Goal Setting Works Tools and Resources

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When it comes to setting the goals in your business, how do you go about it?

If you simply inflict or force goals on your team, they will resist. They may push back and, in extreme cases, may actively work against the goals you have set.

Take your team with you on the goal journey, and you are not only likely to achieve more than you expected, but you will have an engaged and motivated team focused on meeting the goals you and they have set.

Setting goals works, not only in business, but in your personal life as well. Goal setting matters because it provides clarity, direction and motivation, ultimately leading to increased focus, productivity and achievement.

So, think about the goals you have for your business and ask yourself this one question


How do I set ambitious goals for my business and get full support and buy-in from my team?

STOP treating goal setting as just another annual planning exercise.

START using ambitious goals to regularly stretch your thinking, stretch your people and stretch your creativity.

The one ‘BREAKTHROUGH QUESTION’ you must ask to help yourself…


How do I set ambitious goals for my business and get full support and buy-in from my team?

Setting ambitious goals for your business and gaining full support from your team involves several key steps:

You MUST involve your team: It is vital that you take your team on the journey with you. You must ensure active participation from your team members in the goal setting process. Being involved will give them a sense of ownership and commitment. Hold regular, collaborative meetings on the progress of the goal, share the milestones and the achievements so far and, if things aren’t going to plan, discuss the solutions and allow everyone in your team to contribute ideas and insights.

Set clear objectives: Define specific and ambitious objectives that align with your business vision and strategy. Communicate and discuss openly the purpose behind each goal and the potential impact it can have on the growth of the team and the business.

Break down the goal: Break down the ambitious goals into smaller, achievable milestones. This helps prevent your team from feeling overwhelmed and allows for steady progress, boosting morale along the way. Meet regularly to celebrate the milestones.

Communicate regularly and effectively: Share with your team, not just the goals themselves, but the expectations for and the rationales behind them. Ensure that each team member understands the importance of their role in achieving these goals and how their contributions matter.

The GE Orange Exercise

Don't ever settle for mediocrity. The key to stretch is to reach for more than you think is possible. Don't sell yourself short by thinking that you'll fail.” – Jack Welch

GE’s extraordinary success, growing from $12billion to $280billion in 20 years, is partly thanks to their focus on ambitious, or stretch, goals. Stretch goals often challenge people because it feels like they may be unachievable. People are reluctant to commit to stretch goals because they feel they may be committing to something that will fail.

To demonstrate the power of stretch goals and to get the buy-in of managers, GE ran an exercise at a series of innovation days.

Image from the Harvard Business Review

You can use this simple exercise to help demonstrate the power of stretch goals.

  • Give a team of 6 or 7 of your people one orange
  • Challenge them to all touch the whole orange one at a time, as quickly as possible; the first person to touch it must also be the last
  • Tell them they can pass it, throw it or do what they like to achieve the task as quickly as they can
  • When they are ready, time their efforts with a stopwatch (or use your phone)
  • Whatever time they achieve, ask them to have another go, but make it faster this time (this works even better if there is more than one group – suggest they are competing with other groups)
  • Whatever time they achieve the second time, ask them to have another go and tell them they should be aiming to do this in less than 1 second (which is what other groups have achieved)
  • If they struggle with this, ask them to review what has to change for things to speed up – distance between hands or speed of the orange – and ask them what they can do to influence these variables

Solution – The group members stack their palms one on top of another almost vertically and let the orange fall from the first person’s left hand (top of the stack) to the first person’s right hand (bottom of the stack), whilst passing over everyone else’s hand in between. This should take less than a second.

SMART checklist and goals

“You must do the things you think you cannot do.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt

Image from the Corporate Finance Institute

The SMART goal concept is accepted as a practical and easy-to-remember mnemonic strategy for goal setting. The research from Edwin A. Locke and Gary P. Latham in their book, New Developments in Goal Setting and Task Performance, supports the effectiveness of setting SMART goals. Here's what each component of SMART goals entails:

Specific: Your goals should be clear and well-defined, leaving no room for ambiguity. They should answer the questions of who, what, when, where and why. Specific goals outline exactly what is expected from your team and from your business.

