Is There a Smarter Way to Set Goals?

I’m going to be completely honest here – I haven’t (yet) achieved all of the goals, personal and professional, that I have set myself this year. And I’m fine with that. After all, I believe that probably one of the most valuable parts of the whole goal setting process is the bit where you sit down and decide what those goals might be at the start of the year. It focuses the mind on what is important to you, and encourages you to prioritise.

I’ve been in business long enough to know that objectives can change through the year, and I think one of the most important things to learn is to be adaptable and to flex your goals to meet the changing situations you find yourself in.

Business planning and goal setting

But that isn’t to say that you shouldn’t also be focused, and fight all the way to achieve the things you originally set out to do. Those goals might well form the cornerstone of your strategy, so changing them mid-journey is not to be taken lightly.

So, over the years, have I found smarter ways to approach setting goals, that I – and others – will stick to? I think I have, and I’d like to share them with you.

Make your goals relevant

It seems obvious – no one wants to work towards irrelevant objectives – but what I mean here is that it is absolutely essential that your goals link up and are relevant to your overall strategic vision. In this sense, having firm, clear goals sets the course for your team, or even the whole business, giving everyone a focus to work towards.

The crucial part of this is that is essential that everyone can see this – and understands how achieving your goals takes everyone a step closer to your strategic objectives. So for example, if your strategic vision is to be the leading European business in your sector, you might need to clearly communicate how the individual goals that you set your R&D team – perhaps to come up with a new product idea every month – contribute to achieving this. It’s the secret to having an engaged, happy workforce – that clear understanding of the way in which every single task they do, every day, is meaningful.

It’s a goal – but what kind of goal is it?

We’re all busy. And if we’re part of a multinational business, the chances are that we could be called upon at all times of the day and night, with fresh challenges. New technology, while transformative, has also ramped up the amount of demands on our attention. Because of this, it can sometimes be tough to take the long view.

We can busy ourselves with the job in front of us, hitting (or missing) our short term objectives and just getting by day to day. But this approach can present a real issue when it comes to setting goals.

We can lose sight of the difference between short and long term goals, and neglect to treat them differently. Because they do need to be approached in different ways – longer term goals, often, are aspirational, as opposed to being purely short term and operational. They are the dreams that everyone who works for you is motivated by and that set your company apart from the rest.

Your shorter term goals, however, need to be a little more practical. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t be linked to your overall vision, and contribute to reaching it, but they need to be much more concrete, practical and deliverable. So, be clear not just what these kinds of goals are, but also what it is going to take to get there. If they don’t exist already, build the systems and processes that will get these goals achieved. And, most importantly, I’ve always found that the most crucial part of achieving these kinds of shorter term goals is to make sure that you monitor progress, measure how you’re doing, and make adjustments if necessary.

Business team setting goals

So, when you’re setting goals, for yourself or for your team, understand which ones are short term and easily realisable, and which are more aspirational– and then manage everyone’s expectations accordingly. Clearly, timescales are a great help here – but it is crucial that you communicate these to everyone involved.

Finally, experience has also shown me that there is a lot to be said sometimes for shifting the focus away from the goals themselves (and the associated pressure that comes with trying to achieve them) and instead put the process itself centre stage.

For me, this is all about worrying less about the future, or reflecting too much on the past, and instead simply focusing fully on the here and now. It’s an approach that encourages us to think about the task that we are doing now, and to try to understand what it will take to do it as well as we possibly can. Goals, as I said at the start, can shift over time – so sometimes the most important thing is to focus on the kinds of behaviours that most successful businesses share, whatever the objectives they set themselves.

So, work on what you have control of now – your own personal mindset, the way you work with and communicate with others in your business – and you might find that in the end, achieving the goals you have set yourself and others will come naturally.