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Demystifying Organizational Goal Setting: A Straightforward Approach

When people are faced with what appears to be an overwhelming task, they often give up before they start. When instead there is a clear, unintimidating path to completion, the chances of starting – and succeeding – increase significantly. Such is the case with organizational goalsetting.  

In our webinar, Strategic Goal Setting: Shifting from Activities to Outcomes, I shared a straightforward process for gathering input, documenting measures, and communicating goals. I will recap the key steps here, and include links to several free tools I created to help facilitate the process. For this discussion, I am assuming goals are established on an annual basis; however, the concepts can be applied to any timeframe. In addition, the examples shared here and in the free tools assume an audience of non-profit, human services organizations; however, the concepts can be applied to any organization.

1. Assess the situation: Solicit input from a variety of stakeholders, including employees at all levels and your board of directors.

  • Conduct a SWOT Analysis to identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

  • Complete a simple Enterprise Risk Assessment to pinpoint the risks that you believe are most likely and will have the greatest impact. The weaknesses and threats sections of the SWOT Analysis can be helpful in generating the list of risks to consider.

2. Choose the Top 3 priority goals.

  • Narrow the focus to no more than three goals.  If you have any more than that, you may not achieve any.  

  • Write each goal using the SMART format, focusing on lag measures (outcomes).

3. Generate options for lead measures (activities) using a Payoff Assessment.

  • Select the lead measures that are most likely to help you achieve the lag measures (goals), and that can be reasonably achieved in the defined timeframe. To do this, you’ll plot each option on a grid according to the anticipated impact and the difficulty to implement (cost and/or effort).

4. Document the goals, including lead and lag measures.  

  • The Goal Planning Worksheet is a useful tool for documenting your SMART goals. If you have a software program for goal management, the goal planning tool can be used to organize and refine your thinking. If you do not have a software program for goal management, the tool can serve as your goal repository.

  • For goals that include detailed implementation steps, such as process changes or program launches, consider using a Goal Implementation Plan to list the steps in sequential order with associated dates.

5. Cascade goals through all organizational levels.  

  • Each person should have 1-3 goals that support the organization’s overall top 3 goals.

  • These could be individual goals or group/department goals. I have implemented both approaches in previous organizations and have found the group approach to be simpler and more effective because it’s easier to manage. The clear line of sight - every person’s efforts are aligned to the desired outcome (lag measures/goals) - is established by making sure all levels of the organization are working on lead measures that will directly impact the lag measures.

Here’s an example of what that might look like. Notice that all four employees have the same goal but different lead measures based on their role. They likely each have multiple lead measures for each goal; in this example, I have included only one lead measure for each person.

6. Measure progress quarterly, adjust as necessary.

  • Formally check in each quarter to see how it’s going. This is the “Goldilocks” frequency for annual goals – not too far apart (1-2x/year) and not too close together (monthly/weekly). Confirm the goals in place still make sense. In most cases, the lag measures will remain the same throughout the goal timeframe. However, if an unexpected and disruptive change occurs, your goals may no longer be relevant and need to be adjusted mid-term. For example, organizations who had established goals for 2020 likely had to modify or in some cases, abandon, some of their goals as a result of the pandemic.

  • A word of caution: Do not be tempted to change the goal just because you are not on track to achieve it. Ideally, when you recognize you are falling behind, the accountability inherent in this process will spark the urgency you need to adjust course in order to achieve the goal. If the lag measures were established based on a SWOT and Enterprise Risk Assessment, they are likely still valid. It is possible, though, that the chosen lead measures may need to change, because it is sometimes difficult to predict with great accuracy which lead measures will make the most impact on lag measures. Scrutinize the lead measures before you consider changing the lag measures.

7. Communicate often and with transparency.

  • Start with explaining to all employees why and how the Top 3 goals were chosen, and openly field any questions or concerns. Commit to announcing the goals no later than mid-January, if you are on a calendar year cycle.

  • Though you are formally measuring progress quarterly, you should be discussing progress more regularly.

- Ideally, goal progress is discussed in some way at every department/staff meeting but at least once per quarter, consistent with the recommended measurement frequency.

- In addition, regular, 1:1 meetings between supervisor and direct report are a very effective forum to keep consistent focus on goals. Each time you meet, choose the top 3 actions you will take before the next meeting that will move you toward achieving the lead measures that impact your lag measures.

  • Hold everyone accountable for goal progress. The hard work up front to establish well-written goals will serve you well as you monitor them throughout the year because the expectations are clear. If the expectations are not being met, talk about any barriers and brainstorm ways to get back on track. Take the goal monitoring process just as seriously as the goal setting process.

  • As you near the end of a goal cycle, evaluate what worked well and didn’t, and adjust accordingly as you restart the process for the next cycle.

When it comes to organizational goal setting, a methodical approach makes the process less daunting and dare I say, enjoyable! Following the steps outlined here will enable you to establish meaningful, challenging, and realistic goals, with supporting activities that are monitored frequently and adjusted as necessary on the way to successfully achieving your desired outcomes in support of those you serve.

The Continual Care Solutions imPowr Organization and imPowr Enterprise products include the ability to capture your organization’s Top 3 goals, among many other features that can enable your organization to operate more efficiently and evaluate your performance as you execute your mission. Contact us to learn more and schedule a demo.

Includes adaptation of concepts from: and Covey, S. & McChesney, C. The 4 Disciplines of Execution. FranklinCovey, 2007. CD.

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