How to set Goals and Achieve Them

How to set Goals

How to set Goals?

Having clear, compelling goals for people to work toward is key to preventing trouble from arising. In this blog, we explain how we set goals and achieve them.


Start with the “big why.”

Why is your goal important to you? Even more important, why is it important to your clients? Why is it important to your employees? You can set goals for a period of time, for a project, or set the stage for creating a new organization. Whatever you set a goal for, start with the big why! 


Make your goals about going somewhere inspiring.

Too often, managers put forth goals about “not doing” something. We are going to “stop providing bad service” is not nearly as compelling as “customers will call other people to tell them about the service we provided them.” 


Be fearless in your challenge.

Outright impossible goals are depressing; however, goals that are outrageously hard and very worth doing are inspiring. Leaders are too often anxious about setting hard goals.


They want to make the workplace fun.

They may fear attrition or complaining. Fear not. People want to climb the metaphorical mountains that are important. They will invest in the leader who believes they are capable of the difficult journey.

Create goals

Create goals that are worth the journey.


Goals that are worth the journey are the perfect complement to being fearless about the challenge you set forth. The goal may be difficult.


It is possible that we may fail to meet the full extent of the goal. Nonetheless, with great goals, everyone knows it is worth the journey. They know that they will personally be better for it because they were part of the journey.


The famous goal to “put a man on the moon by the end of this decade” was hard, was exciting, and to the United States, was worth the journey. 


Work on language that will create visceral emotion. Think about emotions. How can you state your goal so that it will evoke an emotion that people understand, care about, and will remember?


Instead of saying, “We need to ensure that we deliver on time” say “We are the exemplars of our industry. Our customers will know that we know more, care more, do more about delivering great value to their needs than anyone else ever can.” 


Leave room for people to take their own meaning and ownership.

Be ambiguous in details on purpose. If you provide too much detail, it leaves no room for the imagination to take hold. It doesn’t leave room for dialogue.


Steve Jobs once told a team that he wanted the “buttons to look so good on the screen that people would want to lick them.” It is visceral, exciting, and worthy. It is also so ambiguous that it leaves room for people to be inventive.

goal to engage

Use your goal to engage in dialogue.

People often complain about ambiguous goals. But that is the secret ingredient to great goal statements.


When a goal is put forward and there is no dialogue, there is no way to truly know if it was understood or even heard! When teams engage in the dialogue, even to complain, they will start to figure out what the goal means to them and how they can contribute.


The goals you provide are not the end of the conversation but a compelling start to the conversation. Done in this way, ownership of the goal grows throughout the organization. Further, the results the leader is seeking also grow beyond original aspirations.


Pointing the Battling Leadership Team to a New Challenge

Leadership Team

The company I worked with had achieved success. Yet the members of the leadership team were like a sailing ship on a becalmed sea. It seemed that they were not making progress toward anything!


These squabbling, dysfunctional titans did not need a team-building event in the desert. They did not need trust-falls. They did not need training on how to speak politely to each other. They needed a quest that would challenge them intensely. Further, it had to be a quest they believed in.


The CEO worked to create compelling goals that would engage the leadership team and the whole organization in a new quest. The CEO and I worked together to create a speech to set the stage for the next step of his company’s journey.


In creating the speech, we worked to follow the hidden structure of many great speeches. That hidden structure is to draw three distinct, inspiring lines for the listener.


These three lines represent where we have come, where we are now, and where we need to go. For example, in JFK’s famous speeches about putting a man on the moon, he recognizes the past and how very far we have come to reach today.


He then goes to the future and draws a compelling vision of where we can go. He returns to the present day and notes the big gap between the current state of the U.S. capacity and how much growth is required to put a man on the moon. He then returns to the past and says we can do it because look what we have done before.


The CEO gathered the entire leadership team at an offsite event and set the stage for what was to come. He said:


We have come a long way. We remember the various times that we almost went out of business. We remember sweating in the trailers in the farm field we used for offices, putting in long hours across nights and weekends to pull off the impossible.


It was worth it. We have arrived. We are out of danger. Looking backward we can see that our journey was the hero’s journey. We had to battle the equivalent of ogres, trolls, and various other monsters to survive.


We did survive. I am personally relieved to be at a place where we have many loyal customers. We have a payroll in the bank well into the future. We have loyal, enthusiastic people working for us. We actually have a real building! We have now arrived.


