goal-setting

Goal-Setting: The Complete Guide

Goal Setting involves envisaging an outcome, and working with set plans to ensure that the envisaged plans are accomplished. Goal setting is very important for every individual and business, because without set goals in place, you will seem directionless. In a game of soccer, there is a goalpost, getting the ball into this goalpost is the target of each team. Without these goalposts, then the twenty-two football players on the pitch will just keep running around, without a target, aimlessly like a headless chicken.

Why Goal-Setting Matters Both In Business And Your Personal Life

Your goals as a person or a business are the things you want to accomplish, and your objectives involve the process of achieving this, how soon you want to accomplish it, and the methods you will employ in achieving it. In a game of soccer, the manager may come up with different tactics, to ensure that they put the ball beyond the reach of the opponent’s goalkeeper into the goal.

The manager may tell them to play it short, or long, play crosses, and everything that can give them an advantage to get the ball into the goal within the period of ninety minutes. If a soccer team decides to play it short, it is therefore clear that the goal of this soccer team is to put the ball in between the goalpost, and the objectives of this team is to play it short in other to beat their opposition, and get the ball in the goalpost within ninety minutes.

From this, we can say Goals are the set targets of an individual or a corporate body, while objectives on the other hand are the approaches and processes involves in reaching a target. As you can already imagine, there is no objective without a goal, and no goal can work out successfully without an objective. Hence, the importance of Having goals and objectives.

From the example above and the definitions, If I have a poultry farm, I could say my goals are to ensure that I produce 50,000 eggs. My objectives will make it clear to me that I need to ensure that I breed more of layer fowls than broilers while increasing their egg-producing stimulant to ensure that I hit the 50,000 egg mark in three months”. Like I said in the previous paragraph, setting a goal is important, but having matching objectives are also equally important.

Personal Goals and Business Goals

As a business owner, you may have your personal goals, which involves self-development of yourself, to discover your strengths and weaknesses, in order to know what attributes to build on. As an entrepreneur in any field, you don’t necessarily need to be the most skilled person to excel and achieve your set goals.

You however need to discover yourself to know what you can efficiently do. Honestly identifying these strengths will enable you develop them in order to achieve your business goals. Personal goals are major targets that you set for yourself as an individual. Although, these targets may be useful in achieving your business goals.

An example of a personal goal is this. I am a website owner, as you are on my blog right now, imagine that I know the basics in programming, but I have employed an expert to handle the backend of my website, to debug, ensure website security and so on. I may decide to get a detailed course on programming, and upon the completion of my course, I can now professionally audit the programmer that works for me. 

Developing myself in this regard has added something into my life; a skill important for me, which I may use within or without the scope of the business. That is why it is “personal.” It is your skill, and you can use it in any regard that you please.

A business goal on the other hand, is the effective strategizing of ideas, and organization of staff to ensure maximum productivity and hence, profit. Whether your business offers services or involves the sale of products, your goal is to make profit, and to make profits you need to make sales of products, or render services to clients.

To make maximum profit, you need to ensure the organization of yourself and your employees, to enable them work in the direction of your goals, the way a football coach will direct his players towards the goalpost. We are naturally wired to solve problems, and when there is a specific destination, the bushy path will be cleared, till the destination is reached.

For entrepreneurs, whether established or a small business owner, it is important to set goals and objectives when planning a business. It is important to remember that you must have clear objectives to achieve your goals. Many businesses have failed today, not because of a lack of goal, but because there was no clear direction or plan actualization to get there.

A business goal that has clear objectives will make it possible to have a direction, even offer motivation, and a metric by which you can judge your progress. For example, if you have set out an objective to help an e-commerce website generate 100 clicks within a week. Your objectives will give you a metric to judge yourself, on the third day, if you aren’t getting closer to 50, then you may need to intensify your efforts, or change your approach. This is unlike where there are no objectives and you just say “I want to increase the number of clicks for this website.”

