As Lewis Carroll famously said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” In previous articles, I have written advice on getting to where you want to go personally. The same is true for organizations. Every organization needs to have goals, a direction and a plan to get there.

Many organizations have a planning process. It used to be that these plans would become a dusty volume on everyone’s bookshelf. At least, it was in sight. Today, I am afraid that it becomes a file on the server or in the cloud that stays just there – in the clouds. Even more frightening, it sometimes becomes a series of numbers used to set an unattainable goal for the team by someone else, somewhere else.

Many volumes have been written on the planning process. Many tools have been developed to help both the organization and the individual measure their progress against those plans. I am not going to try to recap all of that for you here. I simply want to suggest that whatever process you use and whatever tool you use to measure it, for it to be meaningful, it must have 3 elements.

It must be participative. Those who are to live by a plan must be involved in its development. It is the executive leader’s responsibility to see that this occurs. In my corporate life, this looked like an annual planning meeting with my staff. We would block out a couple of days, try to get away from our phones and deadlines and work through it together. We would propose objectives for our organization for the coming year. Then we would look realistically at our time, talent and resources. Did we have or could we get what it was going to take to reach those goals? Sometimes the goals had to be pared back. Sometimes resources had to found. At the end of the meeting, we all walked away having agreed to a plan that we thought was achievable. It is the executive’s responsibility to see that those resources are provided.

It must be significant and measurable. The November 1981 issue of Management Review contained a paper by George T. Doran called There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives. He suggested that objectives should be:

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  • Attainable – how the goal can be achieved.
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

Subsequently, many people have found these attributes to be helpful in goal setting. Further, the goals should not only be measurable, but regularly measured and compared to goal. The executive leader must make this a priority. Otherwise, it will not get done. Also, the goals must be significant to the individual or team working to achieve them. The only way to insure this is to include the team in the goal setting process.

Completion must be satisfying. A job well done is a great feeling. Someone else acknowledging the accomplishment is even better. It is the executive’s job to see that those wins do not go unnoticed – particularly the tough ones. Personally, I never pass up the opportunity for a party – even if it is a pizza in the breakroom. Many groups use financial incentives to encourage people to reach their goals. In some cases, the satisfaction comes from having righted a wrong in the world or from having discovered a better way of doing something or from obtaining a distinction or certification. Whatever the achievement is, it must be acknowledged by both the achiever and the organization as complete and accomplished.

Make those plans. Include the team. Without setting and achievement of goals, neither the individual nor the organization can move forward. You may get somewhere, but it may not be where you were going.


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