We are not done. It is time to thrive.

We are not going to be the Chicago Cubs, who last won a World Series in 1908. For our industry, we are setting our goals to be akin to the New York Yankees history in baseball. We are going to from this day forward build our organization to produce multiple championships.


The heroics that got us to this place are amazing. It will take more than that to go to the places that we can go. It is what we learned on that journey that will enable us to do so much more.


I have a set of outrageous goals I am going to lay out for us. They are about our technology, about our industry, about what we can really do for our customers.


This workshop we are about to do is to take those goals I have and for us all to wrestle with them. I want us to make them more outrageous. I also want us to create the start of the plan of what we must do to achieve them.

speak about goals

The CEO then went on to lay out his critical three goals about what he wanted this team to achieve in the next five years. He made his goals concise, memorable, visceral, and sufficiently ambiguous.


They spoke to the passions of his leadership team and were indeed outrageously hard. The goals pointed to new marketplace segments and also outlined some new product lines that would be extremely hard to create.


After his speech, he had each of the leadership team members take time to speak about the goals including what they would mean to them personally to be able to engage in this quest.


He wanted to know how they could make those goals more important, more exciting to the organization and to each of them as leaders. What could they do to contribute?


The ensuing discussion was passionate, exciting, and filled with laughter. I must note that there were some arguments, but the arguments were constructive and built toward a better, clearer, more exciting set of goals.


The CEO gave them a mountain to climb.

It was not the end of conflict for the team. However, it served to transform the conflict from destructive to constructive. The CEO and his leadership team followed through and made sure that transformation was tremendous.



compelling goals

Having clear, compelling goals for people to work toward is key to preventing trouble from arising. It is also essential for being able to deal with trouble more effectively when it does arise.


For this blog’s reflection points, I encourage you to engage in the following thought experiments.

  1.  Do you have any symptoms of trouble that point back to a lack of compelling goals? 
  2.  What is the current compelling vision guiding your organization? 
  3.  Is it clear to others?
  4.  How can you tell?


Set Project Goals

Set Project Goals

The members of the executive team spent two hours to put together their goals for the project, both the long-term goals and the goals they had for the initial stage of the project. They were ready to invest in a new product suite, based on new technologies, to provide value to their existing customers in an unprecedented way.


They believed that this new product could result in millions of dollars of additional revenue. The executives put together an idea of when they would like the final product ready for the market and an initial set of ideas of what the product would do.


However, they did not stop there. They also set out objectives for rapidly building some prototypes so that they could test the premise of their product ideas with customers as quickly as possible.


They also wanted the team to discover if they were realistic or unrealistic in their schedule ambition for achieving a full feature set delivered to the customers.


List the most important positive impacts you will have this week.

positive impact

Think about the positive impact you plan to make this week. Think about how to make that impact with the least amount of effort and time. Focus on value and return on investment of your time.


Make the list realistic for the week based on the most important areas. It is great to add stretch goals. Even with those stretch goals, ensure that you are leaving open space on your calendar for those things that will come up.


Make your list of “No, that will not happen” and either send or prepare to provide your polite words of “No thank you.” Again, this may sound selfish, but saying “no” to obligatory meetings or to less important meetings is not selfish.


You are focused on energizing yourself and your organization. The exceptional leader accepts the reality that all of your “to do items” will not fit in a week. You also know that you can have a positive impact every day. 


 Plan how to start the week with great momentum. Start every week with a quick win that makes a positive impact. It helps others and gets the week started in the absolute right direction. It is more likely to happen when you plan for that to happen! 


This list may seem like it will take more than one hour. Leaders who do this for the first time discover that it does take more time.


The challenge is getting a system in place that helps keep the most important things in mind. Further, you may need to train others in your organization about how you have updated how you “own” your week.

After the start-up period, it takes less than an hour. The return on your energy is well worth that time!


Improve Your Ability to Improve

Two years ago I gave a speech to an audience of about 200. Afterward, I had a nice line of people coming up to ask me some detailed questions. The last person asked me a question that made me laugh out loud after I understood it.


She said: “How did you do that?” I thought she meant the stellar results I had helped an organization achieve, which was the focus of my talk.


She explained more. She wanted to know “How did you give a speech where you were so comfortable, were interactive with the audience, answered questions the whole time, still hit all the important points, finished on time, and made me laugh?”


