How to Plan Business Goals

FT Contributor  | 

Setting goals is a common practice that business owners often do right from the inception of a business. However, revisiting, updating, and sticking to your goals — well, that’s another matter entirely.

As a business owner, it can be difficult to detach from the day-to-day busyness of running your company in order to tend to goals that you set months or even years before. However, that doesn’t change the fact that you should still find the time to do so.

Both short- and long-term goals are essential to a successful business in their own uniquely important ways, with long-term goals often being a continuation of one or more short-term goals. While the specific length of time tends to vary, decision-makers typically set short-term goals between six and 12 months into the future. Long-term goals aim for the three- to five-year mark.

Below is a breakdown of why goals are so important to success as well as some suggestions for how to set them for your own enterprise.

Setting Short-Term Goals

In essence, short-term goals should be the broken-down version of your long-term aims as a company. They should consist of the clearly defined, individual steps that will collectively move you towards your long-term goals.

In other words, when cobbled together, your short-term goals should eventually lead you to your long-term objectives.

In order to accomplish this, short-term goals should be:

  • Manageable and easy to measure: They should be broken down into easy-to-understand responsibilities and tasks that can be clearly accomplished and marked as complete.
  • Clearly defined and easy to communicate: Short-term goals should be easily understood by everyone involved in executing them. They shouldn’t consist of high-minded rhetoric, but rather clear instructions and endpoints that can inspire and motivate employees to strive to achieve them. It should also be easy to establish clear accountability for success and failure with a short-term goal.
  • Realistic and focused on specific action rather than broad vision: Short-term goals should be time-specific, achievable, and action-oriented.
  • Obviously connected to long-term goals: Short-term goals must be communicated in a manner that connects them to the eventual achievement of long-term goals.

Short-term goals should always be easy to grasp, results-oriented, and have a clear ending point, at which point the goal has been accomplished.

Setting Long-Term Goals

Long-term goals typically take years to accomplish. They are less crystal clear and often do not have a natural ending point. They can even go beyond five years, although longer goals of this nature should be rare, audacious, and easy to keep in line with company trajectories.

In fact, rather than referring to them as “goals” or “objectives,” it’s better to see most long-term plans as campaigns or migrations in a specific direction. This can make it easier to maintain momentum, whereas setting and focusing on an endpoint can make the years-long process of getting there tedious.

While short-term goals can involve something as random as saving money on supplies or replacing an office carpet, long-term goals should clearly line up with your company’s larger vision and mission. In other words, they should reinforce why you exist as a business.

How to Support Your Company Goals

Whether you’re setting short- or long-term goals, it’s essential that you go about creating them the right way. Below are five considerations that should always be taken into account when actively setting goals for your business.

Set Clear Goals

Goals should never be partially thought out or half-committed to. They should always be clearly defined, easy to communicate, and understood by everyone involved in achieving them.

This is especially true with short-term goals. With a matter of months to complete each goal, it’s crucial that the goal itself is clearly defined, with responsibilities and roles assigned, accountability set up, and a clear endpoint in sight.

When it comes to creating long-term goals, it’s important for you to consider a clear objective that lines up with company morals, beliefs, and vision.

Communicate Goals to Employees

Communication is the number one ingredient required for collaboration no matter what kind of organizational structure you operate within. If you want your team to work together towards a short-term goal or you want them to remain committed to a long-term objective, you absolutely must make sure that you can communicate the goal itself without trouble.

You can do this by clearly defining the goal, as mentioned above. In addition, ask for employee feedback regarding the goal in order to ensure that everyone understands it and doesn’t have any questions. Then, make sure to regularly remind your team about the existence of the goal and gather progress reports to keep everyone on the same page.

Create a Metric to Measure Goals

A goal isn’t really a goal unless you know when it’s achieved. This requires a metric to measure each goal.

Metrics can vary dramatically, and often do depending on the goal in question. For instance, on the one hand, if your office warehouse expenses were $1,000 over budget last quarter, a short-term goal could be reducing your expenses precisely by $1,000 — something you could easily track in Quickbooks or whatever accounting software you use.

On the other hand, if you have a long-term goal of, say, establishing your brand as a producer of high-quality products, you may need to set a metric such as a 75% customer approval rating when they’re asked about the quality of your goods or services.

Regardless of the specifics, always find a way to measure your goals.

Assess Goal Effectiveness

Once you have a metric to measure your goals, you must set a time to assess your effectiveness in reaching them.

In the above example, if the warehouse expenses were too high in quarter two, the goal should be to reduce them to an appropriate level by quarter three. This gives you three months to accomplish the reduction, at which point you must measure the effectiveness of your efforts.

Adjust Goals as Necessary

Finally, as you assess your effectiveness, you’ll likely encounter one of two scenarios:

First, you may find that you’ve achieved your original goal. If this is the case, you can mark the goal as complete and begin to consider what other goals should be set.

Second, if you find that you’ve fallen short of the goal, you may need to adjust it. This can serve as a reset for your team, helping them refocus their efforts and ensuring that they achieve effective results the second time around.


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