Making Goals that Work

People often confuse being busy with being productive. One of the reasons professionals spin their wheels without moving forward is that they don’t set realistic and relevant goals. People engage in a series of activities that cause them to work long hours. Yet, after six months or a year, what has been accomplished?

Activities or a “to do” list might look like this: Answer all my e-mail by the end of the day. Or, meet with my staff once a week. However, goals are very different.

As a leader, consider these ground rules when establishing goals for yourself or your team: Make sure you believe in the goal. Don’t just go through the motions. If you don’t buy in to the goal, how can you communicate it to your team members with conviction? How can you have the passion and persistence necessary to get through the tough times and obstacles that are sure to come?

Here are steps for goal setting:

  • Connect your goal to a larger strategic game plan. Team members must understand why they are working toward this particular goal and how it connects to the “bigger picture.” If not, they won’t take it seriously and neither will you.
  • Limit the number of goals you set. Too often we create a laundry list of goals that could never realistically be accomplished. We confuse quantity with quality. Setting the bar high is one thing, engaging in fantasy is another. The more realistic the goal, the greater the odds of achieving it.
  • State your goal in a concise and straightforward fashion. Do it in understandable, everyday English—not jargon-filled, flowery bureaucratic lingo. No one will be impressed. In fact, quite the opposite.
  • Be very specific in the results you seek and the time frame you are looking at. Six months or a year from now, how close will you be to meeting your goal? Make sure progress can be measured by credible qualitative or quantitative performance standards. Use surveys, statistics and other feedback mechanisms.
  • Be firm but flexible. Yes, you are committed to achieving the goal but you must adapt to circumstances and changes and possibly revise original goals.
  • Goals should be action-oriented with verbs that describe what you seek to accomplish.

Consider these examples of goals and adapt them to your team:

  • Create and implement a new marketing plan in the next 30 days that will bring in $500,000 in new revenue over the next 12 months.
  • Establish an “Employee of the Week” program that recognizes your most productive people and in turn improves employee satisfaction scores by 15% over the next six months.
  • Develop and implement a quality customer service initiative that improves customer satisfaction scores by 10% and brings in 5% more revenue over the next year.

Clearly communicate your goals to the team on a consistent basis. Don’t assume because they are written in an e-mail or highlighted in a PowerPoint presentation that everyone is on board.

Talk to your people about the goals and get their reaction and feedback. Identify potential obstacles and challenges to accomplishing the goal and revise if necessary. The key to remember is that you are a team. These are the team’s goals, not simply the boss’s goals.

Finally, make sure at the end of the period of time that performance in connection to these goals is reviewed and new goals are established accordingly.


Steve Adubato, PhD, is the author of five books including, "Lessons in Leadership.” His sixth book, "Lessons in Leadership 2.0: The Tough Stuff," will be released in summer 2023. He is an Emmy® Award-winning anchor with programs airing on Thirteen/WNET (PBS) and NJ PBS. He has also appeared on CNN, NPR and NBC’s Today show. Steve Adubato's "Lessons in Leadership" video podcast with co-host Mary Gamba airs Sundays at 10:00 a.m. on News 12+. For more information visit