Goal setting


Goal setting is in every leaders handbook. It comes in all forms and shapes. Every organisation’s HR department has a program about it. Goals or personal objectives are aligned to organisational programs, directed to improving your generic skill set or to bridge a knowledge gap. Now, what I find intriguing, is how goals are achieved. What’s your strategy to make goals work out?

I talked about learning through failure some days ago. But I don’t think that is a good strategy for goal setting where you set an objective for somebody else. There is the most popular goal setting acronym:


Specific – means the goal needs to be clear. It can’t be something like “improve the relationship with business partners” or “keep your things in order”. These are far too fuzzy. Name the business partner, be clear what you include with “your things”.

Measurable – Everybody has a different value system. What means “tidy” for you is over the top for the other person and not good enough for the next. Make it measurable by saying what your expectations are. For example, “put your clothes into your wardrobe and don’t leave them cluttered on the floor”. “have monthly catch up’s with business partner x,y and z” would be another example.

Achievable – Goals must be achievable. Hence don’t set somebody up for failure. There’s nothing wrong for the goal to be a stretch but it can’t be out of reach. Otherwise you’ll have the opposite effect and your colleague or kid will disengage. “There’s no fun working with you.” or “that’s mean.” could be a response.

Relevant – The objective must be in context what is happening now or is going to happen very soon. A target which is of relevance in 2 years will loose focus and attention quickly. Not only by the person who is being tasked but also by yourself as your attention is on things that are important right now.

Time bound – By when. The clock is ticking. There is a target date by which the work has to be handed in. Sounds familar? Homework had a date, University papers had a date, and now objectives have a date.

There is an alternative acronym which has similarities and differences


Sensory specific – Can you imagine how it feels, smells, looks like, or what sounds it makes when you reached your goal? That is essential for having success. This approach is vastly different from the previous one where you describe the objective in rational words and put it into discreet factoids. This approach asked for your imagination. Close your eyes and feel how you hit the ball and score a goal.

Positive – Make sure you express the goal in a positive way. If you have a colleague who always works late, don’t say “I don’t want you to work after 5pm.” Formulate in a positive spin, “Organise your workload so you finish every day by 5pm.”

Ecological – The goal has to fit into your world. There is no point to ask your colleagues to come by bus to work if there is no public transport where they live. Consider your reason for setting a target and formulate so it fits.

Choice increasing – The objective must add value by being or creating a new alternative to existing options. When you want a person to develop a new skill or increase their ability, does it add value for the person or organisation? For example, having a second person who can operate a specific machine, which in turn could mean for that person to have more flexible hours.

Initiated by self – the target must come from you or at least you must fully agree with it. Putting a target on someone that doesn’t gel with the person is a waste of time for all.

First step identified – have a clear understanding how to start the task. It is okay if this is verbally communicated, but often a lot better if it is written down. Making the first step on a journey is a significant step to its completion.

Your resources identified – It is very important to know what is required to get the job done. This can be a checklist which gets updated along the way, although you need to be fairly clear at the start that the element of I don’t know what I don’t know is very small.


The former is used in most organisations. Put it this way, I personally don’t know any organisation that uses the second model. There is a distinct advantage in the first model, it’s digital and thus it fits into our digital world perfectly. The latter model has a “touchy / feely” aspect that doesn’t sit well with the established system. The thinking is changing – slowly but surely. And looking at it more closely there are similarities in terms of measurements and being specific. But there are striking differences, most importantly – there is usually a reward system to the current standard attached. Which means you achieved the target you get something that was agreed upon earlier. Sales people working on a commission are the perfect example. The latter system doesn’t need a reward system because it has it build in. Look at it again, “Sensory specific” gives you the engagement, you can feel the success and it feels good! “Choice increasing” adds value for both parties, the reward is part of the realised objective. Worth a second look?

Looking forward to some comments 🙂


2 comments on “Goal setting

  1. […] was flabbergasted. Why would you need fuzzy goals? Aren’t we well trained to have and pursue smart goals? Be clear about what you want to achieve otherwise you end up somewhere different, is what several […]

  2. […] starts with goal setting. And I’ve blogged about that […]

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