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Write the Path to Your Successful Future: Goal Setting 101
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Contributed by Deb Anderson
Goal setting is a powerful technique that generates strong results. It gives you lasting vision and short-term motivation; helps you organize resources and focus efforts on your priorities; it increases performance, output, pride and satisfaction, as well as providing direction for decision making along the way. Not setting goals carries a high cost as resources; financial, human and otherwise, are not directed towards established outcomes. It results in day after day of reactionary behaviour, otherwise known as “putting out fires.”
Goal setting is a management skill that usually requires training and practice. Many volunteer managers will site being too busy as a reason to avoid goal setting. It’s true, it is a process that requires both time and desire… desire to get better, do more, and increase effectiveness. I believe it is a critical difference between mediocre programs and those that hail excellence. So if you have any hesitation about why you should set goals for your program, I ask you, “If you don’t know where you are going – how do you expect to get there?” I hope this article will help to de-mystify the art and science of setting goals and motivate you to consider the benefits it will afford your program.
Linking Goals to Values. It is important for goals to be rooted in values. Values are what you hold near and dear to your heart, the principles or standards your organization lives by. As you identify your goals it is important to measure them against your values. Ask yourself: “Will the goals lead us to or from our values?” If goals are not rooted in values, they will conflict with the direction the organization is moving. This will no doubt result in a situation where resources are misdirected on the wrong actions or where values are compromised.
Writing Goals. Think about your program as it is right now. Ask yourself: What are its strengths? Weaknesses? What opportunities are there to make improvements? What threats or pressures exist that you need to prepare for? What would your program look like if it were perfect? What steps would you need to take to get from where you are now to where you want to be? List your answers to these questions. Step back from the day to day and look at the big picture. Solicit feedback from your stakeholders. Generate a list of aspirations. Now, look at the list and prioritize every aspiration. Weigh each against a scale of importance, relevance to organizational direction or vision as well as mission and values, consider resources available and/or attainable, and any other factor central to your specific situation. Only eliminate ambitions that compromise organizational progress. If any seem unattainable, consider how much time would be required to achieve them. From your list of priorities you can develop attainable timeframes, identify resources required, assign responsibility and document action steps.
Smart Goals. The acronym SMART has been a standard tool used in developing professional goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time bound. Susan Heathfield, an expert in HR and Organization Development, revamped this tool to meet the needs of our fluid work environments with the following:
SMART Acronym Newly Defined for Goal Setting
S In addition to specific, don't stretching, systematic, synergistic, significant and shifting round out the picture?
M means measurable, but I also recommend meaningful, memorable, motivating and even, magical.
A is an achievable goal but A also needs to stand for action plans, accountability, acumen and agreed-upon.
R means relevant, but it also stands for realistic, reasonable, resonating, results-oriented, rewarding, responsible, reliable, rooted in facts and remarkable.
T means time-based and it also represents timely, tangible and thoughtful
If we follow the SMART acronym we can write very detailed yet succinct goals that will be a guiding force to determine what actions we take to get from where we are now to where we want to be.
Examples of SMART goals.
Example A: By February 2007 research, develop and implement a youth program that creates meaningful short-term volunteer opportunities for young people to contribute needed resources to ABC organization.
Example B: Over the next year i mplement an interim interview process that monitors new volunteer satisfaction to increase retention by 50%.
Example C: By March 31 a comments email link will be located on the Volunteer Resources website and a personal response will be sent to all inquiries within 1 work day.
Communicating Goals. One critical trait of leadership is the ability to share the dream and get the buy-in of team members. Communicate your goals to those who are impacted by your program. Your supervisor, the board, program volunteers, community partners… and others who will either benefit from or could contribute to actualization. Remember to keep these same people informed of successes and challenges along the way. Communication is the key to triumphant management.
Measuring Success. There is no sense, what-so-ever, in spending time setting goals if you don’t monitor progress and celebrate accomplishments. First, it’s important to have clear measurements in place. Let’s look at some potential measurements for the example goals above:
How many youth positions were developed?
How many youth have been recruited and placed?
What feedback do we get from our new youth volunteers? Clients? Staff?
What organizational goals are achieved by engaging youth in our program?
Retention rates from 2005, 2004, 2003 in comparison with retention rates post implementation
How many interviews were completed?
How many volunteers were considering a transfer or to discontinue volunteering prior to the interview?
How many were able to have their issues resolved and realize an increase in satisfaction?
Are interviews more successful when conducted in person, via telephone or email?
Is the link up and running by March 31?
How many hits does it receive each month?
How many of those hits result in website improvements?
How many of those hits result in applications?
How many of those hits result in new recruits?
In addition to clear measurement criteria, it is critical to plan how you will incorporate your timed-bound action steps for achieving every goal, into each week by scheduling it into your day-timer, outlook calendar or blackberry -- which ever you prefer! Include goal review as an agenda item on team meetings. Post your goals where you and your team will see them every day. In addition to a weekly commitment, schedule quarterly reviews where you take time to evaluate and document your progress, undertake or delegate next steps, modify the action plan where required and communicate progress to your team and partners.
When Goal Setting Fails. Even the best laid plans can go awry. If the plan is off track consider the following common reasons why the process is not yielding the results you were looking for:
The world is changing at a rapid pace and it is important to consider the impact of that upheaval when setting goals. In order to make the best progress with your program, goals need to be flexible.
Goals need to be developed by people who are immersed in the program. Your goals can support the goals of your supervisor, and the organization as a whole, but you are the best person to write them.
Goals need to be realistic. Yes, we need to set our minds on achieving high goals but in our excitement and ambition it is easy to get carried away with too many goals, goals that are too big or due too soon. The probable result is that nothing appears to a priority. Remember, in addition to the work you need to do to complete the action plan you also have the ever present daily responsibilities waiting for you at the office.
Get off the bench! The plan may have become more of a focus than its implementation. Regular progress reviews is the key to moving your goals off paper to having a life of their own!
Take heart – goal setting is a learned behaviour. Continue to gain knowledge about it, find a mentor who is good at it and practice. You will make mistakes but they can’t have any more of negative impact than not planning at all.
Goal setting may be the single most important step you can take to move your program from average to excellence. By dedicating the time and resources to developing, implementing and measuring a detailed plan you can improve service to your organization, your volunteers and most importantly the people you serve.
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