Setting Measurable Goals Is Critical to Your Strategic Plan (and Your Success). Here's Why. If you want your business to meet its goals, achieve greater organizational capacity, hit its mission, generate more revenue and be more financially secure, here's what you need to do.

By Eric Ryan

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As an entrepreneur or business leader, there are myriad reasons why you should care about goals: They help lead you in the right direction for your vision; they motivate teams and hold them accountable; they help leaders make decisions, clarify priorities and eliminate day-to-day distractions.

But most importantly, the measurement of goals will help you track progress and explain the direction of your business to funders and other opportunities for financial capital — and the best way to do this is to include goals in your strategic plan.

A strategic plan captures and communicates your goals to various audiences. The strategic planning process includes a document that summarizes your vision for the future of your organization and lists the goals and objectives to reach that vision. The result of this process is not only meeting the goals you were seeking, but also achieving greater organizational capacity, hitting your mission, generating greater revenue and being more financially secure. Here's how to do it right.

Related: How To Create A High-Performing Strategic Plan

A common challenge with goals

You've likely been hearing about goals since you were a kid. They've been taught and promoted to you by your teachers, counselors, coaches, bosses and so on.

As a result of all of the different inputs, you have likely learned different definitions of goals. In fact, I bet that if you ask members of your team to define a goal, then you'd get a variety of different answers — and that's a major problem.

One of the challenges that I frequently encounter as an obstacle to successful strategic planning is the varying definitions of goals that team members have. When your team members define goals differently, they approach goals and performance with different perspectives and ends in mind.

So let's get everyone on your team on the same page with a common definition of a goal.

I take my goal-defining guidance from the world of sports. In soccer, for example, a goal happens when the ball crosses over the goal line. In hockey, a goal is scored when the puck crosses the line. There are numerous other sports examples, but all of them provide crystal clarity for when a goal is scored.

Applying this concept brings me to the following simple definition of a goal: a specific and measurable desired achievement.

Related: A Guide to Goal Setting

How to write strong goals

You may be familiar with the well-known SMART mnemonic acronym for writing goals:

  • S: Specific
  • M: Measurable
  • A: Accountable
  • R: Relevant
  • T: Time-bound

Over the years, I've found the SMART acronym to be quite useful. My definition above highlights the specific and measurable elements of the SMART acronym.

Most of the time, the "A" in the acronym refers to either "achievable" or "attainable." While that works, I think "accountable" (or even "assignable") is stronger. All too often, I see teams create goals that don't have people identified as being accountable to them. And, not surprisingly, the goals don't get completed.

Regarding the "R," as in "relevant," your goal should be taking you in the direction of a long-term vision.

One other thing: I like to add a "goal topic" to the beginning of goals on a strategic plan since it helps readers get a quick idea of what the goal is about. For example, when setting a goal of receiving a specific score on a staff survey, I'd use the goal topic of "staff engagement."

When developing your goals for your strategic plan, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it specific?
  • Is it measurable?
  • Does it have accountability?
  • Is it relevant?
  • Is it time-bound?

You'll know you've got the right goals for your plan when the answer to each of those questions is "yes."

Related: Define Your Short-Term Goals With These 3 Components for Long-Term Success

Goal guidance for your strategic plan

There are two different types of goals that you can develop for your strategic plan: results goals and process goals. Results goals are accomplished when a specific metric has been achieved. Process goals lead to the completion of a plan, process or system.

That said, you may be wondering about how you can measure process goals. Those goals are complete when you have a documented process in place. Sure, it's not a number, but it's still a measurable achievement.

This leads me to a very important piece of guidance. Several years ago, I started to notice that organizations I worked with that were really succeeding in strategic planning utilized a high percentage of process goals. In other words, they created and achieved goals that helped them develop capacity-building processes. So, be sure to consider including process goals in your strategic plan if you want to create the changes you're seeking.

I recommend having goals on your strategic plan that are organization-wide that have a completion timeline of several weeks to one year. You can also list action items, the individual tasks of the larger goals, that will take a shorter amount of time to complete.

In summary, it's critical that you and your team have a common approach to how you write strategic goals. This guidance will help your organization solidify its strategic plan and achieve greater success.

Eric Ryan

Founding Partner of Mission Met LLC

Eric Ryan is a founding partner at Mission Met, author, speaker and thought leader helping nonprofits develop and execute their strategic plan.

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