Unleash the power of a great goal

We grow up having goals, and in many respects the idea is second nature. We’ve all wanted to pass exams, win competitions, or master a new sport or skill.

Once we become business people goal setting becomes a more formal process, with most companies at the very least creating an annual plan and budget. Other basic goal setting methods often used in business are SMART goals and KPI Targets.

What I’d like to share with you is the idea that if you set a goal to ‘master goal setting’, your company is more likely to succeed. And ‘goal setting mastery’ means knowing more about goals than is attained by using SMART and KPIs.

Why do we set goals?

On a simple level, goals are like the rudder on a boat, they are there to provide direction. The energy we apply by our activities, which when in a boat is rowing, is then directed and we move towards where we want to go, as opposed to arriving in an accidental and potentially undesirable destination.

As you’d expect, there has been a fair bit of research around why goal setting works. There are essentially 4 reasons why goals are powerful levers on performance.

  1. Goals guide your efforts towards relevant activities and away from the irrelevant
  2. Goals improve focus
  3. Hard goals prolong your effort towards something of value for longer
  4. Hard goals increase learning, collaboration and innovation

Did you spot the word ‘hard’? What keeps coming up in research is that hard goals are way more valuable to you than easily achieved ones that have low levels of value.

What do good goals look like?

To aim for ‘mastery’ it is important to know what good looks like. As far as goal setting in business is concerned, ‘good’ would meet these criteria:

  1. Hard – stretch goals help you achieve more
  2. Measurable – if you can’t measure it, you won’t know if you’ve achieved it
  3. Aligned – goals can’t just be set for what you think matters, in business what matters most is a collaborative exercise and company goals need to align with department and team goals
  4. Transparent – discreet goals kept in team silos don’t allow you to align or collaborate effectively, they also don’t allow you to build a culture of trust, openness and safety
  5. Inclusive – The best goals are developed with teams not for teams as they not only find and focus on what matters most, they are more likely inspire people to want to achieve them
  6. Periodic – Annual goals that are supported by quarterly goals with weekly progress meetings allow you to be more agile and focus on what matters most each quarter

Goal frameworks management

The goal setting framework that allows you to make the leap from good to great goals setting is Objectives and Key Results or OKRs. This framework’s big moment came when Google discovered it –  back when they were just a few people with a big hairy audacious goal to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.

Since then it has become the go-to frameworks for companies that prize agility and are happy to empower employees. It’s definitely not a framework for micromanagers.

An OKR is created by writing a single Objective that describes the ‘what and why’ of what you want to achieve, with 1 – 4 Key Results that describe how you propose to measure success. 

If I make this small business relevant, for a hyper local coffee shop, let’s call the shop “Blue Bay Coffee” – this could be:

  • Make the best coffee on the high street as there’s lots of other places to choose from – Q2
  • Coffee sales increase from £22K to £32K
  • Loyalty card completions increases from 345 to 600
  • Blind testing rated our Cappuccino as best over 70% of the time

The targets on that goals were set to be ambitious and the reality of the targets is that if 70% or more was achieved the team would be happy, but they’re prepared to go for it.

The activities they are planning to achieve this are:

  • Blind tasting tests every month – truth straight from the customer
  • Staff barista upskilling sessions – mastering coffee session
  • Tests of milk suppliers – would creamier milk make a better drink?
  • Bean testing – can we get better beans?
  • Presentation tests – does the cup matter?

The goals are discussed each week and progress shared, along with new ideas, problems and wins. 

You can see other OKR examples here.

Aim high and make it safe to fail

I am often asked for tips. So here are some of my best ones. If you want to achieve more, don’t worry about failing, worry about not having a well thought through hard goal that you can commit to. This is what holds us back. Make failure safe and hard work a given. Set a goal to master goal setting, where you’re setting them for you personally or as part of growing your company.

Matt Roberts is the founder of the goal setting software – ZOKRI, and shares the why and how of goal setting as far and wide as possible in the hope that it helps everyone achieve more.