Measurable: Your goals should be quantifiable, allowing progress to be tracked and measured. Establish concrete criteria for assessing whether the goal has been achieved using OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). Measurable goals enable you to gauge and celebrate success and to make adjustments, if necessary.

Achievable: Your goals MUST be realistic and achievable within the resources, constraints and timeframe available. While goals should be challenging, they should also be within reach, considering the skills, knowledge and resources of the team.

Relevant: Your goals should be aligned with broader objectives and with the overall mission of your business. They should have significance and relevance to your business vision and strategic priorities. Relevant goals ensure that your team's efforts are focused on areas that contribute to your business success.

Time-bound: Your goals should have a specific timeframe or deadline for completion. This creates a relative sense of urgency, ensures decisions are made in a timely way and helps prevent drift. Setting deadlines ensures that progress is made steadily, that it can be tracked and that efforts are effectively managed.

When you apply the SMART criteria to goal setting in your business, you create objectives that are well-defined, actionable and conducive to success.

Locke and Latham’s research strongly suggests, however, that the middle A (Achievable) is probably not the right word to use, as a stretch goal is not always or easily achievable. To keep stretch goals SMART, swap Achievable for Ambitious. Here are the SMART goals broken down into a checklist to get you started:


  • Does your goal clearly state what needs to be accomplished?
  • Does it identify who in your team is involved?
  • Does it specify what resources or constraints are involved?
  • Does it articulate why the goal is important to your business?


  • Can progress towards the goal be quantified or measured?
  • Are there specific criteria for determining success?
  • How will you track progress towards the goal?
  • What are the metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) associated with the goal?

Achievable (when you replace achievable with Ambitious, here is what it looks like on the checklist):

  • Is the goal ambitious, or a ‘stretch’ goal? Does it push boundaries using process and outcome goals?
  • Does your goal challenge the team and encourage them to think bigger?
  • Are there any potential obstacles or constraints that need to be addressed?
  • Can the ambitious goal be further broken down into smaller, more manageable tasks?


  • Does the goal align with the business vision and strategic direction?
  • Is it relevant to current business priorities?
  • Will achieving the goal have a meaningful impact on the business?


  • Is there a specific deadline or timeframe for achieving the goal?
  • Have intermediate milestones or checkpoints been established?
  • Does the timeframe provide enough urgency to motivate action?
  • Are there any external factors or dependencies that could affect the timeline?

While it's essential to ensure that goals remain realistic and attainable, replacing ‘Achievable’ with ‘Ambitious’ within the SMART framework can be a powerful way to inspire innovation, motivation and extraordinary achievement within your team.

By going through this checklist, you can ensure that your goals are SMART and well-positioned for success.

Outcome and Process goals

“Circumstances may cause interruptions and delays, but never lose sight of your goal. Prepare yourself in every way you can by increasing your knowledge and adding to your experience, so that you can make the most of opportunity when it occurs.” — Mario Andretti

Ambitious goals get the best out of your team. When you change the A in SMART goals from Achievable to Ambitious, you will start to think about how you can make SMART goals work better for you.

To help with this, it's key that you focus on 2 types of goals - Outcome goals and Process goals.

Outcome and Process goals are commonplace in the sporting world.

The outcome is often easy to define - to win a gold medal, break a record, win a league or beat a team.
Process goals help the coach, the team and the individual break down the path to this ambitious goal.

Outcome goals are concerned with the end result or achievement desired. They typically involve reaching a specific performance level, winning a competition or attaining a particular outcome. Outcome goals may be influenced by factors beyond the individual's control, such as a competitor's performance or market conditions.
Examples of outcome goals:

  • Winning a championship or competition
  • Achieving a revenue target for the quarter
  • Attaining a specific academic grade or degree
  • Running a 5K or 10K

Process goals focus on the actions, behaviours or steps that need to be taken to achieve a desired outcome. They are within the individual's control and are typically related to specific tasks or activities. Process goals are often about improving skills, developing habits or refining techniques.
Examples of process goals:

  • Completing a certain number of customer calls or visits each day
  • Practicing a particular skill for a set amount of time each week
  • Following a specific workout routine consistently
  • Revising for 2 hours a day
  • Walking around the block, adding a little bit extra on each time

While both types of goals are important, they serve different purposes and will generally complement each other.

