Setting goals undoubtedly is one of the most important things an organization can do to align their employees and move forward. We all know goals should be SMART. But to be successful in reaching organizational goals, being SMART about them isn’t enough.

Especially goals that define the direction of an organization or business unit need more. They need to unite an entire workforce and have them move in the same direction. To accomplish this people need to get emotionally involved. They must feel the need to reach the projected goals. But they also need a clear process and structure to align all efforts.

We composed a list of 5 of the most important traits of organizational goals that deal with these psychological and procedural necessities.

1. They get support from everyone in the organization

This might seem obvious, but is probably the most important element of an organizational goal. Everybody that is supposed to contribute to it should understand why it is necessary to reach a specific goal. They should feel they can contribute to it.

For this goals need to be set at the right abstraction level. Make it too vague and people disconnect. Make it too concrete and they feel they can’t contribute anymore. For instance, a goal that sounds like: “Triple revenues in 10 years’ time” will for many people be way too far away and not clear enough about what they can do to reach this. On the other hand, “Double sales of product X in one year” might motivate people in sales and marketing, but will probably disconnect everyone in product development.

The key is to find the level at which everybody can relate to a goal. What this level is, depends on the organization, its business and its employees. Goals should be concrete enough so that every team and individual can translate the corporate goal to (short term) sub-goals that relate to them. Any less concrete and you lose people, any more concrete and you risk steering too much and missing out on great ideas of others.

Dialogue is key when you want to engage people. Don’t settle on definitive organizational goals too soon. To figure out what works and what doesn’t, draft goals should be public and up for discussion. Invite everyone to challenge them. One way of doing so is by forming a group of people representing various departments, levels and professions in the organization. Ask this group to give feedback on your proposed organizational goals, based on the feedback they have heard from their peers. Next, request them to help you adjust the goals until they resonate with all groups in the organization.

2. They come with a plan

A goal without a plan is just a wish – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Goals don’t add value to the organization. It’s the execution on goals that will bring the company forward. Make sure there is a plan how you aim to realize your organizational goals.

Can you tell your employees what you will do tomorrow? And what can they do? This doesn’t mean you have to have a detailed day-to-day plan on how to translate the goals into results. You do, however, need to be able to tell what will happen, and by whom, in the upcoming weeks or months that will bring the organization closer to its goals.

A plan is also invaluable to reach support for your goals. There needs to be a clear way forward if you want your employees to believe in them.

3. They are pursued in a rhythm

How often have you set goals in the past, only to realize weeks or months later that you completely forgot about them? It’s easy to get lost in day-to-day business and overlook your well-intended goals. You just don’t have time to pursue them.

Not having time for goals is an often heard fallacy of not reaching them. However, if you’ve set your goals right, they shouldn’t be about doing extra things. They should be about bringing focus and aligning your activities to reach them. This applies to an individual with personal goals as well as to organizations. The hard part though is to not forget about using your goals to align your work.

The good news is, this doesn’t have to take a lot of time. But it is important to schedule a regular break from day-to-day operations to zoom out and consciously look at the goals though. In scrum, at the end of every sprint, teams take time off to reflect on the past period, evaluate results and events and make plans for the coming sprint. You need this for your goals as well.

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Reality changes and your initial plans might not be as good as they seemed at first. That’s why you need to execute on your goals in iterations. At regular intervals, the organization should reflect on its goals. What has been done and what are the results? And what should be done next? What will be your planning for the upcoming period?

4. They are motivating

Goals should set people in motion and inspire them. To get people moving, they need an emotional involvement. Either they are excited, happy or slightly scared a goal should trigger an activation emotion.

An important element of making goals motivating is wording. How you describe your goals highly influences the effect they have on somebody. It’s well known in marketing it’s not information that triggers us to make purchases, it’s emotion. This isn’t any different in setting inspiring and motivating goals. Consider the following two goals: “become the manufacturer of the safest family car in the world” versus “build a family car with an NCAP rating (overall) of 5”. Which one would you get out of bed for in the morning? Consider using OKRs to separate the measurable parts from the inspiring part of goals.

On top of that, an effective way to make a goal motivating is by making sure it is ambitious. Goals that feel slightly uncomfortable help individuals and teams get into action. It can make people nervous, but also excited. Setting goals that seem just behold the threshold of what is possible will force teams to rethink the way they work. Whatever the right amount of stretch is for an organization depends on various parameters. If you want to learn more about what these parameters are and how to determine the right amount of stretch for your organization, read this article.

5. They find origin in the organization’s purpose

Organizational goals should support the Why of the organization. If there is no clear link between the goals and the mission and vision of an organization it is hard for people to understand and support them.

The number of people that look for an employer that shares the same values as they do is on the rise. Famous for this are millennials, but they aren’t the only ones. Organizations recognize this and more and more are thinking and defining their purpose. They talk the talk, but do they all walk the walk?

For instance, if you say you value your customers and want to have a meaningful relationship with them, you better have a good story ready when you set goals that read: “get a tenfold increase in customers” and “increase revenue per customer by 20%”. Maybe it’s me, but this sounds contradictory. Employees and customers alike will spot these inconsistencies. Best-case scenario, they protest and you have a chance to adjust your goals. Worst-case scenario: they leave.

Consider setting up health metrics or constraints for your goals. What are the things that can’t break in the process of reaching them? You can still set an ambitious goal that may be contradictory at first glance as long as you accompany it with clear boundaries. In the previous example, these could be: “average customer satisfaction stays above 4.5 on a scale of 5” and “every customer is visited by a representative at least twice a year”. This gives a clear signal you want to reach your goals, but not at all cost.

Setting goals for an organization can be tremendously valuable in driving it forward. But setting the right goals can be tedious. Especially as organizations grow, defining goals that engage everyone is hard. Remember to consider these 5 traits and don’t forget to keep an open dialogue.