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How to Master Goal-Setting: The Right Goals at the Right Time

Tim Driscoll

January 31, 2020

The approach to goal-setting isn’t one-size-fits-all. The pursuit of goals within an organization depends on the particular business initiative, the desired results, and the resources and roles used to achieve them. Choosing the correct goal structure that suits the preferred outcome, and leveraging goal management software that can support your desired structure, is important to accelerating your success.

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Begin with the objective in mind. What are you trying to achieve? You’ll want to assess a few things before you can determine what goal structure is best:

  • Time: When do you want or need to accomplish it? Is it a few months, 12 months, or longer?
  • Complexity: What’s the nature of accomplishing this objective? Is it simple, or does it require many people on cross functional teams?
  • Urgency: What’s the priority level on this goal? Is it tied to a strict deadline or a business imperative? Or is it a supporting achievement you’re aiming for?
  • Motivation: Will it be relevant and inspiring to the individuals working on this goal?

Great organizations encourage leaders at all levels to build goals that are relevant and motivating to a team and that also align with larger organizational goals. Setting goals that are relevant to individuals but serve the organizational strategy ensures a well-rounded planning strategy of long-term, agile, and performance-focused goals that aim to improve efficiency, engagement, and bottom line business results — while also enhancing purpose for the individuals and teams pursuing them. Regardless of using an OKR or SMART approach to executing your goal strategy, there are three important focus areas to enable consistent execution of you goal strategy: establishing realistic timeframes, selecting the right goal structure, and fostering continual conversations.

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Considering Timeframe

Long-Term Goals

How to Use a Long-Term Goal:

A long-term goal defines a success point in the distant future, usually attributed to organizational strategy that is 12 months or longer. It’s important to break down long term goals into short term, or quarterly segments to help stay on track and focus on manageable stages of progress.

How to Build a Long-Term Goal:

  • What is the desired outcome?
  • What must be accomplished?
  • Who will contribute along the way?
  • What are your milestones?
  • How & when will contributors be involved in each milestone?
  • Do they have a way to collaborate and follow up with one another?

Short-Term or Agile Goals

How to Use a Short-Term Goal:

Short-term goals are used to achieve outcomes in a short cycle. They are executed by focusing on one clear and concise objective at a time. Agile goals, specifically, are designed with an inherent sense of urgency and are worked on by a team of contributors in congruence. They are designed to get results quickly and collaboratively, while continually making adjustments and improvements along the way.

How to Build a Short-Term Goal:

  • Is the goal part of a long-term objective?
  • What is the single, clear outcome of this goal?
  • When does the goal need to be completed?
  • Who is contributing to this goal?
  • Does it need to be easily adaptable?
  • When do contributors need to check-in on progress to adjust?
  • Do contributors have a way to collaborate on a frequent basis?

Download the Goal Guide

Considering Structure


How to Use an OKR Goal:

OKRs use a simple framework for defining and tracking objectives and their desired outcomes. OKRs provide focus, alignment, collaboration and transparency within teams and organizations. OKRs work well in companies that want to foster transparency and provide the opportunity for contribution at all levels to the corporate strategy.

How to Build an OKR goal

  • What is the specific objective you aim to achieve?
  • Is there an opportunity to align your objective to demonstrate your contributions to a department or corporate key result?
  • What key results are needed to demonstrate achievement of that objective?
  • What tasks need to be completed in order to accomplish the key results?
  • How will you collaborate as individuals progress through key results?


How to Use a SMART Goal

SMART goals are structured to ensure every goal is measurable, attainable, and has a clear outcome. We take an evolved approach to the goal-structure to account for engagement and motivation to craft goals that are more valuable, consistent, and meaningful to individuals.

How to Build a SMART Goal:

  • What are the specific parameters and outcomes of this goal?
  • What is the individual’s motivation level to achieve this goal?
  • How attainable is this goal to the individual’s abilities?
  • Is this goal relevant to the individual and the organization?
  • How will you track progress toward the outcome?
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Performance Goals

How to Use a Performance Goal?

Performance goals are designed to help develop an individual over time. These goals can include continued education, problem-solving, and acquiring new skills. Performance goals must clearly demonstrate some type of measurable progress.

How to Build a Performance Goal

  • What new skill or knowledge is the individual aiming to acquire?
  • What resources will they need?
  • Is it a structured course or self-paced learning?
  • When will the individual complete their learning or training?
  • What kind of conversations will you need to have along the way?
  • How will you measure the application of this learning once completed?

Goals and Continuous Conversation

Conversations matter. 96% of employees want regular feedback and providing the ability to collaborate around team goals is essential to their success. Formally-structured reviews have a place, but they don’t effectively serve your goal progress. Rather, enabling a real time feedback process keeps employees engaged and builds strong teams and interpersonal relationships. Inspire uses leadership language that helps managers elevate regular conversations and facilitate development in employees. The language embedded within Inspire helps managers gauge an individual’s ability, energy, and motivation to achieve their goals and adapt them as needed. These conversations help individuals take ownership of their own development.

Effectively defining your goals eliminates ambiguity, confusion, and increases individual participation and engagement. We’d love to tell you more about the way Inspire provides you the flexibility to select your desired goal methodology, and how we elevate performance, leading to consistent goal execution and business results.