4 Characteristics of a Powerful Goal-Setting Process

Increasing profitability by 20 percent, losing 15 pounds, putting 50 percent of your earnings in savings—everyone knows how difficult achieving important and significant results can be.

Fortunately, research proves goal-setting is a highly effective way of making progress towards achieving desired outcomes. Those who write goals down and gather social support are over 25 percent more likely to succeed at achieving their goals. However, only 58 percent of employees currently feel that managers clearly communicate goals.

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What are some important principles to take into account when defining a goal-setting process for your company? What are the best ways to structure a goal? Not all goals are created equal, and research shows that most goals are ineffective. Goals must be challenging, focused, measurable and relevant.

1. Goals Must Be Challenging in Order to Be Motivating

According to a goal setting methodology called OKRs (Objective and Key Results), you should set goals that you are 70 percent confident you can achieve. The reason the goal must be ambitious is that they must be designed to get people out of bed in the morning with excitement. The more uncomfortably exciting and the more of a stretch a goal seems, the more inspired employees will be. More importantly, if employees are certain they will achieve a goal, the goal isn’t broad or challenging enough. If you don’t set your goals high, you won’t force the right questions.

2. Goals Must Be Focused and Not Overwhelming

On the flip side, it’s important that the set of goals an employee is assigned at any given time are highly focused and not too complicated or overwhelming. Typically five goals maximum per quarter are recommended and three are ideal to help employees feel empowered. Having too many goals leads to confusion and difficulty in prioritizing too many distinct tasks.

3. Goals Must Be Objective and Measurable

Optimize sales processes by reducing costs by 15 percent is an example of an objective, measurable and most importantly—actionable—goal. The more measurable a goal is, the easier it is to design a plan to achieve it and track its success. How do you write a goal that is objective and measurable? Here are some questions you provide to your employees to help guide them to write proper goals:

  • Is the goal as specific as possible?
  • Will you know exactly when you have achieved the goal? The best way to do this is to put a figure or value to the goal. Example: “Increase web traffic by 12 percent by the end of Q3.”
  • When will it be completed?

4. Goals Must Be Updated and Kept Relevant Throughout the Year

Goals are only effective if they are relevant. More often than not goals are neglected throughout the year, only to become outdated and therefore irrelevant. Organizations that regularly revisit their goals dramatically outperform those that utilize annual programs, according to research by Bersin & Associates.

When it’s possible to measure ongoing operations, goal setting also allows for consistent monitoring, according to Talent Strategy Group. Tools such as Reflektive make it effortless to track and provide feedback on goals. Creating lightweight processes to “check in” on goal progress periodically ensures that goals are up-to-date and still relevant.

Setting goals is proven to be a crucial step in helping a company activate its workforce to achieve high-impact results, and understanding the elements of strategic and effective goal-setting is crucial. One of the best possible outcomes of actively adhering to the best practices of goal-setting is hearing employees discuss their work in the context of company goals—a clear indication that the workforce feels engaged with the company and its mission.