No Goal + No Plan = No Performance.

“No, no, no” I thought to myself as the senior executives at the leadership team retreat I facilitated outlined their “objectives” for the year.

A goal is simply something you plan to do; it becomes more meaningful when you have a time frame attached to it.

Goals are not, as I saw at the retreat, a rostering of things that people might do, might consider, or might explore with no time frame attached.

A goal is something you seek to attain. The 49er’s at the start of the season didn’t likely say “Let’s play football,” they likely said “Let’s win the Super Bowl this year.”

President John Kennedy’s space race challenge from the 1960′s “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth” is about as good as it gets for objective setting.

While the HR people can get a little OCD [ Disclosure: I am a former senior HR exec] about the rights and wrongs of goal setting, the SMART methodology (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely or timebound) has merit. More often that not a SMART goal commits to action – doing something – rather than simply “being.”

Edwin Locke’s research makes it clear that to have identified goals drives motivation and performance. A parcel full of work by behavioral scientist such as Richard Thaler shows that having a plan that you’ve thought about leads to the greater likelihood that the goal will be achieved.

The execs at the retreat, sadly, were like 80% of the folks who lay out goals; not-so-hot at setting goals. They have lots of company.

Some of that company lacks knowledge on how to goal-set. Some lacks an interest in the accountability that comes with drawing a line in the sand with a time marker attached to it. While you won’t be able to accomplish a lot, you won’t be criticized for missing your goals.

The board of a not-for-profit I know recently completed their strategic plan. While the board is filled with some of the sharpest and brightest people I know, the strategic plan – which is really just a longer-term set of goals – shared some of the same things to avoid as the goals at the leadership retreat. Few had any of the SMART characteristics that make a goal actionable and time bound.

  • “Consider an enhanced after-school program. . .
  • Provide ample professional development opportunities. .   
  • Continue to explore ways. . “

One of the easiest ways to establish a goal and plan is to identify the objective, figure out the time, and flag how you’re going to do it.

It might be as simple as losing weight (“I’m going to be in better shape by the end of the year by losing at least 10 pounds by going to the gym at least 3 times a week”) or running your business (“I’m going to grow my business base of clients by retaining all current clients by better service and by acquiring at least 3 new clients by September 2013 by initiating marketing efforts such as sending out a monthly thought email piece and writing a blog post once a week.”)

Jack Kennedy was on to something. Use SMART goals with a plan and you can be on to something too.

Image Courtesy: Dusit / Shutterstock

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