5 Principles for Setting Good Goals

It's not enough to set any old goal. You need to set one that fulfills the right conditions.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #481

Europa decides she’ll work on the goal, “Improve staff retention among 20-somethings.”

Melvin chooses “Update the inventory system to use a new, web-integrated ordering system.”

Make Sure You Have Subgoals for Everything

Those are both important subgoals. Both of these update the store to be more modern. But are they enough? Do they add up to the bigger goal? Conspicuously missing is a subgoal related to the appearance of the store. 

Bernice jumps on the omission. “I shall take the goal of redesigning the store decor, updating it with a lovely Art Deco look.” 

When you break your big goal into subgoals, you need to make sure those subgoals cover every aspect of the larger goal. If your goal is to find a job, and you don’t have a subgoal that involves updating your resume, chances are good that even if all your other subgoals are perfect, you still won’t reach the larger goal.

Make sure that your goals are under your control, or if you’re a manager, are under your organization’s control.

Make Sure Your Subgoals Don’t Overlap

Sometimes subgoals have subsubgoals. And those subsubgoals just might overlap. In that case, make the overlap area a separate goal on its own.

Europa feels very strongly that part of retaining the younger staff is to have cash registers that are fun to look at, with exciting patterns like fuchsia polka dots. Melvin, on the other hand, is planning new point-of-sale cash registers that integrate with a dozen web services and come in only one, exciting color: beige.

Both of them have overlapping subsubgoals to “replace cash registers.” Rather than letting them collide in an explosion of web-enabled fuchsia-and-beige polka dots, take the cash register initiative and give it to Europa’s cybernetic son Thomas as his responsibility. He’s generally good with electronics. He speaks the language. And if anyone can negotiate a middle ground between fuchsia and beige, he’s the teenager to do it.

Now the goals are set, and the team can move forward. The goal is specific—updating the store’s look and feel. It’s measurable and under the team’s control. All the subgoals have been identified, they’re on a time frame that works for the overall goal, and the subgoals don’t overlap. The team is excited, and Bernice is already tickled that a plant store called Green Growing Things would be decorated in fuchsia. Macbeth would be proud!

I’m Stever Robbins. Follow GetItDoneGuy on Twitter and Facebook. Want great keynote speeches on productivity, Living an Extraordinary Life, or entrepreneurship? Hire me! Find me at http://SteverRobbins.com

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!

Image of a napkin sketch on goals © Shutterstock


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.