The Traps of Ineffective Goal Setting

Sarah, the business owner/CEO looked at her watch.  It was late on a Friday afternoon.  The company's strategic plan had just been released.  The plan had taken months to develop and she let out a deep breath of relief.  "Whew.I am glad we now have a strategic plan!" she said to herself.  But, then, it dawned on her:  the hardest part is what lies ahead-actually making the plan happen.  

Strategic plan execution requires the commitment and assistance of every employee, not only the business owner/CEO and her senior team.  CEO jawboning and baton waving may be useful at plan kick-off meetings and events, but are usually not effective in making the strategic plan actually happen.  

So why is Sarah nervous? 

We all know goal setting follows strategy.  To be successful, the strategic plan needs to be operationalized with specific goals being established, delegated and shared.  Sometimes this effort becomes too much of an individual sport and does not enroll the entire management team.  Perhaps you have you experienced dysfunctional examples like these:

  • A manager was asked to rearrange his department's priorities due to a corporate business direction change and he said he wouldn't do it because "it wasn't in (his) individual goals."
  • A  head of a company's IT department found 8 major IT projects incorporated in the goals of non-IT executives without his  prior knowledge.
  • A VP of manufacturing committed to a set of capital improvement goals without first aligning the cash requirements with the finance department.

Here are a few tips to minimize the chances these examples (or instances like them) happen again:

  • Ensure all individual employee goals be specifically aimed towards the accomplishment of the overall corporate strategic plan.  Having everyone focused on the same target increases the odds of a successful plan outcome while minimizing one-off individual exceptions.
  • Establish or modify existing incentive plans so that they can be executed with both corporate and individual goal achievement included, as they are mutually inclusive.
  • Align the goal setting process so the entire management team stays on the same page if mid-term change(s) to the plan are necessary. 

Following this recipe, a successful company will increase its odds in accomplishing its strategic, operations and process improvement goals. With the Strategic Plan as a backdrop, CEOs and business owners are responsible for ensuring the company‚Äôs goals (and their own) are achieved, on time and in line with expectations.