Rethinking Goal Setting

Goal setting is a well-covered topic. Hundreds of books, thousands of posts; goal-setting consultants, conferences and committees.  Goal setting is a multi-billion dollar industry. It seems everyone believes in goal setting. Everyone except me.

I believe goal setting is one of those terms that is so overused that is’s lost it’s meaning; so ripe for misinterpretation as to be worthless. I am banishing it from my business vocabulary starting now. There are three reasons.

First, a goal is a result. The cumulation of action leading to specific outcome(s). Earning a college degree is a goal. Knitting a sweater is a goal. Achieve 100K MAU? Not a goal; it is a milestone. Unless of course you are capping yourself at 100k. Not likely.

Second, setting goalS means you are chasing more than one thing. I want 100K MAU and 80% retention and 10% monthly revenue growth. Great. Chances are a different person or team is now focused on each of these, and trust me they are at odds. Your organizational alignment just went out the window.

Third, goals are usually set periodically while business moves dynamically (or should). Early stage startups that set goals too early lock in their perspective. Obviously late stage startups and older companies should have a firm perspective on their market but even they get locked in and can miss opportunity.

So here’s my alternative. Set corporate standards, not goals. Standards are company-wide metrics that everyone is rated against. Let’s say you have 10% MAU growth, 80% retention and 99.5% crash-free quality. If your sales people are responsible for quality and retention they won’t yell about rushing new features before they are tested. Engineers responsible for acquisition? They’ll be more likely to focus on critical delivery instead of playing with the cool piece of tech no one is asking for.

Standards, shared by the entire organization, also are powerful reminders of corporate culture. They say what the company is all about. “We need to achieve”, not “My goal is”. They get people to work together and establish frameworks for decision-making. Standards help you break ties or avoid them altogether. Fewer conflicts, more empowerment. Now that’s a goal I can support 🙂


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