How to establish goals that your team can actually accomplish

Did you know that 90% of organizations fail to deliver their strategic plan? That is a startling statistic from The Balanced Scorecard by David Kaplan and Ken Norton. Given the time and effort that often goes into planning, wouldn’t it be great if more than 10% of organizations actually achieved their objectives? Wouldn’t it be great if you achieved more of your critical goals? 

If, like most organizations, your planning process only creates targets and budgets, you have introduced a sinister, invisible force that will undermine your ability to achieve your goals. Setting targets without defining your ‘how’ is like deciding to build a house and then going straight to construction, bypassing the stage where you draw up the plans.

Common sense approach to goal setting.

If you think this sounds like common sense, you’re right! And that’s why this is the fourth instalment in our series about the foundational elements of the SupportingLines High-Performance Framework™️ –  four things that explain 90% of leadership effectiveness:

This is a much larger topic than a single blog post. My aim here is to introduce foundational concepts that enable performance. If this resonates, you may wish to explore these topics on a deeper level using the SupportingLines Cloud™

You need ‘Complete Goals’ to truly have a plan.

Most organizations define targets and allocate resources as part of their planning process. Sales targets are set. Budgets are created. Perhaps a goal tracking system is populated. People are usually very happy the process is complete. But is it? True planning only begins once we have the targets.

We encourage organizations to Set Complete Goals™️ so they achieve more of their target goals. A complete goal is considers two key components:

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • How will you accomplish it?

What are you trying to accomplish?

In our experience leaders at most organizations are better at the ‘what’ than the ‘how’ when it comes to planning. There are many different ways to define your targets. We happen to like the OKR (Objectives & Key Results) method that was created by Andy Grove, CEO of Intel back in 1971. The process clarifies your strategic Objectives (what we are trying to accomplish) and Key Results (the clear proof that the objectives were achieved).

Planning flaws that undermine ‘what’ we are trying to accomplish.

Most planning processes, even those that use a method such as OKRs, have one or more fatal flaws that introduce the sinister, evil force of non-achievement. Organizations often:

  • Set too many goals given the resources available
  • Set goals that are not aligned with a shared vision
  • Set goals based on KPIs not Key Results (see below for more on this)

The first point is usually self-evident, with many people recognizing that there are too many goals given the resources available. The second two fatal flaws can be harder to recognize, which makes them even more sinister. Let’s use the analogy of a misguided flight to make the point. 

Goals are not aligned with a shared vision.

If your goals are not moving toward a vision that is truly shared by people across the organization, it is like a flight that is tracking toward the wrong airport. Let’s say your organization has a shared vision of going to New York City. You then establish goals around a flight to Toronto, a perfectly fine destination – just not the one people intended. 

Goals are based on KPIs instead of Key Results.

If your goals focus on progress metrics instead of destination goals, you have introduced significant execution risk. You may be on track to New York City midway through the flight but still have time to veer off course and end up in Toronto. While this may seem like semantics, there is an incredibly important distinction to be made between Key Results and KPIs:

    • Key Results are the critical measures that prove we have actually achieved our goals (e.g. we arrived in New York).
    • KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are measures that help us confirm that we are on track toward our goals (e.g. we have enough fuel … to get to either destination). We can attain a KPI without reaching the ultimate goal. Big difference.

How will you accomplish your goals?

Now that you have created a set of targets which avoid these fatal flaws, we move to the next stage of planning. Our experience suggests that most organizations skip this stage of planning entirely, which is likely the major culprit behind 90% of organizations not delivering their plan. 

In this stage we create ‘supporting lines’, commitments of cross-functional support that are critical in order to deliver the plan. This is not the same as identifying dependencies, a process you may be familiar with. Dependencies are often defined in isolation, never communicated to the other party people rely on. A ‘supporting line’ is a co-created commitment of support in pursuit of a common goal. It’s a completely different orientation. 

Supporting lines define the ‘how’.

I am willing to bet that your list of questions you would ask the person capture the elements of what makes a great supporting line below:

  • Make sure the person knows you need their help
  • Make sure they understand exactly what you expect and by when
  • Agree on milestones to ensure things were on track
  • Make sure they had bandwidth to support you
  • Make sure they firmly committed to deliver 

If these 5 simple elements are co-created and re-assured throughout your pursuit of a goal, you will see a great difference in the results. The key is including all five of these elements, not just one or two. While this approach may sound like common sense, my coaching experience shows that it’s not common practice.

Performance creates culture.

One of the most amazing results of planning using Complete Goals™ is that you will improve your culture. When we involve people in the planning process, we not only get a better plan – you will also increase employee engagement. Asking the team to define the plan and truly listening to what they have to say fosters inclusion and increases psychological safety. Our research makes this clear: performance while improving the human experience of work truly creates a high-performance culture.

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith

Jeff is the Founder & CEO of SupportingLines. He is also a certified Master Corporate Executive Coach, seasoned C-suite business leader and yoga instructor.

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