Goal setting is one of those business skills that many think is really easy to do and isn’t a priority to upskill and invest in when thinking about business performance and growth. The truth is the opposite. If your annual budget or forecast are your goals, or you are using KPIs with targets, or even SMART goals, there is a way to go before you can say you’re really good at setting goals. Which begs the questions, what does good goal setting look like and why should you care?

Great goal setting is FAST

KPIs and SMART goals based on the number of companies using them to set goals are the most popular ways of directing efforts measuring performance. But they have issues that stop them being as effective as they could be. As part of the best-practice advice that comes with them they are not:

  • Frequently discussed – which means weekly or fortnightly
  • Ambitious – which means hard with 100% achievement being unlikely
  • Specific – which means they have measurements that matter
  • Transparent – which means everyone can see them in and across teams

FAST goals matter because:

  1. Not talking frequently about goals means they can be set and forgotten and not actively and continuously worked towards. And when blockers and dependencies get in the way of progress they are not resolved.
  2. Ambition matters because only goals that are a stretch force us to innovate, learn new skills and collaborate.
  3. Specific matters because unless you can measure progress using metrics that matter you don’t actually have a good and reliable measure of success.
  4. Transparency matters because you can’t align efforts, solve challenges or recognize and praise success if you’re working in silos where what you want to achieve and how you are achieving it is hidden.

Google and other fast-growth companies have long understood the value of FAST goals and you often find they use the OKR – Objectives and Key Results framework to set goals as it provides a structure to access the benefits without being overly complicated. The result is greater achievement.

An OKR as the name suggests consists of an Objective, which is a short explanation of what the goal is. For example, a small marketing agency might have an Objective to:

Receive pitch invites and win more business

The Key Results are the ‘as measured by’ part of the OKR. Which could be:

Be invited to pitch for 12 new clients work

Win 50% of pitches we do

This makes the whole OKR read like this:

Receive pitch invites and win more business

Be invited to pitch for 12 new clients work

Win 50% of pitches we do

Being ambitious when defining outcomes

There’s a paradox with OKRs and the ‘ambitious’ trait that is encouraged. In the example above 12 pitches isn’t the only definition of success. Perhaps 8 would be a good result as well. However but planning for 12 we are unlocking ways of approaching the goals that might have been hidden to us if we hadn’t.

Clearly different Outcomes and Outputs

OKRs are the perfect way to express the outcomes you want teams to focus on. When outcomes are expressed as Key Results teams know how the effort they are putting into projects, campaigns, tasks and other forms of activity is making a measurable difference. They are not busy for busy sake. For this reason, ensuring everyone knows the difference between outcomes and outputs and having a way of describing both can have a big business impact.

Doing the work that achieves your goals

Most people are busy doing the day-to-day or business-as-usual activities that make their company, team and role tick along nicely, OKRs are commitments to improvements outside and over and above this work.

How you go about achieving your goals means creating change. Creating change requires things to be done. In the example above perhaps you need to do more email marketing or improve your social media marketing. Perhaps there’s a long list of things you could do.

For many this is where the issues are. There are not enough hours in the day and it’s not just having clarity on goals that is holding you back, it is having time to execute the work needed to achieve your goals is the issue.

Common solutions you should think about if this is you are:

  1. De-prioritize other work – if there are things getting done that are less important then out them on the backburner or backlog.
  2. Hire – perhaps it’s time to hire to fill a role to get the work that needs to be done achieved.
  3. Outsourcing – Using outsourcing partners to provide people that you need to get done is a really flexible and cost effective way of approaching the issue of time and skills as well.

The building blocks of achievement

There is no secret sauce to growth. You do need to be clear about which goals you want to achieve. You do need to use FAST ways of setting and managing these goals with OKRs being a great framework to consider. Then you need to execute, which means getting the right work done ASAP.