As I said, every business needs a goal. Even if you have just a few part-time employees or contract staff, what is important is for you to identify what you aim to achieve, and work a realistic way to get there. It is commonly said that “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Forget about the size of your company, or business and focus on your goals, and you can even expand your business with time. Every successful business across the world set goals, you even see many companies writing their vision and mission statements where everybody can see it. Some others go as far as training their employees mentally, to make them see things in the line of the company’s goals.

If you are a new business, or a small business, you will most likely find yourself tackling issues as they come, making you struggle to be intentional about doing anything specific. This may cause you to spend your first few years fixing situations and getting into new ones. This approach of solving problems “as they come” is an effective approach at problem solving, but if you do not consider the future of your business, and your goals, you will only keep solving problems for the present.

You will be good for the present, but your business’ future will be bleak. It is important to start out a business with a clear goal, so that even when you are solving problems that are unplanned for, you will keep progressing. I have found this common amongst start-ups and relatively new businesses that do not have clear goals or who do not have objectives and their excuse is that “There is still a lot of problems we need to solve before moving forward.” 

One thing I always tell people, whether business owner or not is that “There will always be problems”, and that “your problems will not get easier, it is you who will grow tougher”. You have to see challenges as normal for you to grow and edge closer to your goals. Hence, before you get started at all, define your goals. Forget about handling the initial challenges of business, have a target for that business with a specific timeframe to meet those targets.

As I said, there will always be challenges, even when you get to the peak of your business. You will find some unpalatable situations that you have to deal with. Therefore, don’t make your problems more important than your goals. Have clear goals and objectives, and solving those problems will naturally come along with accomplishing your goals.

You had probably envisaged an outcome when you planned to start your business. This outcome will only be possible if you have a route that will lead you there. Goals make it possible to attain this anticipated growth because your goals and objectives explicitly tell you want to do, and how you want to go about them – giving you a clear path to follow and helping you avoid routes that will only cause you a longer journey. 

Like I said, in business, the goal is to be profitable, and there are many objectives that can be involved to make that happen. It can even be as simple as employing highly-cognitive staff to ensure that all staff have a problem-solving ability and can offer meaningful input, outside the direct scope of his job. Successfully achieving these goals elevates the level of employees, and brings the business owner to success, making it a win that everybody celebrates, like football players do after scoring a goal.

Why You Have Not Succeeded At Goal-Setting

In setting goals it is very admirable to be ambitious, but it is also good to set goals that aren’t vague. You should not set too hard targets for yourself so that you can easily achieve them. A 2 month old baby who can barely sit properly on his back would be setting an unrealistic target for himself if he aims to start walking when he is six months.

Many times setting unrealistic targets will make our goals difficult to achieve and then as a start-up or a relatively new business, you look back at your business performances for the entire year, do you feel proud? Do you feel like you should pat yourself or the back? Are you happy about the numbers you can see?

If your answer to these questions is “no,” then your goal setting has something wrong. It is true that you have set goals, you know what you want, you may even know how to go about them. However, you still struggle to meet your goals. Some of these reasons are:

Lack of Commitment to Goals

Many people think about several things daily, and in the end, they achieve nothing. It is important to note that thinking of your goals in your head without making an active commitment to ensure that it happens is just a waste of time. In the end those goals will just become random thoughts that come in now and then, and no substantial effort will be taken to ensure that they play out the expected way.

It is important to write down your goals in detail. You are thinking of a lot of things at a time, you could be thinking of some personal issues, family, and some other things that are on your mind. This could make your mind get crowded and you may miss out on some fine details. When you write things down, either in a physical book, or a digital planner, it helps you compile a list of things in the form of a checklist.

Hence, you look at everything you want to do at a glance, add more if necessary, and you can strike them out as you meet each objective leading to your goals. You may pin this notebook on your wall for easy access, or you can pin them on your computer’s desktop screen or even as a widget on your phone for it to remain in your subconscious. This way, it will give you a conscious reminder that you should be doing something- which you are not; hence, a reality-check occurs to let you know that you are lagging.

