Goal Setting

Goal setting is an activity; some would say an art, used in many organizational situations. Individuals sometimes use it in their personal lives. Clarifying intentions in the form of written goals is a widespread practice. Think of New Year Resolutions, the long-range business strategy, or the aims of a national government.

A goal can be thought of as the hoped for outcome of an activity or task.

The gap between intention and action

Frequently, simply setting goals does not yield the hoped for results. Many see this as due to failures of execution. In turn, this may be due to lack of motivation or commitment. Too often, I believe, the problem is even earlier than the execution stage, in the process of setting goals.

In strategic planning, setting goals is a focus at the second stage, namely, purpose and target setting.

At this stage, setting goals is first about clarity of organizational purpose. This is the foundation for the rest of the strategic planning process. I have dealt with in more detail at statement of purpose.

However, the need for setting goals and objectives arises throughout the strategic planning process.

Goal setting in the strategic planning process

You need clear goals to guide the planning process. Selecting the right persons to be involved in the process at each stage can influence the quality of information, soundness of decision-making, and level of commitment to action.

I have explained more about this under who is involved in strategic planning.

Supporting the process is the usual business of project management -

  • setting tasks and accountabilities within periods
  • taking account of resources available, including especially
  • the time of the people to be involved.

At the stage of deciding and evaluating strategies, you need to assign responsibilities through a clear process for setting goals.

Setting goals can benefit from having a clear idea of what the characteristics of useful goals are.

Understanding Goals

Remember, setting goals involves committing tasks that can achieve consciously chosen outcomes.

Research by Locke and others shows a relationship between formal goals and improved performance.

Locke and Latham (2002) report this in their Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychologist, 57(9), 705-717. They also found a direct relationship between goal difficulty, performance, and effort. This work extended over a few decades.

Their goal theory shows the few factors that matter in effective goal achievement. These include -

  • Commitment to the goal
  • Goal clarity, and specificity
  • Goal difficulty, and
  • Quality of relevant feedback.

Most research supports using goals as a method of helping persons to improve their contributions to enterprise aims.

Others have refined the factors for setting goals effectively. This work has resulted in the popular framework of conditions for effective goal setting set out by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson.

This is the so-called ‘SMART’ goals scheme, embodied in their very successful series of management books

.

SMART Goals

Goal setting should give goals that are ‘SMART’.

This stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound.

Looking a little more closely -

  • Specific - Strategic objectives need to be specific. What, exactly, is the intended outcome?
  • Measurable - Specify goals with relevant data, measuring processes, and standards of effectiveness. This aids verification of goal achievement.
  • Attainable - Is it reasonable to expect goal achievement, given the organization’s available resources and capabilities? An obsession with so-called stretch goals can lead to drop in motivation. Setting aspiration levels too low can lead to boredom and disenchantment with planning.
  • Realistic - Strategic objectives that are far out of reach may lead to frustration. Goals that emphasize top management pet projects at the expense of core business, or where rewards or credit are not fairly distributed can lower morale and commitment of your team. Finding the ‘sweet spot’ in goal setting requires judgment and experience, not just ‘pushing the envelope’ all the time.
  • Time Bound– It is essential that goal setting result in clear time deadlines attached to strategic objectives. These tie back with the real world specificity and measurability.
    With such SMART goals, you have a better chance of getting your team to sign on for the effort required to achieve their organization’s strategic objectives.

With such SMART goals, you have a better chance of getting your team to sign on for the effort required to achieve their organization’s strategic objectives.

Return from Goal Setting to Corporate Objectives.

Return to Simply Strategic Planning Home Page.



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