I’m going to differentiate well crafted from poorly crafted business goals. Your ability to manage your business, your work, your budget, your people and yourself depend on this skill, so spending the next five minutes digesting this brief material can be a game changer for you.

Let’s start with a quiz. The following are two actual performance goals from two clients of mine from years past. The question: What do they have in common?

  • “Ensure that the business makes good investment decisions.”
  • “Deliver financial results for 2003 while maintaining a high quality of execution.”

Here’s the answer: Neither of these is a legitimate goal or objective.

Both of these statements provide good categories for objectives, but neither of these meets the criteria for a well-written business objective. Whether you’re creating a business plan or criteria for a performance evaluation, well-written goals or objectives (for our purpose here, the terms are interchangeable) meet five acid tests, symbolized by the acronym S•M•A•R•T.

Goals must be:

  • Specific. The goal “work out with a personal trainer three times a week” is much more specific than “start exercising.” Both of my client goals cited earlier were really too general.
  • Measurable. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. That does not mean that measures have to be in dollars. If your goal is not measurable, however, it’s an aspiration, a good idea, or (more often than not) a hallucination. I used to work for a guy who, when reviewing generic, immeasurable goals would ask, “So, how do I know when we can declare victory?”
  • Attainable. When you begin setting goals, you learn a lot about goal setting and about yourself. Goals that seem like they “stretch” you too much initially seem perfectly reasonable shortly thereafter. “Attainable” does not mean easy. In 1970, martial artist Bruce Lee wrote the following: “By 1980, I will be the best known Oriental movie star in the United States, and I will have secured $10 million.” Now there’s a goal.

    Stretch goals engender commitment, activate energetic responses, stimulate the generation of creative action steps and “close the exit doors” on excuses. Make sure that “attainable” becomes more challenging over time.

  • Realistic. This is the first cousin of “attainable.” If you’re 65 years old without a college education, it is probably unreasonable to expect to “become a world-class neurosurgeon within five years.” It is not unreasonable to aspire to “obtain a college degree and a medical degree within 10 years,” if you are totally committed to doing so. On a personal note, I gave up the dream of being the next Mick Jagger about 25 years ago, although I still occasionally fantasize about it!
  • Timely, or (my preference) time-bound. By when are you going to achieve your goal? If you’re a sales person, a plan to produce $10 million in new business by 12/31/12 has teeth. Without a target date, it’s an illusion.

Some additional points about goals/objectives:

  • Goals are commitments. Viewing them that way will ensure greater diligence. If it doesn’t, ask yourself the following: “How am I dealing with the other commitments in my life?”
  • Goals should represent aspirations that you can control or significantly influence. Otherwise, they’ll become a source of frustration, and you’ll likely abandon them.
  • You must craft action plans that detail how you’ll achieve your goal. “Chunk down” your goal into interim measurables and incremental steps to get you there. These must specify the “who,” the “when,” the resources necessary, and the feedback mechanisms you’ll use to track progress.

Obstacles you must overcome:

  • Plans can become credenza ornaments. Your plan won’t achieve results; you must. Focus and discipline are really important.
  • Plans can be too unspecific. You cannot assess your progress against lofty, philosophical abstractions.
  • Personal change is difficult. Here’s something most goal setting literature doesn’t tell you: If you are not comfortable setting goals, this can be a really scary proposition. When you create objectives and action plans, your actions will take place sometime in the future. Your enthusiasm for doing what you plan to do will diminish when you confront the difficulty of doing it. Commitment is easy when its implications are remote and abstract. When it’s imminent and concrete, it’s another matter. To be a goal achiever, your resolve must be greater than your resistance.
  • Without accountability, goal setting is a waste of time. “Accountability” is an overused and misused word. For accountability to exist, there must be consequences. If your goals are your personal secret, your only accountability will be to yourself. In an organizational context, many (maybe most) bosses profess accountability but enforce the following:


Goal setting is an art more than a science, but I can say the following unequivocally: Virtually all high achievers are goal setters. Setting goals helps them become who they want to be. Achieving goals helps them determine who they then want to become.

Copyright 2012 Rand Golletz. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Rand Golletz is the managing partner of Rand Golletz Performance Systems, a leadership development, executive coaching and consulting firm that works with senior corporate leaders and business owners on a wide range of issues, including interpersonal effectiveness, brand-building, sales management, strategy creation and implementation. For more information and to sign up for Rand's free newsletter, The Real Deal, visit http://www.randgolletz.com.