The Importance Of Setting Goals

It’s no good setting goals if they are not well-formed!

We’ve all heard that the most important thing about goals is having one.

But, how many of your goals do you really achieve?

To stand any chance of success, we should be setting goals that are well-formed, perhaps using one of the many tests we have learned over the years such as S-M-A-R-T.

But, the trouble with these tests is that they have become too familiar and people assume the criterion has been satisfied – rather like the bad habits we all get after years of driving!

In my role as a coach, I’ve found many goals falling short and will spend some time clarifying what it is people really want. This is always time well spent, as it makes the rest of the coaching process so much smoother.

A goal is a dream with a deadlineNapoleon Hill

In the context of an organisation or team goals, I suggest adopting Lovejoy’s eight criteria for setting goals. This examines the goal both mercilessly and constructively to arrive at a clear definition.

For each of the criteria, there are a few prompts.


How will the stated GOAL benefit the customer?

  • Be clear who the customers of this GOAL are, make a note of them, prioritise them where you can.
  • Review the wording of the GOAL and see whether the language reflects the needs and benefits of the customer or you!
  • Be clear about the outcome for the customer not just an internal measure of success. For example, if you deliver ‘work-first-time’ products to customers you also improve internal productivity, but the benefit to the customer should be foremost in the expression of your GOAL.


Does the GOAL specify the means by which it will be achieved?

  • Are you explicit about ‘how’ you will deliver the GOAL: a process, a series of methods etc? The means must be obvious to everyone.


Does the GOAL make it clear who does what?

  • Does the GOAL use the words ‘it’ or ‘they’, ‘them’ or similar? If so, or if it isn’t even there, then you need to replace these with the specific object, department, person or people concerned. The word ‘it’ can mean anything to any reader.


Is the GOAL measurable?

  • How will you measure when you have got there and if you are staying there?
  • What indicators can you use? You cannot fly the aircraft without instruments for any length of time safely!
  • What are the types of measure: quantity, quality, cost, income that you could possibly use?
  • Is there an existing measurement system you can use? Is it used by other parts of the business or industry?
    Can you design an appropriate measurement system?


Are there any circumstances in which achieving the GOAL would not be enough?

  • Imagine you have achieved the GOAL, now think about possible circumstances in which it is insufficient, or even irrelevant.
  • You may be at risk of doing the wrong thing brilliantly, e.g. quicker delivery of the wrong parts.


Could achieving the GOAL produce any adverse side effects?

  • Again, imagine you have achieved the GOAL; now think about how it has been achieved; think about any side effects that may result, e.g. costs may rise beyond budget, less obvious is a decline in the working conditions of staff.
  • Does it make the job more difficult, less enjoyable; did people keep the old job because of how they were allowed to do it?
  • Eliminating an undesirable side effect at this point can be quite simple; it is certainly more effective than trying to remove it once the system is up and running.
  • Preparing for a side effect and making it a desirable benefit, reframes everyone’s thinking, e.g. exposing and then removing the opportunity for some to slack at the expense of others.


Are you basing your GOAL on any untested assumptions?

  • Are you assuming that a particular change will result in a particular effect, e.g. creating role clarity will lead to greater productivity, and therefore to quicker development time, therefore quicker delivery of the product?
  • If so, what experience supports this, is the experience relatable or translatable to this project?


Can the GOAL be understood by everyone involved?

  • It is vital that everyone involved in this project, no matter at what level understands exactly what you are trying to achieve, the GOAL should be in plain English.

Before setting goals with your team, next time explore Lovejoy’s criteria with them and see the difference it makes.

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