How to Write Goals: Effective Goal Setting 101 [with Examples]

By Jessica Wishart

How to Write Goals: Effective Goal Setting 101 [with Examples]

Successful SMART goal (priority) setting is an essential skill for both personal and professional success. If you aren’t setting goals, How to write effective goalyou’re likely not making progress. However, research by the University of Scranton found that 92% of people who set New Year's resolutions never achieve them.

Business goals don't fare much better; 67% of great strategies fail due to poor execution. Writing an effective goal will increase your chances of successfully achieving that goal, or quarterly rock. Fortunately, goal-setting is a skill that you can learn and improve. Setting goals and priorities is essential to running a great company so it is worth the time and effort to improve this skill to write effective performance goals.

Here are 6 Easy Steps to Writing Actionable Goals and Priorities:

Effective Goal Setting

How to Write Effective Goals 

  1. Make it Actionable. Use a verb when writing your goal. Be clear and specific about what you will actually do. Anyone should be able to read your goal and understand exactly what you'll be doing. For example, we see goals that simply say, "Tradeshow." You can increase the likelihood of successfully setting and achieving your goal by making it more specific: "Get contact information for 20 leads from demo booth at Trade Show."  Goals that are specific make it clear for all involved parties and leave no room for interpretation.  
  2. Assign an Accountable Owner. Many people may contribute work to your priority or goal, but there should only be one owner—one person who is ultimately accountable for the priority's success. Without one clear owner, the goal may slip off your radar screen; you need someone who is driving it, coordinating all the moving parts, keeping the momentum going and ensuring the work gets done.
  3. Establish Timing. When setting priorities always include a start and end date, and be realistic about what you can accomplish in a given time-frame. Time bound goals are important, especially if others are dependent on your completing this goal and create a sense of urgency.
  4. Clearly Define Success. Determine clear success criteria for your priority so you know what it looks like to achieve the goal. If your goal is a business one, ensure your expectations on success are aligned with everyone on the team. Everyone needs to agree on when we reach the goal to ensure that we are achieving success.  We use a simple Red-Yellow-Green method to set clear success criteria:
    1. Red = Failure or unacceptable performance on the priority
    2. Yellow = Between Red and Green
    3. Green = Successful completion of the goal
    4. SuperGreen = Stretch goal
  5. Connect to Why. Understanding how this goal fits into the big picture is important and will help you stay motivated. Link this priority to your longer-term strategy or connect it to your larger goals in some clear way to increase the likelihood that you will complete it.
  6. Break it Down into Milestone Actions. What are the top 2-3 tasks that you will have to accomplish to achieve the goal? When will you need to do them in order to hit your due date? Who will be involved in helping? Establishing a clear action plan will help you accomplish your goal. These action steps will help you with time management and allow you to carve out the time and effort needed to achieve your goal.

Once your priority is written, the real work begins—now you actually have to execute to achieve the goal. If you’ve followed the steps above, you’ve set yourself up for success by thinking and planning effectively. This will help you maximize your chances of success now that you're ready to move into doing the work and is an integral part of any plan.

Actionable Goal Writing Examples:

  1. Keep it visible. Put it on a dashboard where others can see it and help you remain accountable to your stated goal.
  2. Status it weekly. How are you doing based on the success criteria you set out for yourself?
  3. Make adjustments as needed. If you can see that you aren’t on track to hit the goal by the deadline, what else can you do to move forward? Do you need to enlist some help? Do you need to move your milestones around? Do you need to say no to some other things so you can focus more on your goal?
  4. Include long term goals.  Remember to keep the end in mind and plot out your long-term goals.  Too often we focus on the immediate and urgent at the expense of longer-term success.  Make sure that you plan to work towards the longer-term goals, not just the short-term goals.

Ready to join those elite 8% of people who successfully hit their goals? Good luck, and please share any tips that help you write more effective goals. The journey to write a brief description about how you plan to achieve your priority or what success looks like starts with a single world.  Write SMART goals to get the most out of yourself and your team.

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Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

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