Why Goals Matter


Setting good goals

As we frequently find ourselves emphasizing at Maliasili Initiatives throughout all our work with our partners, the single most important question any organization needs to answer is: What do we want to achieve? The key to answering this question, and in building the systems and plans to help an organization achieve its core purpose and mission, lies in setting good goals.

Goals play a critical role in organizational performance. They provide direction and define success for any organization. They address core strategic questions: where are we going and what will success look like?

Therefore, setting good goals – ones that are achievable, ambitious, and measurable – is critical for developing effective and useful strategies – since the purpose of strategy is to determine how those end-goals are going to be reached. This applies to an overall organizational strategic plan, or more specific strategies related to communications, fundraising, or human resources. Goals then provide the central orientation for an organization’s management systems and resource investments, which should all be geared towards reaching an organization’s targets.

Goals are key to motivating and managing an organization’s staff, and for holding team members accountable for delivery. An organization that does not establish clear goals cannot hold its staff accountable for delivery – or more positively, reward them for performance.

Strong and clear goals are also key to motivating funders and investors to support an organization, since goals are basically the way of stating the investment proposition to any results-oriented funder. An organization with clear goals is basically saying: ‘if you provide us with X funding, we will achieve X results’.

Many organizations in the conservation and natural resources field do not set good or clear goals. Often goals are too broad and aspirational (e.g. “improve conservation status” or “strengthen livelihoods”) lacking clearly defined success and the outcomes that the organization wants to work relentlessly towards achieving. Sometimes goals may also simply be unrealistic, in terms of the amount of time and money required to achieve them, which sets an organization up for under-performance and can result in disappointing both local constituents and external funders and partners.

Setting good goals has also been key to the performance of outstanding companies such as Google. This recent article on Goal Science Thinking from First Round Review highlights some new findings on the importance of goal-setting in companies and organizations:

  • Organizations that use formal goal setting exercises are 3.5 times more likely to be in the top tier of financial performers every year.
  • Only 7% of employees report fully understanding their company’s business strategies and what’s expected of them to help achieve company goals.
  • The average employee can only work toward 3 to 5 goals at a time.

Are you setting good goals?

So ask yourself: does my organization have clear goals by which we measure our overall and our individual performance? Do we all know what these goals are? Do we know our own goals and what our peers’ goals are? Are we regularly reviewing and revising our goals to keep our organization pressing forwards?

In our field, where problems can sometimes seem endless, give yourself an end-in-sight and a reason to celebrate from time to time.

Goal setting is important for several reasons. First, it helps the company focus, not on 50 goals, but on the top 5 or so goals that are critical to the company’s success. By going through the process of brainstorming and writing goals, we are assured that the major goals will surface. That’s good discipline.

Goal setting also helps with accountability and coordination between teams. We know what we need to accomplish, when it needs to be accomplished, who is going to own it, and how we are going to work together to get it done.

-John Doerr, venture capitalist