When it comes to setting goals, we find that people struggle most with writing a goal that is motivating and meaningful. While there are many tips out there to help you write your goals better (e.g., using S.M.A.R.T. criteria), there is one tip that seems to bring home what a good goal statement is all about: Look for the “to”.
A good goal statement describes the outcome or future state you are trying to create. However, when writing a goal, people will often focus on the tactics to use to accomplish the goal rather than the goal itself. A project leader with whom we were working wrote the following goal: “In the next three months, create a shared, resource tracking Excel spreadsheet to coordinate resource acquisition across the five sites”. He was proud of himself since he had written a “SMART” goal. It was specific (create a spreadsheet), time-based (in the next three months), etc. However, his real goal wasn’t in the first part of the statement; it came after the “to”.
What he really wanted to do was achieve resource coordination across the five sites. By focusing on the tactic and placing it first, he created two problems. First, he confined himself to a particular tactic, even though others might have achieved the ends better (perhaps an on-line database). Second, he could logically achieve his tactic (create a spreadsheet) without achieving his actual goal (the sites could make coordinated purchases of resources instead of doing it piecemeal). His goal could have been, “In the next three months, achieve a state of coordinated resource acquisition across the five sites whereby sites can coordinate material purchases and transfer unused resources across sites.” This goal leaves off the tactic and further defines the end state. The project leader would now be free to create tactics and action plans that worked to achieve the goal.
So, the next time you are writing a goal (or pulling out existing goals), look for the “to” in the middle to tell you if you have put the tactics ahead of the goal.