Goal Setting for Leaders: Why Bother?

GoalsThe topic of goals and objectives arises frequently at the end of any year. And by March, many people have given up on them.

  • Have you already stopped trying to achieve the New Year’s resolution that you set late last year?
  • Or did you not even bother to write down your goals for 2012 knowing that you wouldn’t even make it until March?

Many successful organizations (and individuals) are well into their new strategies and are busy executing their plans for this year. Are you there with them? Hopefully you are, and if you aren’t, well – you may want to add goal-setting to your ‘to do’ list.

“Goals allow you to control the direction of change in your favor.” ~Brian Tracy

Defining Goals

So what are goals and why are they important?

  • A goal represents the “to be” state, not the action of getting to that state
  • Goals are the most important outcomes that need to be accomplished to achieve and maintain the vision of the organization
  • Goals are derived from the vision statement and must be addressed through the objectives of the organization and establish the long-term direction for the work within the organization

In short, goals are the desired end result.


As Stephen Covey says, it helps to “Begin with the end in mind.”

Goals should also decide the results that are wanted/needed and set a time frame for achieving results. Most importantly, goals must build in accountability and consequences for not achieving them.

Performance measures are the best indicators of success in achieving goals and outcomes; they should be relevant and practical.

Measuring Goals

It helps to ask…do the goals:

  • Address improvements in performance of mission?
  • Address individual improvements in performance?
  • Tie to the strategic objectives?
  • Capture the requirements of external and internal customers?
  • Emphasize the critical aspects of the organization?

Most leaders know that an effective strategic plan must contain measurable high-level goals and objectives, though goals should not only be high-level organizational in nature. They should also be in place for each contributor.

Individual and Organizational Goals

I am often asked this question by leaders who have a developed strategy:

“Why do my people need their own goals – we already have high level strategic organizational goals they are expected to meet?”

My reply is this:

“Goals tell you as an organization where you want to be and what you want to achieve – they do the same for your people.”

Employees must have goals and objectives, not only to help support the organization in achieving its strategy, but also to see how the actions they take in executing their roles and responsibilities directly contribute to the broader organization mission and vision.

In developing organizational and employee goals, it is important to ask this:

“Are we measuring the right things?”

Goal Alignment

Program, departmental and individual employee goals should align to and support organizational goals and objectives. If the workforce cannot see themselves and their actions in strategic goals, then your organizational goals aren’t as likely to succeed.

Remember this: Personal goals, incentives, and competencies should be aligned with the strategy.

Without individual goals tied to specific roles and performance, it is difficult for employees to gauge the impact they are making through their work.

It is also more difficult for them to see the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) for achieving high performance – without goals, it proves difficult to measure, evaluate and reward individual performance.

 “My philosophy of life is that if we make up our mind what we are going to make of our lives, then work hard toward that goal, we never lose – somehow we win out.” – Ronald Reagan

Goals and ObjecivesOn Communication and Goals

Clear communication of goals and priorities is necessary for people to see how their goals are contributing to organizational success and why they are being measured and evaluated against them.

That creates a win/win for both the employee and the organization.

For goals to truly increase accountability, they should include baselines. Baselines are time-lagged calculations which provide a basis for making comparisons of past performance to current performance.

A baseline may also be forward-looking, such as when you establish a goal and are seeking to determine whether the trends show you’re likely to meet that goal.

Measuring performance at a specific time establishes a baseline and provides the starting point for setting goals and evaluating future efforts and overall performance.

Getting Started with Goals

Several questions to ask when developing and defining goals: 

  • Does the goal support the mission?
  • Does the goal represent a desired result that can be measured?
  • Does the goal reflect a primary activity, a strategic direction, a strategic issue or a gap in service?
  • Is the goal challenging, but still realistic and achievable?
  • Is there at least one key goal for each program/sub-program, but not more than can be reasonably managed?
  • Is the goal important to management?
  • Is the goal important to the employee?
  • Is the goal important to customers and stakeholders?

On Goals, Journeys, and Milestones

Just as your final destination is important to your journey, your goals are important to your business and your people.

Goals define your destination and shape what your business will become.

So, as you and your organization dive deeper into your objectives this year, give some thought to where you want to be, how are going to get there, and how you’re going to measure success.

Set goals early and take one step closer to being set for success in all year!

After all:

If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”   ~Yogi Berra

So have you already given up on New  Year’s resolutions that you set just two months ago? Or are you progressing toward your goals and making headway. What kind of milestones and road markers do you have in place so that you can measure your progress toward your goals? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Scott Span
 is President of Tolero Solutions OD & Change Management firm
He helps clients be responsive, focused, and effective to facilitate sustainable growth
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4 responses to “Goal Setting for Leaders: Why Bother?

  1. For the first time in a long time I am actually sticking to the goals I set for myself at the end of 2011. It feels good and I am enjoying doing it.


  2. This is really comprehensive advice for goal setting.

    For setting and getting goals, you may want to check out a goal setting app called GoalsOnTrack, a very nicely built web app designed for tracking goals and todo lists, and supports time tracking too. It’s clear, focused, easy to navigate.


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