements can be motivating because they can challenge employees to push themselves to reach a certain number or step.

Usually, when you make your goal specific, you do that partially (if not completely) by making it measurable. You can use numbers: 20%, 200 more, by 5, etc. Or you may use milestones that you have to reach along the way.

Maybe you can’t quantify everything, but certain steps, or milestones,  have to happen. You can set deadlines and try to accomplish different milestones at different times.

Increases customer satisfaction from 90 to 95% by June 1st.

Complete phase 1 of the Piranha project by August 4th.

Know your why

Setting business goals - Know your why

Before getting business goals and chasing after a goal, you need to know the why of the goal. Why are you doing this? What are you trying to accomplish by doing it?

How does it connect to the bigger picture? To your mission?

If you and/or your employees can’t see the bigger picture, and can’t see the “why” you will be less motivated to work toward making it happen.

Make it challenging

One reason that SMART goals are sometimes not effective is because of the A – achievable.

Many teach and some take the “achievable” part as making a goal that is easy to accomplish – that you know you can do. And that’s true to an extent – you want to do something that is humanly possible.

Goals that are too high may result in constant failure, which can be very demotivating. However, great accomplishments happen from chasing the impossible, and no one is inspired by easy goals.

Think about it. If you normally have 100 sales per quarter, and your goal is to increase it to 101, is that motivating? Is that inspiring?

It’s achievable, no doubt, but that doesn’t push you forward. Having a goal of 125 or 150 now challenges you. That pushes you to do things differently, to try harder, to figure out how to make it happen.

It may cause you to change the way you do things or to increase efficiency somehow. Challenging goals motivate and they can bring about great change.

So, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Don’t be afraid to push yourself farther than you’ve ever gone.

Great technology, political, and social change didn’t come from setting goals that are easy.

Activity vs end goals

An activity goal is a goal that measures activity – such as 5 sales calls a day or 10 customer surveys per week. And end goal would be “increase sales by 20%” or “increase customer satisfaction by 10%”.

When do you use which?

Activity goals are good when trying to make a habit of doing something or as steps, you take for an end goal.

Whether it’s exercising or making more sales call, you have an end goal for doing those activities. You may set an end goal for your objective, then set activity goals you can do to help you achieve that end goal.

Some examples

Here are some examples of other goals:

  • Reduce overall spending by 15% by Dec 31st.
  • Increase customer retention from 55% to 65% by Oct 1.
  • Increase average weekly sales meetings by 20% by Jun 11th.
  • Increase company profit by 15% by end of the year.
  • Increase blog readership to 1000 monthly visitors by March 4th.
  • Increase website conversion rate to 3% by November 2.

Step 5:  Implement it throughout

Setting business goals - Implement it throughout

In this section, we’ll quickly dive into how to implement the goals in your organization. For a deeper dive, check out our article The Definitive Guide to Business Goals.

You must have buy-in from the top

For your business goals to be successful, you must have buy-in from the leadership. If they aren’t all in, no one else (or very few) will be either.

It must be communicated frequently

The goal has to be communicated frequently. At weekly meetings, town halls, in emails, and so on, there must be a constant reminder about the goal.

As we will talk about with the scoreboard later, part of the communication is letting people know how well you are doing toward the goal, if possible.

Your goal must be part of the talk of your work.

The goal should be top-down and bottom-up

The overall goal that your company is pursuing should come from leadership and be shared downward. However, leadership, if possible, shouldn’t go in and tell everyone every detail of what to do to make the goal happen.

That won’t bring much employee motivation or engagement.

Instead, they should share the overall vision, then each department or team should set its own goals that will help the company achieve the overall goal.

Then each person in each team can set their own goals, whether end goals or activity goals, to help reach the department goal to help the company reach the main goal.

Why do this?

Because when the employees are involved in setting their own goals, they are more likely to be motivated and engaged to make it happen.

Share the bigger picture

Make sure to share with your employees the big picture when setting goals and why they are doing what they are doing.

If there are certain tasks or projects that a certain team has to do, help them see the why of it, and how it helps you reach your mission and goal.

Why this goal? If you can put a reason behind it, a why, it can help employees see the bigger picture which can help them be more motivated toward their work toward the goal.

If, however, employees have a bunch of tasks with no idea why they are doing them or pursuing a goal that they don’t see a purpose in, their level of engagement is likely to be low.

Break the big goal down into subgoals

This partially happens if you let each team or department set its own goals, but you may want to do this as a leader as well.

You may have a large goal for the year or a 5-year goal. You then break it into subgoals that you can do that will then help you achieve the main goal.

This helps make the large goal more manageable and seem more possible.

Display a scoreboard

Setting business goals - Display a scoreboard

Have a scoreboard that shows progress toward the goal. This should be done for the overall goal (if possible) and each department or team.

If people can see how well they are doing on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis, that can challenge and motivate them to keep going and push harder.

Reward and challenge

Reward the behavior that pushes you toward your goals. If you want people to move you forward toward a goal, reward the behavior and people who do so.

Also, making it a challenge with rewards along the way and/or at the end can encourage people to chase after the goal. You can also make it a challenge between people or departments.

For example, if trying to increase monthly sales calls, if you post each person and the number of calls they made for everyone to see, each salesperson is going to be motivated to increase their spot on that list, so they’ll try harder.

Put your money where your mouth is

If your goal is to accomplish X, make sure you put the money and resources to it to make it happen.

It’s one thing to say that that’s your goal and give it lip service, it’s another to spend the money and resources to help employees make it happen.

And, if they don’t see you putting the money and resources into it, that you are willing to put your money where your mouth is, they are less likely to put much effort into the goal.

Enable employees to accomplish the goal

Few things at work are as demotivating as trying to do what you are told to do and then not having the permission or resources to do so.

Bureaucracy can be a huge pain and a killer of great goals.

If you want your employees to be motivated to get the goal done, enable them to do so. Clear the paths of bureaucracy and permissions. Give them the money and resources they need.

Give them the trust they should have to make it happen (and if you don’t have that trust, you may need to look at your hiring/firing policies – because you have a greater issue there).

Conclusion on 5 Steps For Setting Business Goals

There you have it, 5 steps for setting business goals and how to make them happen at work.

  • Step 1: Look at your mission
  • Step 2: Look at long-term and short-term
  • Step 3: Pick the right goal(s)
  • Step 4: Write your goals effectively
  • Step 5: Implement it throughout

Now to you:  Do you have any other suggestions when setting goals or how to implement great goals at work? What next step are you going to take? Let us know in the comments below!


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