This made me laugh out loud for a couple of reasons. First, I am not sure that the guy who fell asleep in the third row, fourth from the left, about eight minutes in and didn’t wake up until the final applause felt the same way!


I also laughed because I still remembered my first public speech, which was a mess, both in content and in my sweaty panic.


The quick answer I gave was simply, “I decided to become excellent at giving talks. That is the best place to start.” After I made that big decision, I started to work at it. I am now very comfortable at giving talks, and I do feel confident that they are usually good.


However, I am not done working on this skill. I will get better, and I have specific plans on what things I will do to accelerate that improvement.


The reason I am confident that I will get better is that the skill I have been really working to master is how to accelerate my ability to improve at anything!


Improving your skill at “how” to improve is the most powerful of all skills to master. Improving your ability to improve leads to making your leadership sweet spot bigger and more powerful. It leads to higher-level energizing partnerships. It leads to improvement in all areas.


The exceptional leader looks at all the problems and obstacles he faces. He thinks about what the common denominator is for all those problems. He looks in the mirror and smiles because he knows that common denominator is him.


The exceptional leader knows that he has the ability to improve.

And we can all improve in that skill. The following are the keys to taking ownership of accelerating your ability to improve.


Start with a clear intention and belief. If you have something that you want to improve at, decide to get better. Believe that you are absolutely capable of getting better.


Better yet, believe that because of your intention, you are already better just by being aware of the need, and having the desire. Write down your goals for getting better and why it is important to you.


Determine some indicators of success. 

Your intention will be made much stronger by thinking about what it means to be better and asking yourself “How will I know that I am better?” When I decided to get better at giving public speeches I had a few simple ways to know if I had actually improved.


For example, in the first speech I gave, I saw people quietly (and not so quietly) slipping out the back doors of the room. In more recent speeches, I have had people tell me that others had texted them to come to see my talk, which was already in progress. It is important to have external indicators that you indeed are improving in the direction you desire.


Decide what things you will do differently.

And then, do those things differently. Doing the same thing the same way over and over again will get very similar results. So, when you decide to get better at something, think about what things you will actually change and what things you will try.


You can do this immediately, even without a mentor or by reading a blog. I am going to recommend those, but there is no good reason I can think of to wait unless you are parachuting or racing cars or the like!


Learn from success and from successful failures.

Celebrate both. Successful failures are failed attempts where you learned something. Note that also means you could have failed successes, in that you didn’t learn why you were successful. So keep learning. Celebrate both! The better you get at celebrating failures the faster you will learn.


Watch others, both the good and the bad. As soon as I decided to get great at giving speeches, it changed my speech-watching habits completely. I paid more attention to all the speeches I went to—the good and the bad. I made notes about each and why I thought they were good or bad. This gathering of experience helped me accelerate my progress immensely.


Find exceptional mentors. Seek people who are better than you are and ask how they mastered that which you wish to master. If they seem to be a good fit, ask them for their help.


How do you find a good mentor? Read blogs and write to the authors. Ask others who you see are good at what you want to improve it. Talk to them. Get their advice.


Create safe places to try new methods. If you have no fear any place can be safe. However, I think it is still a good idea to have a testing ground. You can role-play with trusted peers.


Or you can seek a community of people pursuing a similar quest to improve. For example, Toastmasters is a community where many find a safe place to improve at giving speeches. You can create your own safe place by accepting that you can make mistakes and it is okay.


Be willing to make public mistakes. If you are trying new methods, it is very possible that the first couple of times might feel awkward and might even look awkward. You might feel less competent.


You will make mistakes even when you are good, so really don’t worry about it. If you can accept that public mistake-making, you will be much more likely to learn, celebrate, and accelerate your improvement.


Treasure empty spaces. Truly great ideas for improvement come when you have successfully emptied your mind from worries and distractions and enabled your mind to be open to new ideas that are hidden within you.


Use meditation, long walks in nature, watching bad movies, heavy exercise, listening to great music, or anything that helps you be receptive to new ideas.


Relax into the joy of learning. I remember vividly the first day my daughter learned to walk when she was about eighteen months old. Within two hours she was running barefoot across stones yelling “ow, ow, ow” and laughing the whole time.


Learning new things and doing things new ways can be itself a great reward or it can be a stressful trudge. Choose the joy path! Truly relax into the joy of learning new ways.