Outcome goals provide a clear target for which to strive and can serve as sources of motivation and inspiration. They will help your team define what success looks like and provide a sense of accomplishment when achieved. However, it's essential to recognise that outcome goals are subject to outside forces (think about Covid), so be sure not to focus on them in isolation as this can lead to frustration and disappointment.

Process goals provide the roadmap and direction for achieving success. They will help your team focus on the actions and behaviours that will lead to the desired outcomes. Process goals will be especially helpful when it comes to maintaining motivation for your team and ensuring they stay on track during the journey toward the end goal.

Therefore, process goals should be used alongside outcome goals to ensure a balanced approach to goal setting and achievement.

Key insights from knee or hip replacement patients

“Begin with the end in mind.” — Stephen Covey

Knee and hip surgery involve sawing through bones and severing joint muscles. When recovering, even the smallest movements (shifting in bed or flexing a joint) can be excruciating. To recover well, patients must start being mobile as soon as they wake from surgery.

If they don’t quickly start stretching their muscles and skin, scar tissue will clog the joint, destroying its flexibility. But this movement is very painful, so it’s not unusual for people to skip out on rehab sessions, especially those that have been experiencing pain for an extended period already.

But this is not the case with everyone.

In 1992 a research study inside two of Scotland’s busiest orthopaedic hospitals provided stark evidence that goal setting works.
The researchers, Sheina Orbell and Paschal Sheeran, gave the patients a booklet outlining their rehabilitation schedule.

The booklet also included 13 mostly blank pages with the following instructions:

“My goals for this week are...?”

“Write down exactly what you are going to do. For example, if you are going to go for a walk this week, write down where and when you are going to walk.”

  • In 13 weeks, patients who had written plans and followed them started walking again almost twice as fast as the ones who had not
  • Patients following their 13-week recovery plans were getting in and out of chairs, unassisted, almost three times as fast

The successful patients completed the 13 pages with recorded goals and plans, often in mundane but very specific (remember SMART) detail. It was this group that were able to start walking again twice as fast as those who didn’t think about and record their goals.

Here are two typical SMART remarks found in the patients’ booklets:

“I’m going to walk and meet my wife at the bus stop at 3.30 in the afternoon. If it’s too painful I’ll take extra painkillers, and I’ll take my raincoat if it’s raining.”

“I’m going to get out of my chair and walk to the bathroom on my own. I’m going to take two steps the instant I’m stood up so that I don’t sit back down again because of the pain.”

This is REALLY important…
The successful Scottish patients anticipated where they might fail – “it might be too painful”.
They then wrote down what they’d do to handle the difficulty – “I’ll take more painkillers”.

When you write down your stretch goals, be sure to include your expected source of pain, challenge or difficulty. Then write down your plan to overcome this difficulty.

It’s important because BELIEF is important...
During training in sport, there’s a constant flow of feedback and encouragement from both coaches and teammates. In business, this can be less obvious or transparent and can happen less often.

The hip replacement patient who walked to the bathroom on his own acknowledged his success was achieved by rewarding himself with M&Ms when he got back to his chair. Whatever gets you there…

Recognition, rewards and feedback are all important. Think about how a baby is encouraged to walk, speak or eat by themselves. They get a constant flow of feedback and encouragement.

Anticipating and planning for difficulties raises expectations, belief and confidence in achieving goals. If you fail to work on building belief, you are likely to just say “what the heck, it’s impossible anyway!”

Because you are managing in advance how to tackle the likely challenges, you are less likely to get derailed and more likely to follow through – just like the successful knee and hip replacement patients.

KEY INSIGHT: Having challenging, ambitious goals helped these successful patients anticipate what might go wrong, giving them a chance to work out a solution in advance. Rewarding themselves made the stretch goal worth it.

The goals wheel exercise

“There will be obstacles. There will be doubters. There will be mistakes. But with hard work, there are no limits.” — Michael Phelps

The goals wheel is a visual way of setting goals and it’s definitely something you can do for yourself. You’ll find a blank wheel on the last page of these supporting tools, so please print it out and run through the process outlined below.

