How to set goals

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Graphic showing path from current to vision

One of the areas that seems to be most challenging to people, groups, and organizations is finding and using an effective goal setting process. The graphic above is the process used by in-the-know businesses and interestingly enough, by educators and professional athletes.

It’s a journey

The best way to think of the entire goals setting and achieving process is that it’s like a road trip. Before we get into that, there is one critical step that is not on the map. Values have to come first. After the initial set of values is determined – I say initial as they can change or evolve, especially in groups – road trip planning can begin in earnest.

Step 1 – Where are you heading?

That would be your vision. In a real road trip the vision is usually a real place. In any other kind of goal setting process it is most likely an ideal future state. That’s ok, moving toward it – the journey – is the important part. Having a compelling, vivid, if not realistically achievable vision will keep you moving forward. You should have one overarching vision for your life or your group or organization and then sub-visions that describe and keep your vision alive in specific areas.

Example – A company called YourBestFriend has an overall vision of a world where everyone had at least one good friend. To borrow from Meredith on Grey’s Anatomy – Everyone needs a person. They also had a vision specific to customer service and another vision around company culture and how they treated each other. The big vision and all the sub-visions were based on their values and all the visions aligned driving them in one direction. In addition, everyone in the company knew what the visions were, so everyone kept moving in the same direction.

Step 2 – Figure out where you are now.

On a road trip, you probably know where you are starting from. Uhm.. I’m at home. If you are setting goals for an organization, knowing where you are, in relation to your vision, may be a bit more difficult. Regardless of the challenge it’s a critical step.

Step 3 – Choose a destination.

Not the final destination. Set your goals as if they were towns, cities or stops of interest along the way. If I’m driving across the continent I’m going to plan the trip with specific stops in mind. Set your goals as specific, measurable, achievable (and acceptable), realistic and time-framed plans for your trip. (Yes, that’s a SMART goal.)

If I want to go to Toronto – lets pretend that’s the vision – I might set a goal of driving to Calgary on the first day. That’s specific, measurable, achievable/acceptable, realistic (in summer) and I have time framed it.

In an organization I might set a goal of increasing inside sales by 20% by the next quarter or of ensuring 50% of employees take one new training session within the next two months.

Step 4 – Chunk it up!

Objectives are the smaller steps you take to reach your goal. Get gas – that’s an objective. Buy a map – that’s an objective. Some would say these are also tasks and they would be right. Objective are the small, behavioural things that you have to do to reach your goal.

In an organization objectives might include – have a meeting with all staff to share the goals to gain buy-in or send sales staff on training.

The last step is documenting your travels. One thing I notice, a lot, is that organization fail to document in a way that makes sense. A lot of the time they become their own worst enemy simply by failing to report out based on the above process. Here’s an outline to follow for reporting progress.

Progress reporting

Report on each area that you set goals in and start with the vision is each area.

Area 1 ___________________.

Our vision in this area is ________________.

Current situation in this area _______________________.

Our goals in this area – list each separately.

Goal 1  _________________________________.

Objective 1 for goal 1   _____________________. (You don’t have to get too granular when reporting but getting really granular in planning is a good idea.)

Progress on objective 1  __________________________.

Progress on objective 2  __________________________.

Progress on objective 3 __________________________.

Progress on goal overall __________________________.

New current situation ___________________________.


Given that it’s homelessness action week we can use as an example, a common goal for non-profits and government organizations concerned with poverty and homelessness.

Area – Affordable housing

Our vision in this area is that every person and family in BC has access to affordable and safe housing.

Current situation in this area is that 40% of persons and families pay more than they can afford for housing, leaving them at risk of homelessness.

Our goals in this area.

Goal 1 – Raise awareness through educating the public.

Objective 1 for goal 1 –  Create a set of infographics that explain housing affordability issues in a way that is really easy to understand.

Progress on objective 1 – Three infographics were produced and distributed through social and regular media.

