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6 strategic goal-setting steps for smarter business performance

6 strategic goal-setting steps for smarter business performance

Which would you rather have: a 25% improvement goal and accomplish 28%; or a 75% improvement goal that yields a 67% improvement but jump-starts the new way you’re going to manage business performance? This blog offers six strategic goal-setting steps to help you optimise business performance.

Setting bold, smart objectives during the early stages of your continuous improvement journey is the only way to radically improve performance and start the culture change you seek. Why? Because setting a modest goal to improve anything by 5% to 10% will cause most people to put in only enough time, effort and focus to make the numbers happen.

For example, if reducing changeover times is a major priority, you should set the goal at 75% from the outset. Of course, there’s no way a team can reduce cycle times by that much with just an increase in working hours and better focus. But if you provide the necessary resources and support, your people will respond and rise to your higher expectations.

Bold objectives force outside-the-box thinking, a data-driven approach and a different way of accomplishing important work in a more collaborative way. In fact, in the changeover time reduction example above, it’s likely to take multiple kaizen exercises before finally accomplishing the objective.

To establish and sustain a continuous improvement culture, you need to follow a process of strategic goal-setting:

1. Set clear, actionable goals

Using the SMART acronym will help ensure that managers and employees share the same understanding of goals set during the establishment of KPIs. Set goals that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

These goals must be realistic, measurable and concrete, as it becomes too easy to get sidetracked if a goal isn’t clear and specific.

2. Identify the behaviours that are critical for performance

This step is often overlooked in the process of setting goals. Managers seem to forget that each goal requires its own set of unique skills and talent, along with a necessary level of self-growth and personal development.

Establish from the outset what behaviours are going to be conducive to peak performance while in the process of achieving the intended goals. Discovering this will allow you to devise a plan where the necessary education, training and support are built into the process of achieving your goals.

3. Establish a reward and incentive scheme

The first issue to consider is which aspects the reward and recognition system should incentivise. These aspects should be linked to the key performance indicators (KPIs) and business drivers – typically productivity or quality improvement, cost reduction or improved delivery to plan. The incentive system normally uses a balanced set of these KPIs.

While recognition practices are relatively easy to implement, they can have a very substantial impact on improving and sustaining employee performance. Importantly though, an incentivised reward system should and could never be a substitute for good management. Good management based on feedback, coaching and support is hard work which requires discipline, skill and perseverance.

4. Establish a culture of self-directed learning

Most employees are the products of a passive or teacher-orientated learning system. They need to be encouraged to become proactive, identifying their own training needs and co-designing and evaluating their learning activities.

Self-directed learning has considerable value in the workplace. The learning is often more effective because it accommodates the employee’s own learning style and objectives, and can be done at a pace and place that suits the individual employee. From the organisation’s perspective, it can save substantial training costs, eliminating the need for formal training sessions and venues.

In the longer term, self-directed learning can help employees increase effectiveness as they begin to learn from their own work experiences and actually apply their learning in their place of work.

5. Get accurate, timely feedback

Now that you have the ball rolling, make sure to keep tabs on how things are progressing. This is why it’s so important to have measurable objectives. Feedback can come from specific measures that were set up at the beginning of the implementation process. Track your progress with specific milestones that are to be achieved by a specific date and time.

Have someone else, such as a review team and/or an external service provider, review your progress and provide constructive feedback. This will give you another perspective on how things are going, and new insight into how they could be improved.

6. Celebrate the wins

If you’ve set challenging but achievable improvement goals, you will most likely see some significant results. At this point, praise and reward your team (and yourself) for working hard and staying focused.

Even if you still feel far from your big picture vision, don’t downplay the progress made. If you’ve achieved your measurable progress up to this point, recognise this accomplishment and give your team a pat on the back before moving on to the next set of goals. This will help them to maintain a positive attitude and encouraged state of mind.

As a manager, it is your responsibility to decide on realistic goals for yourself and your team. But it’s not something you should do in isolation. You must make sure the goals you set for your team align with those of the broader organisation. And you must make sure that your team understands, accepts and commits to these goals.

Download How to Guide: Keeping your teams engaged on the CI journey to help you overcome the challenge of keeping your teams engaged and motivated on the improvement journey.


The TRACC framework helps organisations build standardised and integrated good practice and performance capacity across their Plan, Source, Make and Deliver functions. Simultaneously it accelerates their collaboration and alignment capacity to build world class end-to-end value chains, enabling the organisation itself to become the ultimate source of sustainable competitive advantage.
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