The coloured wheel below has six segments. Each segment has a label – you choose the labels for your own wheel.

Assume this is my goals wheel and that I’m looking at a 12-month timeframe.

  • I’m happy the segment labels are appropriate for me
  • I’ve drawn on the wheel a black line that represents where I am now compared with where I want to be in 12 months (100%)

As you can see from this wheel, I’m doing well with my finances and family. On the other hand, it appears that I could do something more for my community, spend more time with my friends and work out a bit more.

What’s in serious need of attention is the orange segment – work.

  • I’ve drawn a purple line to show where I want to be in the next 8 weeks. This requires a significant stretch and improvement
  • Action is necessary, so I’m going to do three things: I’m going to talk to my work colleagues about the excessive hours I’m currently working to determine what I can delegate or stop doing; I’m going to commit to seeing all the games my daughter plays after school; I’m going to leave my laptop at work on a Friday evening

Thanks to the knee or hip replacement patients, I know I need to anticipate challenges and have a solution ready.

  • My work colleagues are also under work pressure and may be unable to take work from me – if so, I’ll investigate hiring a part-time or virtual PA
  • Customer pressures might prevent me from leaving on time to see my daughter play – so I’m going to block off 90 minutes the morning after my daughter’s games to deal with any pressing customer issues
  • If I’m traveling to a customer on Monday and need to take my computer home on Friday, I’ll give it to my daughter for safekeeping (so she can hide it)

The goals wheel exercise will enable you to practice setting SMART goals.

Alternatively, please click here for a link to a spreadsheet where you can complete the goals wheel exercise and update your own goals wheel, watching it change based on the information you put into the spreadsheet.

Simply enter the information for each area, based on where you are now and where you want to be, and you will be able to see the gap on the wheel on the right-hand side and the bar chart.

Then use the table and focus on 3 areas – your biggest gap, your most important area and the easiest area for improvement.

Choose your SMART goal and write down what you are going to do to achieve this goal over the next 13 weeks.  Make sure you also anticipate the challenges you will face and prepare for them.

Remember, the knee or hip replacement patients who set and tracked their goals over the 13-week recovery period were twice as successful as those who didn’t. Give it a try and let us know how you get on.

The book and other resources

 Developments in Goal Setting and Task Performance

Edwin A. Locke and Gary P. Latham

For those involved in goal setting, whether personally or professionally, this book supplies the science behind the art. This book is essential for anyone in a management or leadership position . . . it will very likely change your operational procedures for the better!

Buy the book here.

What people are saying about this book:

"Locke and Latham have enlarged the context of goal-setting theory, offering readers a deeper, richer understanding of new discoveries in many different areas since 1990. Contributions from more than 70 authors and co-authors offer convincing evidence that goal setting is one of the best-established findings in behavioral science." – Wayne F. Cascio, Robert H. Reynolds Distinguished Chair in Global Leadership, University of Colorado; Senior Editor, Journal of World Business

"This hugely important book brings together the wisdom of the leading researchers in goal setting. Goal setting is key to effective performance in work and organizations yet is neglected both by researchers and practitioners. This new volume is both hugely exciting and invaluable in advancing understanding of one of the (if not the) most important breakthroughs in the psychology of workplace behaviour – and it is edited by the scholars who made that breakthrough. This is truly a ‘must read.’" – Michael West, Lancaster University Management School, Lancaster University, UK

NB – This book, although brilliant and still highly relevant today is no longer being printed and is therefore very expensive as a hardcover, but is also expensive as a kindle edition.

So here are some alternative books on goal setting and the importance of SMART goals that you may find useful:

SMART objective setting for managers – Irial O’Farrell

Goal Setting: The Practical "How To" Guide: For You, for Others, for Business, for Change (On Point Series for Conscious Leadership in Business & Life) – Julie Hogbin

Goal Setting in life and for business – Andre Rademeyer

Here is a great animated video explanation, by Better Than Yesterday, of the importance of SMART goals, what they are and how to set them in your business. It’s only 6 minutes long and clearly explains the importance of setting goals.

Watch the video here.

The blank goals wheel


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