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Setting Goals that Stick

By Lindsey Nehls, Senior Consultant, The Piras Group

Setting Goals that Stick

Many companies are engaged in annual planning and starting to evaluate Q1. While we often set annual goals, or even quarterly goals, we have hard time sticking to them. Can you even remember the resolution you set just three months ago at the beginning of the year?? 

According to the University of Scranton, 92% of people who set New Year's goals never actually achieve them[1]. So what are the 8% doing differently? Below are three best practices for setting goals that stick. 

1)   Make your goals specific.

The S.M.A.R.T framework is excellent tool to make sure your goals are specific.

  • S = Specific.Research indicates that the more specific, and less ambiguous and flexible a goal is, the more likely we are to achieve it. This is largely due to the fact that when we set specific goals it is easier to break the goal down into clear action steps. For example, I want to exercise 3x a week in Q1 is far more actionable then I want to exercise more in 2019. The more specific the goal the easier it is to outline a plan to achieve it.
  • M = Measurable.It is important to make the goal measurable. If it isn’t measurable then we don’t know how much progress we are actually making. To help – ask yourself what success looks like and try to quantify it.If it doesn’t seem like something you can quantify, then ask someone to help you observe if you have changed or not. 
  • A = Achievable.We want to make sure our goals are achievable, meaning we have control over them. We have the ability to make them happen. For example, if you work in sales and you say your Q1 goal is to fix a bug in the product, that may not be achievable because you are not on the engineering or product team. Even though you know it will help sales it isn’t your domain. Aim to set goals that you have control over.
  • R = Realistic.Stretch goals are important to have but they can’t be all we have. It is critical to set realistic goals, otherwise we set ourselves up for failure and goals start to lose their weight. If we consistently set goals that we can’t achieve then we dilute the effort and commitment to accomplish them. 
  • T = Timebound.When we set goals, we want to make sure we have a date we are going to get them done by. Then we can test whether they are realistic within that timeframe

2)   Communicate your goals:

Once you have set your goals, make them known. Sharing our goals increases the level of accountability and enlists support to help achieve them. If you are running a team, it is critical that everyone knows your goals – not just at the start of the year but at every team meeting. This helps drive alignment and ensures everyone is rowing in the same direction. You can’t communicate your goals enough. 

3)   Set up routine check-ins:

It is important we keep our goals front of mind. The best way to do this is to proactively schedule check-in points. Every month set time aside in your calendar to see how you are doing vs. your goal and ask yourself: What’s coming up? What’s helping you make progress and what’s getting in the way? As a manager, it can be very helpful to set these check-in meetings with your direct reports rather than sporadically checking in to see how things are going. Then everyone knows that to expect and can be prepared. 


Remember that goals are not rigid and absolutes; they can change over time or when a higher priority goal becomes evident, your goals may change.  This thing to watch here is that you don’t blindly accept all new goals coming your way.  

Goals can and should be negotiated when new ones appear. It is unsustainable to simply accept all new goals that come along.  Determine what the highest priority goals are and eliminate, postpone or rethink a goal during this time.  

Too many leaders believe that goals are set once they are set.  Couldn’t be farther from the truth.  As a leader, you have an obligation to the company for aligning and agreeing to goals during the annual process.  you also have an obligation to your team to balance realistic goal setting with resources available. This balancing act is critical to a healthy organization.

Setting SMART goals, communicating them, and setting up routine check-ins can have a dramatic impact on our ability to achieve the goals we set out to accomplish. 



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