Organisations often ask their employees about their future plans. This may sound like a cliché, but it is essential for employees to have set goals and a clear vision of their professional trajectory. It can help them achieve workplace success, both in the short and long term. When employees vocalise their career aspirations and map out their goals, it helps them direct their daily efforts towards achieving their larger objectives.
Incorporating goal-setting frameworks within teams and across organisations enhances the efforts, aligning individual employee goals into coherent strategies to move entire departments or companies forward. Frameworks such as Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and the SMART goal model (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound goals) have proved to be powerful tools to maintain focus, clarity, and accountability around both broad organisational targets and individual employee contributions over time.
Thoughtful goal-setting is highly beneficial for both employees and organisations. Studies have shown that employees who have clear goals in their work tend to have higher levels of self-efficacy and outperform those without established objectives in the long run. On the organisational side, companies that prioritise objectives-based management and cascade top-level company goals down to team and employee goals tend to experience stronger growth, higher returns for shareholders, and a more engaged company culture.
In this article, we will explain why goal setting is crucial for success, and outline best practices for setting achievable goals.
What is a goal?
A goal is a clear and measurable objective that an individual or organisation works towards achieving over a certain period of time. Goals help to provide direction, focus and a standard to evaluate progress against, encouraging consistent action that aligns with their achievement.
In a professional business setting, there are goals at both the employee and organisational levels. The individual employee goals usually include specific performance targets and learning objectives that are directly related to their job responsibilities. Additionally, they may aim to improve their skills in areas that the managers find valuable. On the other hand, organisational goals are strategic milestones set by the leadership team. These goals are usually expected to be achieved over a period of 1-5 years and are tied to metrics such as revenue growth, market share capture, new product launches or profitability.
Well-constructed goals tend to share some common attributes:
- Specificity - they communicate an unambiguous achievement. Rather than "increase sales", a goal would state "increase sales in the Northern Territory by 15% over the next financial year".
- Measurability - there is a metric attached to the goal that allows progress monitoring.
- Achievability - the scope of the goal is ambitious yet attainable given resource constraints.
- Relevance - the goal ladders up to higher organisational priorities and strategies.
- Time-bound - a specific deadline or duration is attached to the goal.
It is essential to set impactful goals across different business functions, teams, and individual roles. Aligning an entire company around common priorities involves aligning top-level organisational goals with departmental objectives and individual employee goals. This also enables transparency around monitoring collective progress. Regular check-ins around goal progress serves to motivate team members toward shared milestones.
Types of goals
Organisations and employees set different goals to drive progress across multiple dimensions. Each goal type serves a unique purpose.
Business goals refer to the broad and far-reaching objectives that guide an organisation's strategic direction. Typically established by executive leadership, they capture the overall aspirations of a company to compete effectively, deliver value to customers, expand its offerings, and more. Business goals are designed to be achieved over a long-term horizon.
- Achieve #1 market share in a product category
- Release 2 major software upgrades annually
Performance goals directly link to employees' responsibilities and job output, setting expectations for excellence and efficiency in each role. They also clarify how activities align with business objectives.
- Cross-sell additional products to 25% of existing customers
- Maintain 95% uptime on critical production systems
Learning and development goals
Unlike output-focused performance measures, learning goals identify the competencies, knowledge areas, and skills managers want employees to attain for career advancement. Development planning aims to continuously elevate capacity.
- Complete 3 specialised marketing analytics seminars
- Lead brainstorming on product roadmap planning
Defining business goals
Effective goal setting is a crucial element for achieving success in business, both for the organisation as a whole and for individual employees. Business goals consist of specific strategic objectives and measurable targets that determine an organisation's priorities, initiatives, and continuous operations. Clear goal setting is essential for concentrating efforts, ensuring transparency about desired outcomes, and assessing performance across an entire company.
Goals in a business context can take many forms:
- Growth goals - Targets related to business expansion, such as revenue increases, customer acquisition, market share capture, or new product penetration.
- Profitability goals - Efficiency and earnings-related aims like percentage margins, expense reduction, or overall profit thresholds.
- Operational goals - Objectives tied to business processes, capabilities, and competencies, like shipping times, manufacturing defect rates, or platform uptime.
- Learning and development goals - Goals oriented around employee skills acquisition and talent progression.
Defining business goals and communicating them across different functions can offer several benefits. Goals play a crucial role in strategic planning by helping to assess progress and ROI on initiatives. They also enable the prioritisation of tasks and resources towards key milestones and keep employees aligned and motivated towards a shared mission.
Renowned motivation researchers Edwin Locke and Gary Latham found through decades of studies on goal-setting that individuals and teams exhibited higher performance when working toward specific, challenging goals rather than more general abstract objectives. Their Goal Setting Theory is grounded in the observation that much of human action is purposeful and tied to objective outcomes, making goal clarity and measurement critical for consistency, achievement, and driving behaviour.
With this theoretical backdrop in mind, let's explore best practices around actionable business goal-setting.
