By Erica Olsen
Goal Setting as an Art Form

Criteria of Goals | Short Term and Long Term Goals | Categorizing Goals

Questions to Ask:

Nothing is meaningful without a context. Once you know…

  • What needs is our company trying to meet? (Competitive Advantage)
  • Why is our company is trying to meet these needs? (Purpose)
  • What is our company is going to do about needs categorically? (Objectives)
  • What is our company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats? (SWOT)

…then you have established the context for steps that the company will take in meeting the needs by setting realistic, measurable Goals. (Bobb Biehl)

Developing Goals

Realistic goals are developed from the SWOT analysis. They are not wishful thinking.
Goals describe objectives that are specific with respect to magnitude and time.
A goal is a realistic, measurable, time-dated target of accomplishment in the future.
Goals are like stair steps to your mission and vision. Goals become the bridge to turn your mission and vision to reality.

Setting goals converts the company’s mission, strategic vision and objectives into specific performance targets, something the organization’s progress can be measured. Goals represent a managerial commitment to achieving specific performance targets with a specific time frame. Companies who set goals for each objective area and then press forward with actions aimed directly at achieving these performance outcomes typically outperform companies who exhibit good intentions, try hard, and hope for the best. (Thompson Strickland, p.36)

Goals ought to serve as a tool for stretching an organization to reach its full potential; this means setting them high enough to be challenging to energize the organization and its strategy. Company performance targets that require stretch and disciplined effort are best. Bold, aggressive performance targets pushes an organization to be more intentional and focused in its actions. Setting bold, audacious goals and challenging the company to achieve them improves the quality of the organization’s effort, promotes a can-do spirit, and builds self-confidence. (Thomas Strickland, p.3,5,41)

For goals to function as yardsticks for tracking an organization’s performance and progress, they must be stated in quantifiable or measurable terms, contain a deadline for achievement, and state how much of what kind of performance by when. “You cannot manage what you cannot measure…And what gets measured gets done.” (Bill Hewlett, cofounder of Hewlett-Packard)

Stating goals in measurable terms and then holding managers accountable for reaching their assigned targets with a specified time frame:

  1. provides strategic decision making for what to accomplish
  2. provides a set of benchmarks for judging the organization’s performance. (Thompson Strickland, p.36)

Performance target goals must be established not only for the organization as a whole, but also for each of the organization’s separate businesses, product lines, functional areas, and department. Every unit in a company needs concrete, measurable performance targets that contribute meaningfully toward achieving company objectives. The ideal situation is a team effort where each organizational unit strives to produce results in its area of responsibility that contribute to the achievement of the company’s performance target goals and objectives. (Thomas Strickland, p.3,5)

Goals must state How and What
Goals must spell out how much of what kind of performance by when.

  • How much is to be accomplished
  • What kind of performance to be accomplished

This means avoiding generalities like “maximize profits,” “reduce costs,” “become more efficient,” “or increase sales,” which specify neither how much or when.

Goals must state When – Specific Deadline

  • When it is to be accomplished
  • Be specific and contain a deadline for achievement

The goal to “increase our market share” is not specific.
An example of specific goals would be:

  • To increase our market share to 15% by the end of the second year.
  • To achieve 20% annual growth rates by the end of third year.

Goals must be quantifiable or measurable

Goals must be stated in quantifiable or measurable terms. Goals track the company’s progress on a regular basis through quantifiable measures. Measurable goals facilitate management planning, implementation, and control. Goals must be measurable, or they’re only good intentions.

The following examples are not a measurable goal:

  • My goal is to do better next year.
  • Increasing revenues
  • Improve liquidity, solvency, credit and collection policies
  • Improve efficiency and productivity
  • Achieve and maintain superior customer service
  • Improve labor relations, human resource development and training
  • Improve internal communications
  • Redirect or restructure available resources
  • Improve distributor and/or supplier relationships
  • Improve marketing, advertising and public relations
  • Capitalize on physical facilities (location, capacity, etc.)
  • Improve organizational structure

Goals must be realistic

Goals must be realistic, or they are a set up for failure. Set goals you know you can reach. For many people emotionally, goal setting equals failure. If you do not have an average track record, be sure and set goals that are realistic. Do not set unrealistically high goals, because they may end up discouraging people. (Bobb Beihl)

Goals must be consistent

Goals must maintain consistency and focus. Conflicting objectives cause frustration and lack of focus. An example of an inconsistent goal is “long-term market share increase and high current profits.”

Goals should be in pencil

Goals should be in pencil, or they become concrete boxes and are used like whips. Don’t see goals as whips. You don’t have to reach every goal to make a significant difference.
Another reason goals should be in pencil, is because nobody knows what’s going to happen tomorrow. The economy may fall, or surge. Goals are based on today, and they may need to change tomorrow.

Goal setting should result in short-term, and longer-term performance targets. Short-range goals focus organizational attention on the need for immediate performance improvements and outcomes. Long-range goals focus organizational attention on what to do now to put the company in position to perform well over the longer term. (Thompson Strickland, p.7) Regardless of the type of goal, it is important for the company to view goals as motivational targets, and exciting, measurable milestones for the future.

It is suggested that a company has a maximum of 2 goals per objective area. Your organization must decide the time frame that fits your team best. The following are some examples:

Short-Term Goals
(Specific, realistic, measurable)
Ask the question: “In the next 0-1 year, what are our specific, measurable targets of accomplishment?”
Short-term goals serve as stair steps or milestones. Short-term goals indicate the speed at which the company is progress as well as the level of performance being aimed for over the year. Remember, they are targets, not whips.
Short-term goals focus on such areas as: specific goals for the next year regarding sales, profits, market share; marketing strategy; anything innovative that you plan. These should be very specific. The short-range goals become the foundation for your vision.

Long-Term Goals

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(General, yet measurable)
Ask the question: “In the next 1 – 3 years what are our possible targets of accomplishment?”
These will be a bit more uncertain than short-range goals, but still measurable.
The purpose of looking ahead is to give a general sense of heading in the same direction. This will help the company begin making the same assumptions about the future, and give a context for making daily decisions. As you think about possible long-range goals, think about the company’s potential and the needs you see, to gain a clear vision for the future.
There is a 50-70% chance of long-term goals happening as written initially. People change, economies chance and communities change. Keep in mind that all goals are flexible. The key is that no great idea is every lost, only postponed until its proper time.


  • To succeed financially, “how should we appear to our shareholders?”
  • Customer/Market
  • To achieve our vision, how should we appear to our customers?
  • Internal Business Process
  • To satisfy our shareholders and customers, what business processes must we excel at?”
  • Learning and Growth
  • To achieve our vision, “how will we sustain our ability to change and improve?”

Closing Thought
A very high percentage (possibly as high as 80%) of your success will depend on your ability to help your team set clear, realistic, measurable goals and accomplish them. The Strategic Plan gives you a context where in this realistic goal setting can happen. Once your plan is complete, a quick update every month or two can help keep your company’s future in crystal-clear focus.

Erica Olsen

Erica Olsen is the COO and a co-founder of OnStrategy. She has developed the format and the user interface for the award-winning OnStrategy on-line strategic management system. In addition, she is the author of Strategic Planning Kit for Dummies, 2nd Edition. Erica has developed and reviewed hundreds of strategic plans for public and private entities across the country and around the world. She is a lecturer at University of Nevada Reno and University of Phoenix. She holds a BA in Communications and an MBA in International Management.