Face the reality, you are not a computer, you need to document your goals to foster organization. There is no better way to begin a business like documenting your plans and looking back at them to see achievements. If you start your business haphazardly, with no clear plan, and looking to handle responsibilities as they come, you will end up being very disorganized. This will make your foundational years very unproductive, which will be a very poor foundation for the future.

Writing down your goals will give you the opportunity to factor in all constraints and hence determine if a goal is achievable. If your timeline is in a year, you may have other constraints that may not allow all goals get feasible in that time frame. So writing them down will give you the opportunity to have a scale of preference based on the importance of each goals. And then, the forgone goals could be fixed in your next sequence of goal setting. When you are deeply in the process of achieving these goals, it gets very challenging to reorganize targets; this is why the best time to organize your goals is before you begin. You will marvel at your productivity.

Unclear Goals

It is very important to ensure that your goals are obvious and realistic. It must be something you can visualize and not just a wish. Your written goals must be more than just mere dreams or items on your wish list, they must be specific, and the objectives must be realistically achievable. It may not be easy (I don’t expect them to be), but you must see it as something clear and realistic. One common way of setting clear goals is by using the SMART model.

Using the SMART goal model was institutionalized by Arthur Miller, George Doran, and James Cunningham in 1981. Since then, it has become a textbook approach for individuals, entrepreneurs, and even corporate bodies to assess themselves to see if they are on the right path of goal setting.

SMART means: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely
smart-goals
A SMART goal is any goal with a carefully planned, concise, and trackable objective. To be such a goal needs to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. Bringing structure and trackability to goal setting increases the chances goals will be achieved, and it helps align the organization around those goals.
Specific

You need to be specific about your goals; you need to know exactly what you want to do, the exact persons you want to bring on board with you, when you want to begin, where you want to begin. Ask yourself the “Who, What, Where, Why, When” Questions. It will help you be more specific to your goals. And instead of coming up with a goal like “I want to increase my sales considerably,”. You set goals like, “I want to have a 50% increase in sales in the next six months”. 

Measurable

It is very important that your goals can have a metric to be measured. Immeasurable goals are vague and will be unclearly defined to you. Rather than saying, “I want to improve my skills this year,” set goals like “I want to move from a novice level in python programming to an expert level before the end of the year” You can see the way this goal is specific and measurable. Python programming language is the “specific” focus. And the goal is to move past a novice user, past the intermediate stage, and be an expert user by the end of the year. Measurable goals make it possible to remain focused and monitor progress at various checkpoints before the end of the set period. 

Attainable

Check out your abilities, evaluate your skills, take a look at your tools and equipment, your employee size, your general environment, and ask yourself if you can actualize this goal. It is very pointless to have a goal that you don’t have the framework to actualize. If you are a new start-up in an e-commerce business, your business goal should not be overtaking Amazon in a year or two – it took decades of hard work and commitment to get there. It will be more attainable and realistic if you plan to have 10,000 subscribers that are maybe converting at a 20% rate monthly. This isn’t easy either, but with a bit of hard work, you may be able to achieve it. When we say make your goals attainable, it isn’t a shot at settling for less because you want your goals to be realistic. Let them be goals that will occupy you and make you feel like you are working, but do not go plain unrealistic.

Relevant

In goal setting, we have long-term and short-term goals. Your short term goals should be majorly subsets of your long-term goals. Short term goals are goals that you need to achieve quickly and usually in line with your other goals. Your long term goals are your major goals. It is the most important thing you need to place your focus on as an entrepreneur. It is what the management of mega organizations are fixed on. They show the direction of a business or a firm, and they usually have well-defined objectives to achieve them. 

It is important to note that your short term goals are relevant to your long-term goals. As I said, the short-term goals are subsets of the long term goals, so they should be in sync, if you have a long term plan to have five email lists of 10,000 subscribers each. Your short term goals should directly align with this long term goal.

Timely

It is important to have a set timeline for achieving your goals in order to maintain routine checks and even ensure that you can properly measure these goals. Visualize your goals, imagine the end, then make a reverse plan to enable you to see things you didn’t see when you were planning forward. This will enable you to account for everything that will consume time. Your timely goal will appear like this “I want to establish a new branch at another state in the next five years” rather than “Very soon, I will create a new branch.” Timely targets will allow you to be more specific and they will enable your goals easily measured. 

