Setting up goals that effectively drive a business strategy is an underdeveloped skill in most organizations. Goals are usually too lofty or too low-level, too broad or too individualistic, too prescriptive or too democratic. So how do we create goals at all organizational levels that are aligned with strategy and improve employee engagement?
While management experts debate whether goals should be “stretch” goals that approach unrealistic metrics, or attainable, quick wins that build organizational confidence, (It seems we could maintain both under different time horizons.), little has been said about how to establish goals since George Doran established the SMART acronym in the November 1981 issue of Management Review. While the SMART approach is helpful for individual achievement, it doesn’t fully capture the nuances of transparent end-to-end goal-based talent management within a corporate context.
Perhaps an additional acronym is needed to guide the setting and cascading of goals through an organization hierarchy. Consider the acronym DREAM:
The first filter for goals at any level is to determine whether or not the results can be shown. This can be as simple as ensuring tracking and reporting capabilities. It can also be as creative as developing an internal or third party assessment of outcomes. Demonstrable opens the territory a bit more to contemplate non-measurable goals by traditional standards such as winning an award or commercializing a product.
The second consideration is whether or not sufficient time, capacity and money can be allocated to its achievement. Within the corporate context, resourcing becomes a critical factor. Goals should always be set in this context – with other goals and organizational realities. A lack of cash, people or focus should be honestly assessed to make an appropriate declaration of goal feasibility.
The third requirement for goals is that they are supported intellectually and emotionally by all stakeholders. Goals should be exciting for owner/executives and compelling for leaders and doers. They should be supported by management and engaging to individual contributors who are motivated by the transparency of working toward an important goal.
The fourth key to effective corporate goal setting is to ensure alignment – vertically and horizontally within an organization as well as to strategy. Goals should always be set in context – with other team members and corporate vision. Alignment also forces priority which is essential to goal management. Ask yourself which goals are the most important to your manager and ultimately to your organization and work to ensure that you follow the same priority. This sets goals into the bigger context of how your work contributes to the bigger picture and helps ensure the resourcing that you established earlier is ultimately provided. Aligned goals drive the vision of your organization forward. Without alignment, you’ll never really know if your goals are producing the desired corporate outcome.
The final emphasis of any goal-setting process should be to ensure that goals are easy to understand and remember. Everyone loses sight of goals amidst the mundane and chaotic circumstances of life. Goals that are too complex, wordy or boring will be lost in the whirlwind. Instead, goals should be branded. Using word alliterations, metaphors and simplicity can help to ensure goals remain top of mind. Memorable also means limited in number. There is a reason why there are seven virtues and seven dwarfs. Most of us can only remember seven things. To make goals especially memorable, work to attain fewer than five goals and never more than seven.