5 Steps for Setting and Accomplishing Productive Goals

Goal setting is a common practice in organizations, and if done well goals lead the way to improved productivity and performance for individuals, departments, teams and the company as a whole. Yet despite widespread use of goals in business, most organizations fall victim to a number of mistakes in how they are executed.

Stretch goals, for example, are one such management practice that just doesn’t work. Studies show that stretch goals are met only 10 percent of the time. Why would organizations want to set goals that are typically only met 10 percent of the time? Organizations get caught up in the goals themselves and fail to realize that what they should be doing is setting realistic goals that motivate employees to do more. The only way to motivate employees is through positive reinforcement, and if goals are rarely reached, the potential to deliver positive reinforcement is diminished.

Here are five steps you should take when setting goals for you or your team:

  1. Keep it simple. Focus on just one or two things at a time. Trying to accomplish too many things at once prevents you from being able to do any one of them well.
  2. Define clear, actionable behaviors. Think about what needs to be done to accomplish the goal. Break down the steps into concise actions you can take.
  3. Set many, mini goals. Break big goals into smaller, more easily achievable ones and you will increase the probability for success. Positive reinforcement accelerates performance and therefore, the more reinforcement opportunities available, the more earned, and the faster and greater the improvement. As the saying goes, success breeds success.
  4. Forget stretch goals. Further emphasizing step No. 3, do away with big goals that are tough to hit. Setting a goal too high and not reaching it quickly enough will only result in getting discouraged and giving up.
  5. Celebrate! Reward and recognize yourself or others every time a milestone or goal is reached. Recognizing even incremental progress toward a goal provides more frequent opportunities for reinforcement. The more reinforcement, the greater the likelihood the desired behavior will be repeated, and the more likely achievement of long-term goals will be made. Making accomplishments visible and sharing them publicly (when appropriate) can also create more reinforcement from peers, groups and management teams who recognize and acknowledge your success.

A quick and easy way to remember the basics of goal setting is to think SMART. Variations of this acronym are floating around business blogs and columns, but here’s our take: think about making goals small, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely. Try following these guidelines next time you have a goal to reach and see the difference you experience in getting results.