Strategic Planning 101--Goal Setting

"We hope to improve our market position" or "We will have a market share of 25% by January 2005."

Which goal works better and why?

The development of goals is the third step in effective strategic planning. In earlier articles, we reviewed establishing a mission statement and defining organizational values.

Goals Must Be Built on a Foundation

Goals can be defined as a written target of where an organization or an individual wants to be within a specific time frame. But goals must be built on a secure foundation in order to be meaningful and to help the organization achieve its mission.

Hyrum Smith, founder of Franklin Quest, later Franklin-Covey, Inc. developed a model of goal setting which is instructive. Smith's "Success Triangle" puts governing values at the base of the goal setting process. Smith recommends that every goal be linked specifically to a governing value. For example, if diversity in the workforce is a value espoused by an organization, then there must be at least one goal which furthers diversity. Every goal should be linked to a governing value.

Do Your Goals Measure Up?

Effective goals have four common characteristics which, when followed, will make achievement more likely and planning more precise. These characteristics are

1. The goal must be specific. The more specific the goal is, the more likely the organization is to achieve it. Using the two goal statements above as examples, you can see that the first goal is very general. Even a 0.5% increase in market share would be an "increase." The second is much more specific and precise.

2. The goal must be measurable. There must be a way to determine whether or not the organization is making progress toward the goal, and there needs to be a way to clearly define the moment when the goal is achieved. Again, using the two goal statements above, the first is clearly not as measurable as the second. Precisely defining the goal as a market share of 25% allows the organization to measure its current position, and to determine over time whether the organization is getting closer to or further away from its goal. One can also determine trends and can identify which objectives make the biggest difference in reaching the goal as time goes on.

3. The goal must be targeted. Will the goal lead to the desired outcomes? Does the goal accomplish the mission of the organization, or at least contribute meaningfully to the mission? When evaluating the two goals mentioned earlier, we would have to examine the company's mission statement. For example, increasing market share may be wholly inappropriate for a food pantry for the homeless.

4. The goal must be time specific. Tying a goal to a deadline is critical. It allows the objectives which flow from the goal to address both direction and speed. Goal achievement is usually based on a specific time frame, and accountability for achieving the goal is significantly enhanced when it is linked to a deadline. Our second sample goal above is very time specific; the first one is not.

Additional Goal Setting Tips

Here are some additional ideas in making goals effective.

1. Avoid contradictory goals. Sometimes goals are set which are in conflict with one another. Be cautious to evaluate the relationship among goals before finalizing them. You are setting the stage for failure somewhere if two or more goals are mutually exclusive.

2. Write goals in the positive, not the negative. Focus on what you hope to achieve, not what you want to leave behind. For example, the goal "We will be in the upper 50% of similar companies in terms of revenue by 2004" is better than "We will not be ‘cellar-dwellers' any more."

3. Set high goals. Don't be concerned if a goal is not immediately achievable. Experience suggests that progress will be greater on a goal that is just beyond the reach of reality than on one that is too easy to achieve.

For good examples of corporate goals that meet these criteria, visit the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, Plymouth State College, and the School of Library Science at Catholic University.

Putting your energies into developing effective goals that link to values, that are measurable, specific, targeted and time sensitive will pay huge dividends as you work to achieve your corporate mission.