April 2023

The Nuances of Goal Setting

by Ron Hewett

As a leader in either the military or corporate realm, you have probably already had experience establishing personal and project management goals. Whether it be preparing a ship's crew for combat or inspiring a management team to transform a mediocre safety record, goal setting and planning are essential to success. In the process, we have all become acquainted with SMART goals — Specific, Measurable, Agreed Upon, Reasonable, and Trackable. These elements are the mechanics of goal setting, but in my career of teaching and working with teams, I have come to appreciate the nuances of goal setting in the context of clarifiers, unifiers, billboards and resources. Allow me to share this with you.

Let's start with the Academy Leadership's whitepaper, The 5 Elements of World-Class Leadership, where vision is supported by values and purpose. Search the internet and review articles on who are the best leaders, and you will often find winning sports coaches, successful CEOs, and other senior executives who can express their vision along with values and purpose to win over hearts and minds. But after the euphoria of the vision statement, the team realizes that they are the ones who must turn that vision into reality.

When embarking on the goal setting process, the organization is essentially developing a plan to activate the vision. We aren't talking about, "Get your goals in by Friday." We're talking a months long process of interaction between people and teams. During this process, this isn't just one of your jobs; goal setting becomes your job! I bet you've already been coached on SMART goals, so let's move on to goal setting.

Setting SMART goals requires a significant amount of planning — top down throughout the organization. The various departments and stake holders must be prepared to roll up their sleeves and contribute ideas and context that will eventually mesh into a plan for vision activation. But, as was often said in the military, "No plan survives first contact." In other words, the most important aspect of the plan was the process of building that plan, not the plan itself. It's the same with goal setting. It's a tedious process but bringing stakeholders together to share ideas opens the process to understanding and awareness of what goal adjustments might be needed after first contact. Consequently, a thorough goal setting process provides flexibility, agility, and other benefits.

Goal Setting Helps Clarify the Vision. Vision is great, but until you break it down to all the actions required, it's just a vision. What are the actions that will turn the vision into results? Start with identifying what you need to achieve and then break it down by reverse-engineering to see how you will accomplish each phase. As you do so, you will begin to see SMART goals emerge. As these goals emerge, you will start to see what roles and responsibilities each stakeholder must take on. Accountability starts to emerge as well. By clarifying the vision and seeing SMART goals emerge along with roles and responsibilities, the organization starts to become better aligned to achieve the vision.

Goal Setting Unifies the Organization. As the vision becomes more clear, SMART goals begin to emerge. And with the genesis of alignment, the stakeholders are less prone to create goals in a silo. They become more observant of overlap and the potential waste of time and effort as well as squandering resources. They realize that a plan is not a great plan until it is shared with all who have a role in the plan. The knowledge acquired while building the plan and setting SMART goals makes them more agile. They become ready for first contact!

Goal Setting Produces Billboards. Most of us divert our attention when we spy a witty message along the highway or pop-up on the computer. The same is true with goal setting and developing concise Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). The more thought you put into that SMART goal and the accompanying KPI, the more likely you'll have everyone's attention. With attention comes focus.

Goal Setting Promotes Effective Resourcing. I can't tell you how many times I have had a client say, "Yes, we could fix the problem if we had the right amount of resources." That's absolutely true. I think back to the Pentagon where it was often said, "Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics." By developing SMART goals as a team process, the stakeholders begin to tease out of the plan what they need to ignite the vision. By eliminating silos, managers are prepared to argue the data and make a better case of what they need to fulfill their role and get results.

When leaders embrace these 4 unique nuances, the organization's SMART goals become more powerful because the goals are now results driven and directly support the organization's mission, vision, values and purpose.