Much has been written about the power of setting goals. Unfortunately, almost all of the advice about effective goal-setting falls short on a few key factors. More on that soon. First, some clarifications.
Goals are what you hope to achieve. According to a popular mnemonic, goals should be “SMART”: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
We also recommend using “stretch goals” or “big, hairy, audacious goals” (BHAGs, to employ a term from authors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in a Harvard Business Review article)
Most of the above is by now fairly well known (though often botched in practice). Here is what is missing:
1) linking goals to a higher purpose and vision
2) setting goals for each major stakeholder
3) then prioritizing them
As we wrote in Triple Crown Leadership, “People hunger to know that their organization has a worthwhile purpose and that their work is meaningful and significant.” For goals to be powerful, they must be congruent with the purpose and vision of the organization. When goals are aligned that way, they are naturally motivating.
For example, Share Our Strength, an enterprising non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., has a powerful overarching goal that can be summarized as follows:
End childhood hunger
Behind this goal tagline is a time line (ten years) and a way to make it more specific and measurable (e.g., increasing participation in nutrition programs such as school breakfasts, summer meals, and food stamps so dramatically that childhood hunger will be a thing of the past in the U.S.). Notice that it’s a stretch goal—not to decrease hunger by 5% or 10% but to end it—and that makes it much more motivating and meaningful to the SOS community.
An effective way to link goals with purpose and vision is to set only one or two enterprise-wide goals by major stakeholder group. Having too many overall goals leads to confusion and dispersion of efforts. Organizations that focus their goals only on one stakeholder, such as shareholders, fail to gain the commitment of other stakeholders such as employees, customers, vendors, and the local community.
Effective goals should also be prioritized among the stakeholder groups, indicating where the inevitable trade-offs should be made. Do customers come first? Employees? Shareholders?
To illustrate, here is a set of hypothetical goals for the Walt Disney Company, working off its purpose statement: “To make people happy.” Possible goals in priority order might be:
- By 20XX, achieve customer satisfaction levels of 4.8 (on a 5-point scale). (Or the goal might be revenue growth. For an internal department, the goal might be the satisfaction levels of internal customers.)
- By 20XX, achieve employee satisfaction levels of 4.6 (on a 5-point scale). (Or the goal could be reduction in employee turnover.)
- By 20XX, earn a return on invested capital of X%. (Or the goal might be % return on revenue.)
Each of these goals can have sub-goals, but the #1 overarching goal by stakeholder group is indicated above, and the tradeoffs between them are clear. If a choice is made between satisfying the customer or the employee, and no way to satisfy both can be found, then the customer comes first.
When it comes to leadership, we don’t need just one-dimensional, single-stakeholder goals. We need powerful, prioritized goals that raise our sights and summon our passions.
To rock your goals, make sure they are purposeful and prioritized.
- How effective is your organization in setting goals?
- Are your goals linked to purpose and vision?
- Does your organization have one or two enterprise-wide goals for each major stakeholder group (such as customers, employees, shareholders, vendors, and the community)?
- Are the goals prioritized?
Bob and Gregg Vanourek, father and son, are co-authors of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, a winner of the International Book Awards.