These SMART goals enable you to have clarity on what you aim to achieve. It gives you a clear direction on where to face; hence, removing the vagueness from your goals.

Unrealistic Goals: Your goals should give you a wake-up call, it should shake you slightly, but it must be something realistic. You don’t want to waste your time and that of your employees by aiming for what is simply not possible. Be ambitious, but do not be unrealistic. In other words, do not be fine with mediocre, but do not aim for what is just not feasible. If I set a goal to begin a business, to start-up with a $100,000 and I expect to break even in a month. I may have just set something unrealistic. 

Unrealistic goals do not do anything more than dampening your spirit and the spirit of your employees. If you try to climb a hill and you fall at your first attempt, you will be discouraged and may be very skeptical about trying it again. For your good, it is advisable that you set what is realistic. I have read many goal-setting books that advises people to set goals beyond their reach, lofty heights that seem unattainable. While this advice is soothing, convincing, and refreshing, it is plainly a bad piece of advice. Have great targets, but ensure that they are attainable. 

Poor Evaluation: Evaluation is one of the most important parts of goal setting. If you are going on a journey to a distant place, you periodically check your fuel gauge to ensure that you have enough gas to complete the journey. If you find out that it is running low, then you take a stop to the gas station and refill. You maintain this check at intervals to ensure that everything is fine with your vehicle. In fact, you may need a refill of water in your radiator to ensure that your vehicle develops no fault from overheating. In the same vein, you need to perform regular checks on your goals and objectives. Keep track of them, communicate to your team members anything you feel is off, ask for their opinions, and evaluate your stand together. 

Examine your daily activities intricately; ensure that they are in line with your long term goals. If they are not, then you have been wasting a whole lot of time on frivolities. Minutes make hours, and day makes weeks. If your daily tasks aren’t in line with your goals, identify them quickly, and readjust yourself. Periodical evaluation helps us stay on track and not lose sight of our goals. It could be weekly, monthly, or anyhow you please. But ensure that you always maintain checks on your goals.

Failure to plan Daily: Daily Planning is very important in achieving goals. As I said earlier, smaller chunks of time accumulate to become bigger ones. To achieve your long term goals, you must be able to achieve what you have set out daily to do. Utilize the night before each day and prepare a list of what you aim to achieve the next day. You could do it after the close of work for the day, or you could do it as the last thing before you sleep. This sharpens you mentally, and you will be mentally ready for the next day. You will wake up feeling refreshed and not bothered about what next thing you want to do. 

Recognize your most active hours in a day and set your most important tasks in that time frame. This is usually called the “primetime” – where your productivity peaks. This helps you ensure that you utilize your time properly and ensure that your daily targets are met. Time management is the most important key in maintaining your daily plans, if you don’t manage your time properly, you will always have leftover tasks into the next day, and if this keeps recurring, then you may not be able to achieve your daily goals, and by extension your long term goals.

After the day’s activities, review what you have done, note the things you weren’t able to achieve, and identify the reasons; set new targets for the following day. Ensure you always do it before you sleep so that you will spend the very first minute from waking up accomplishing plans, rather than using that first hour to think. As I have said earlier, nothing beats planning in advance.

Best Practices for Goal-Setting

There are a few practices I encourage you to employ in your goal setting. A few of them are:

Anticipate Problems

This may sound weird, but as I have said, problems are inevitable. This is a practice of doing a “pre-mortem.” This assumes that there has been a failure, and works backward to identify potential causes of problems and what could cause failure and works to prevent them. These are things you may not notice when making your business plan; a pre mortem is usually effective as it prevents almost every possible problem that may occur.

Align goals With Your Employees

It is important that you set your goals and ensure that your employees are aligned with them. Make them feel like a part of your project; ensure that you have similar goals. This will make the progress of the firm very rapid; it is easier to arrive at a journey when everyone has a similar destination, unlike when everyone has different destinations. It increases communication and makes everyone maintain a high level of transparency.  This fosters teamwork, as similar goals will make everyone accountable for a general goal rather than individual goals. Employees will not work as individuals but rather as a big unit. This will make the overall goals of the business easily achievable with greater focus. 

