So, you are about to set some goals for your business or organization, or you have some goals already and want to make them happen.
And you know that too often businesses set goals that start with fanfare and then crash and burn within a matter of weeks.
And you don’t want that.
You want to know how to do it (and you want to learn quick).
If that’s you, here is the 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 to set goals that won’t flop and the steps you need to implement them at your work.
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Step 1: Look at your mission
Whatever goal you set, you need to make sure it helps you move you toward your mission. If it doesn’t, then it’s not a good goal (either that, or you may need to revisit your mission).
Step 2: Look 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 in 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 financially, 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)
Okay, this is where we dive a little bit deeper into the other sections and in how to pick and write goals effectively.
Let’s go back to long-term goals. You’ve brainstormed, you’ve come up with a lot of great ideas. Now it’s time to pick.
Remember, first, 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.
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 goals, it’s easy for your employees to get overwhelmed and not do much on 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 goal are 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 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, 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 options, you know exactly what you want and can chase after it.
When it comes to your goals, make it 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. Long goals are terrible.
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.
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%.
Short and concise goals are 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 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 on 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 it 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 Piranha project by August 4th.
Know your why
Before you chase 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, 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. If you set your goals too high and you constantly fail, that 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 that 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 easy goals.
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 you are 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.
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 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
In this section, we’ll do a quick dive into how to implement the goals into 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 goal 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 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 of the goal 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, 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 it 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 their own goals, but you may want to do this as leadership 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
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 have 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).
There you have it, 5 steps to take to make great goals happen at work.
Step 1: Look at your mission
Step 2: Look 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 for implementing great goals at work? What next step are you going to take? Let us know in the comments below!