How to set goals
Creating impactful goals is a crucial initial stage for any business that wants to advance strategically. However, only stating the objectives is not enough. Organisations should also establish structured processes and frameworks to make sure that the goals can be executed. In this regard, it is important to explore best practices at each stage of the goal-setting workflow, starting from high-level objective setting to tactical implementation.
1. Define qualitative goals
Setting goals starts with leadership, who must clearly state their vision and aspirations for the business's future. This process involves identifying qualitative goals across key areas such as revenue growth, customer acquisition, market expansion, operational improvements, or new product development. It is important to avoid focusing solely on metrics and instead prioritise objectives that capture the desired strategic outcomes.
2. Quantify with specific metrics
Once you have identified your qualitative goals, it is important to convert them into specific and measurable targets. You can do this by asking questions such as "What scale of growth do we want to achieve?", "How many customers or prospects do we aim to acquire?", and "What is the expected timeline for these targets?". Although it can be challenging, it is essential to settle on concrete metrics to track your progress.
3. Break goals down into milestones
To achieve bigger goals, it is important to break them down into smaller, more manageable milestones. For instance, if the goal is to increase revenue, setting quarterly targets can help track incremental progress and keep the focus on immediate priorities. Aligning top-level goals with these milestone markers can help employees stay on track and work towards achieving the overall objective.
4. Build action plans for execution
To achieve their goals, leaders should set quantifiable targets and milestones. After that, they need to create tactical plans that define HOW these goals will be achieved. These plans should include specific activities such as targeted marketing campaigns, hiring new employees for implementation, or making operational changes. By creating action plans, leaders can bring clarity to previously ambiguous objectives and ensure successful execution.
5. Track and report on progress
During the execution phase, it is important to establish recurring check-ins to monitor progress, assess milestone achievement, and identify potential roadblocks early on. Consistent tracking against goals, combined with timely adjustments as needed, helps to maintain alignment on priorities across the organisation.
With these goal-setting fundamentals in place, businesses gain a results-driven framework for channelling efforts toward measurable outcomes.
How to achieve goals
Transforming strategic goals into tangible outcomes requires dedicated structures and processes to maintain momentum. Below are best practices for driving continuous progress on individual and organisational goals:
1. Attach target completion dates
Tying specific deadline dates to goals creates urgency and prompts action. Connecting due dates to milestones on quarterly or annual calendars keeps goals feeling proximate and prevents diffusion across endless time horizons.
2. Schedule regular progress reviews
It is important to schedule regular meetings to help evaluate progress, identify roadblocks, and recognise achievements for both individual employees and teams as a whole.
3. Visually display and publicise goals
It's important to display goals visually throughout the workplace using charts, digital dashboards, and other public displays. This helps teams stay informed and motivated to meet targets.
4. Link goals to employee development plans
Connect major goals, especially stretch assignments, to employee growth trajectories and skill building. Doing so invests staff in outcomes through elevating competencies and career path clarity.
5. Celebrate milestones
Team celebrations or events can help maintain motivation as team members work towards long-term goals.
6. Re-evaluate and refresh goals periodically
It is important to periodically review higher-level goals to ensure they align with the company's strategy. This includes updating long-term goals and milestones to prevent stagnation and adjusting targets as business conditions evolve.
Teams can achieve organisational success by persistently focusing on working and reworking their goals, which transforms static objectives into dynamic engines.
How to align individual, team and organisational goals
It is critical for organisations to align their goals at all levels to maintain focus and consistency to ensure seamless execution of strategies.
1. Customise goal frameworks
To make goal-setting more effective, it is better to tailor the framework and language used to specific departments and job levels, rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all approach across the company. For instance, the top-level management team could establish broad business objectives for the company, while product teams could use OKRs to achieve their goals, and customer service representatives could use performance KPIs to evaluate their performance.
2. Actively participate in goal-setting
Collaborative goal-setting with managers and staff prevents top-down decrees, increases buy-in, and surfaces disconnects early.
3. Establish visible cross-references
When documenting departmental and staff objectives, explicitly connect them to larger business goals even when they are scattered geographically or organisationally.
4. Design review touch points
Evaluate alignment through regular reviews with leadership, managers, and employees to track progress on goals and priorities. Adjust as needed.
While achieving optimal goal interlinkage across a large organisation may pose a challenge, purposeful structures and touchpoints can promote ongoing connectivity, visibility, and recalibration.
5. Leverage intuitive tools
Tools like Tability make it easy to align your team's efforts with strategic objectives, ensuring that every task contributes to the organisation's overall success.
Setting goals is a vital process for aligning employees, teams, and entire organisations around shared objectives that contribute to overall business strategies. By clearly defining qualitative goals, quantifying them with metrics, breaking them down into milestones, building execution plans, and reviewing progress, leaders can transform aspirations into tangible results.
Setting structured goals can help create transparency, accountability, and motivation within an organisation. This can be achieved by linking major organisational targets with specific departmental initiatives and individual development plans. Customising goal frameworks, actively collaborating on goal development, and visibly linking goals across the organisation can ensure the coherence of efforts at scale. It's also important to periodically review alignment to ensure that everyone is on track.