Goals are pretty simple. In sports, reaching the goal adds points to the scoreboard. In business, reaching the goal means doing what you set out to do. In your personal life, it’s finding a sense of purpose, belonging and completion.

Overview: What is a goal?

Even though the concept is easy to define and understand, it can be hard to master in the context of process management. The word is often used a bit too loosely to describe the desired outcome of any particular activity or behavior. However, real business goals revolve around customer needs.

Some form of meaningful and measurable customer satisfaction is almost always the real objective and this is usually measured in quantity or frequency of purchases. Every business is built around an existing need, so satisfying this need should always be the goal.

3 benefits of goals

Goals are everything in business. Without them you have no purpose or direction.

1. Plan for a purpose

Without a goal there is nothing to base your plans on and without strategic planning there is little hope of long-term efficiency, profitability or growth. All of the plans and goals for individual operations are all to achieve the final goal of the entire process: real customer satisfaction.

2. Customer-driven design

One of the main benefits of setting goals is that it keeps customers at the center of process design instead of methodology. It’s very easy to get caught up in perfecting a process and completely miss the important value-adding opportunities.

3. Team boundaries and achievements

Just like lines on a football field, setting goals creates boundaries and objectives that everyone can see. This creates a much better sense of team cohesion and a culture of mutual achievement.

Why are goals important to understand?

Goals are a basic element at any level of business planning and it’s very possible to use them in a way that is counterproductive if you don’t understand how they work.

Creating accountability

One of the uncomfortable truths about goals is that they create accountability. If a goal is set, then there is an obligation and expectation of at least attempting to reach the goal. There are also questions and possible consequences for failing to reach it.

Building an identity

A company’s goals are essentially its identity, especially from a business standpoint. People often decide to invest based on the stated objectives and goals of a company’s processes. Your goals reflect your ambitions as well as your understanding of the market needs.

Evolving expectations

You aren’t going to reach all your goals, at least the first time. That’s just a fact of life and business. The key to success isn’t avoiding failure, it’s the ability and willingness to learn from those failures and change your behavior or expectations next time. It’s important to understand when the goal setting is the problem and you need to dial back some of the target points of the next cycle.

An industry example of a business goal

The single owner and operator of a hotdog cart has a fairly simple and obvious goal: to serve each customer a safe and satisfying meal. To accomplish this goal he has to make sure his customers get the food they want, how they want and when they want it.

He achieves these goals by preparing ahead of time so he can serve customers quickly. He also takes the time to engage in witty, friendly banter to make them feel more comfortable while waiting. He also equips his cart with ample napkins, cups and optional supplies that allow each person to get all the accessories they need to properly enjoy their meal.

3 best practices when thinking about goal setting

Goal setting really is very simple, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think carefully about how you do it.

1. Research for realism

Sometimes it’s hard to just pull a number out of your hat. If you don’t know what a realistic goal is for your situation, you should consider peers and competitors and scale their results according to the scope of the process. This shouldn’t be the only source informing your goals, but it can help you estimate more accurately.

2. Communicate clearly

Goal lines are only useful if the player can actually see them. This holds true in process management just as much as it does on a field. Leaders are responsible for communicating goals, and how process design facilitates these goals, to all levels of their organization.

3. Celebrate achievement

If you are going to take the time to set a goal, take the time to celebrate reaching it. Reaching a goal only to immediately move on to the next can dampen the sense of achievement and accomplishment that should resonate from good business practices.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about goals

What are common examples of business goals?

Even though every business pursues the goal of satisfying customers, this is usually narrowed down a bit to relevance to the particular industry. Restaurants want to satisfy their customers’ hunger, appetite and dietary needs. Banks want to provide financial security, accessibility and opportunity.

How do you break down goals?

Goals are the broadest purpose driving a process, which is then broken down into various activities with individual objectives. Each of these objectives are essentially stages for completing a solution that accomplishes the company’s goal.

What if you don’t reach your goals?

It’s a good idea to figure this out when you actually set the goal in the first place. If you are just starting out, you should consider adjusting your expectations as well as your methods. If you know that the goal should be achievable, then you need to take a hard look at your process.

Getting to the goal

No matter where the ball is on the field, players are always working it towards the goal. That’s the only thing that puts points on the board and it’s the only thing that wins games. All the other players and maneuvers simply serve this purpose, whether directly or indirectly.

Business leaders need to remember that these principles apply just as well to process management, so they are worth taking to heart. They should also remember the importance of goals and objectives for Six Sigma implementation in the workplace.

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