The Objectives and Key Results Methodology (OKR)

what-is-okr
Andy Grove, helped Intel become among the most valuable companies by 1997. In his years at Intel, he conceived a management and goal-setting system, called OKR, standing for “objectives and key results.” Venture capitalist and early investor in Google, John Doerr, systematized in the book “Measure What Matters.”

Objectives and key results (OKR) is a popular goal-setting methodology that has been in use since 1970. It is a goal-setting methodology that focuses on outcomes rather than tasks. It’s result-driven nature usually encourages Accountability and transparency with clear metrics for evaluation. It was founded by Andy Grove in 1970, who worked with Intel. Although John Doerr is responsible for the effective and popular use of the methodology. 

The OKR methodology involves ONE CLEAR OBJECTIVE and three to four expected KEY RESULTS to judge the success of the objectives. For optimal results, it is advised that your best rate of achieving these results should be around 70%. If you achieve 100% of your key results, then you have probably set targets that are below your capacity. A 70% success will encourage you to push harder. If you achieve 100%, however, you should return to the drawing board and re-evaluate your expected key results. OKR encourages businesses to set ambitious goals, as is obvious from the 70% metric, and achieve different OKRs every three months, dividing the year into four quarters. 

Because there is an expected outcome, during the course of the tasks, it will become glaring whether the objectives are on track or lagging and at risk of not completing them. Thankfully OKRs are flexible and can be adjusted to meet new needs (within that particular three-month period). An example of a typical OKR for a software development firm could be 

Objective: Create A New Software That Retrieves Corrupt Video Files

Key Result 1: Product design and User interface must be completed after one month

Key Result 2: Quality Assurance Testing and Beta Testing must be done at the 6th week 

Key Result 3: Bugs should be fixed and All Issues Detected from testing must be fixed and the product redesigned by the 10th week

Key Result 4: Final Testing is done, and the product launches on the 12th week. 

It is worth noting that these Key Results that have a particular timeline will spur the staff to work even faster and smarter to achieve these aims. However, in the end, the target may not be met. Because you have set out to achieve a project in a very short period, you may not be able to finish at that particular time, but if you have achieved 70% of your goals, you are good to go. This is the flexibility that OKRs offer. Although, you must strive to have the best possible success rate that you can boast of. 

Why OKRs Are Important

Objectives and Key Results can be used to set your goals. It gives you a solid foundation for goal setting, ensures that you have a metric for calculation, and makes the evaluation process relatively easy; it will enable you to know if your actions are bringing fruition to your goals.

OKRs are one of the most effective strategies for goal setting, especially when planning for the long-term. It gives a real-time update of what is going on within your team in a transparent manner. Remember that one of the reasons for setting objectives is to enable evaluation; hence, OKRs show progress at every level in a transparent manner, helping you make decisions to stick with a plan or to move to a plan B. Decisions made on the Basis of the OKR methodology are usually well informed. Helping you see why some things are not working out and why some things will – With reason, of course. In fact, this methodology makes it possible to anticipate possible problems and tackle them, even before they arise.

OKRs enable you to have a clearer shot at your goal. It brings about a great focus by helping you see your objectives from a different perspective, because of its demand for Results. The OKR methodology spurs you to work twice as smart. And the focus will only bring you closer to achieving your goals by taking you and your staff away from time taking unproductive tasks that offer no value to the business.

Read Next: OKRSMART Goals.

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Published by

Gennaro Cuofano

Gennaro is the creator of FourWeekMBA which reached over a million business students, executives, and aspiring entrepreneurs in 2020 alone | He is also Head of Business Development for a high-tech startup, which he helped grow at double-digit rate | Gennaro earned an International MBA with emphasis on Corporate Finance and Business Strategy | Visit The FourWeekMBA BizSchool | Or Get in touch with Gennaro here