Goal-Setting Exercise: Can You Diagnose the Problem with Each of These 4 Goals?

Writing effective goals for your team is an essential management skill. In fact, if you’re bad at writing goals, it’s almost better to not do goals at all. Clear, inspiring, and meaningful goals create engagement—but confusing, poorly measured goals create nothing but frustration.

So, what does it take to write a good goal? You know the most common advice, that goals should be SMART. The SMART guideline is useful, but when you pull up a blank Google Doc or an app like Khorus to write your goals, there are still plenty of ways to get off track.

At Khorus, we’ve worked with hundreds of leaders as they set goals for their teams and organizations—and we’ve seen a few common patterns when it comes to writing and structuring goals. These patterns informed the exercise below.

Take a look at each of the four goals and think about how you would improve it were it meant for your own team. Then read our diagnosis and revision suggestions based on the Khorus goal-setting methodology—and see if you agree.

We will use the goal structure we recommend to Khorus customers: a goal title with an associated measurement. We will also assume a quarterly goal-setting cadence, so the implicit time boundary is the end of the quarter.


Goal 1

See anything wrong with this goal?



This goal describes an activity, not an outcome.


How could this goal be revised?

Generally speaking, the best goal measurements include an outcome—a tangible sign that you have achieved something meaningful. This measurement specifies an activity but not an outcome. It tells you what you’ll be doing, but not what you want to achieve.

The way this goal is currently written, you could write two slapdash blog posts a week and erode the reputation of your brand, yet still mark your goal achieved at the end of the quarter. This is failure that looks like success on paper—and it’s exactly what you want to avoid when you set a measurement.

Here’s a better version of the same goal:

It’s not always possible to come up with a good outcome measurement, especially if your goal revolves around something you expect to pay off in long-term or hard-to-quantify ways. One common example is a person creating a personal-improvement goal to read a book or take a course. There’s usually no great way to measure this other than specifying when you want to complete the book or course (you could also commit to delivering your key takeaways to the team, but this too is essentially an activity, not an outcome).

Here’s a more complex example: Say you have been tasked with holding a customer summit that you hope will build loyalty among your customer base and increase retention. You might not be able to measure the change in retention in the same quarter, but there are still better measurements than “Hold summit on [date].” How many attendees do you want? What are your targets around sponsorships? What rating would you like attendees to give the summit as they leave?


Goal 2

Let’s do another goal. What’s wrong here?



This goal’s measurement is overstuffed to the point of obscuring what’s important.


How could this goal be revised?

The problem here was probably easy to spot, but this happens all the time when a manager is writing a goal for their team: they include every last part of the plan, cramming all the different parts that need to be done by people on the team into the measurement. This leads to a block of text that makes eyes glaze over.

Worse, once the quarter is done, it’s very hard to tell if the goal was achieved. If you hit six out of eight measurements, did you achieve the goal? Hard to say!

A much better approach is to hone the measurement down to the outcome that’s most important, then use the rest of your list as a starting point for the individual goals of the other people on the team.

Here is a revised goal that singles out the most relevant measurements:

Now, the rest of the previous measurements can transform into supporting goals for the people on the team. If you use Khorus, you can link them up, easily seeing the supporting goals and confidence indicators from your employees each week. In this case, the sub-goals might relate to:

  • Who owns creating and sending out the survey, and what response rate do they want?
  • Who’s responsible for capturing ideas for the new onboarding process? When is the writeup of the new process due?
  • Who owns liaising with design to update relevant materials?
  • Who will implement the pilot, and what kind of response do they hope for from customers?


Goal 3

On to our next goal that needs some help . . .



This goal is too vague.

How could this goal be revised?

For this to be an effective goal, we need to know which social channels are most important, rather than lumping them all together. Ideally, the social media manager should think through which are most important, explain why, and set a more specific target. Here’s a simple fix:

This doesn’t mean that the other social channels are unimportant, but creating a goal around Twitter followers shows that this is the team’s real priority for the next quarter. And remember—too many priorities equals no priorities.

Goal 4

Let’s do one more. What’s wrong here?



This goal’s measurement is unnecessarily complicated.


How could this goal be revised?

While the specificity of this goal might at first seem like a good thing, in practice, it’s going to be hard to (a) tabulate how the team is doing week to week and (b) determine whether the goal was achieved at the end of the quarter.

An ideal team goal is one you can quickly measure yourself against throughout the quarter; this goal, with all its caveats, doesn’t pass that test. Better to stick with the simplest and most important measurement at the heart of this goal:


When you get really good at translating your long-term strategy into well-written goals each quarter, you’ve laid the groundwork for alignment and performance across the team.

Could your organization use some guidance in achieving its highest-priority goals? We’re here to help. Request a Khorus demo of our strategy-execution software, or schedule our Executive Goal Setting session for your management team!

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