Progress on goal and new current situation for this area as demonstrated by an online survey is that we increased the public’s awareness and understanding of the challenges in this area by 25%. Whoo-hoo! You might want to leave that last bit out.

What about strategy?

Strategy is the how. It’s the vehicle and route you are going to take. It’s the way you are going to drive the car – slow and careful enjoying the ride or are you just going to get there. Strategy is big enough and important enough to warrant its own post. More on strategy later.


You have it now, right?

  • Values then vision,
  • Where you are now,
  • Set SMART goals,
  • Chunk up goals into objectives,
  • Report out in logical manner based on process

Now get out there and set some goals!


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Should mayors rule the world?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

This interesting TedTalk the brings up lots of great questions about modern democracy. I have long thought that small is better. Small units of government – decision-making and action-taking units – can access and leverage local knowledge way better than provincial, state or country wide systems. Provided of course they have a strategy or system in place to inform,  engage and empower their community.

How do mayor’s inform and engage their community?

In our connected world it’s easier than ever to get messages out and educate constituents on local issues. I did a quick Google search for “mayor’s who blog” I found that many mayors do indeed use blogs to reach out to community members, to be more accessible and through the subscribe option on many blogging platforms allow for push notifications. That kind of process makes it easier for community members to stay informed without having to remember to visit the city website.

Great example of mayor’s who blog is Mayor Karen Farbridge of Guelph Ontario. Here are the fist few lines of her first blog post in 2008:

Welcome! I decided to start a blog to encourage more dialogue about civic affairs in the community. One of the goals of our Strategic Plan is to have the highest per capita municipal election voter turnout of any city in Ontario. How do mayor’s engage their community? More…

Check out her About the Blog page. How cool is that?! It’s her blog, she makes that clear but I bet more people go to her and her blog than to their official city website. They do that because she is person. Funny thing, we people like to get information and engage with other people, even if technology is mediating the process.

I do have a question about city websites.. and the Guelph site is awesome but not an exception. How come I can’t subscribe to updates? I can subscribe by RSS but that confounds a lot of people. Why no “subscribe to” button? There are a lot of areas of interest that I would love to stay more informed around in my own city but honestly I need new information pushed to me. Let me sign up for a newsletter about X. Face i t you already publish the information so it’s not like you’d have to write anything new. You just have to get it to me. I’m not unbusy enough to easily make time to go hunt stuff down. Are you? Who has that kind of time? That is why I subscribe to blogs that have value and turn to Twitter for a lot of information.

Many a mayor and city councillor have embraced social media to communicate and engage in conversations near and dear to local citizens. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Foursquare are being using increasingly to connect with community members where they (virtually) hang out.

In the Spanish town of Jun, near Granada, Mayor José Antonio Rodríguez (@JoseantonioJun) makes local government more accessible and more accountable to its citizens through the use of Twitter.  All public offices and employees are required to have an official Twitter account, which is prominently displayed on everything from police cars and uniforms to garbage trucks. More…

I’m not going to include platforms like PlaceSpeak or VisionCritical or even the always near and dear to me Thoughtstream system in this category. That is how city hall connects, or tries to connect and gather sentiments across a city. I will say that there seems to be, in too many cases, a lack of strategy attached to the use of these kinds of tools. And yes, I could definitely say the same for the use of all other technologies. Tools are tactics, they are not strategies.

How do mayor’s empower their community?

This is the real question.. and in case you haven’t notices I’m writing this along a continuum based on the IAP2 model of citizen participation.  I recently wrote a post about this on the Thoughstream blog so will link to that rather than reinvent the whole thing here.

I think Mayor’s and by extension city councillors should rule the world. They are our best chance at  genuine participatory democracy provided they are engaging their community as a way of empowering constituents to have a voice, take part, co-create, collectively envision and change the world for the better, one city and one issue at a time. If they aren’t then they are just politicians playing a political game.

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