5 Leadership Goal-Setting Tips for Making 2018 a Success

2017-2018 change represents the new year 2018

Why set goals in these turbulent times?

You can’t underestimate the importance of organizational goals — especially in turbulent times. Goals set and measured are goals achieved and treasured. And achieving meaningful annual goals requires setting a high bar, well in advance. December is a great time to do that.

I know that after a long year, and during the home stretch to the holidays, it’s easy to get stuck in reactive mode, and to tell yourself you’ll think about goals “later.” Don’t! End-of-year/start-of-new-year goals and resolutions are just what the doctor ordered. They refocus us on the big picture, and reconnect us with our ideals. They energize us.

Case in point: Recently, I completed a series of CEO calls focused on goal-setting, as part of my executive coaching practice. The process was as illuminating as it was invigorating — so I wanted to share the exercises we went through together.

My hope is that they will help you make the most of the season: get out of our default-reactive mode… and raise the bar on your proactive goal-setting mode for 2018. Because, once in place, your short list of business goals and objectives will seriously increase your odds for success by helping you and your team focus on what’s really important — and tune out the rest.

Setting business goals: Make it real and keep it simple — and achievable

No matter what, or whom, you lead, the first rule in setting goals is to assume that your organization’s existence depends on them. (Because, in a very real way, it does.) The goals you pick will focus your department or organization on where to spend the vast majority of energy, attention, and efforts next year.

This exercise recognizes that your organization is a mosaic of people — and that its success and sense of cohesion are intimately tied to the hearts, minds, and actions of the professionals that choose to come to work every day. Your people.

So you’ll want to set aside some undisturbed time to reflect on what’s most important to you and your employees in the year ahead, and periodically, to revisit those goals. Be thorough and clear, and pick a short list — no more than five key goals for the year ahead.

Below you’ll find some tips on how to design your goal shortlist for the new year. As you read through them, keep in mind that some of these can take the form of one-on-one interactions, and some will be more appropriate for executive team discussion once you’ve gotten your initial responses.

5 steps to better business goals for 2018

1) Bottom-up and top-down. No one employee — including no leader — has all the answers. So you should not only identify your business goals, but ask the people reporting to you to do the same — and then ask them to repeat the exercise with their reports, and so on, throughout the organization. This will be essential data for setting goals that are credible and achievable.

2) Clean out your blind spots. Every organization has them — and so does every leader. Here again, you can and should draw on your colleagues and reports for help. The questions below are designed to help you and your employees find the blind spots that can lead your organization or group astray — so you can clean them out and chart a clear course forward:

  • What have we tried to achieve in 2017 that we must accomplish in 2018, and how will that be rewarding to you and your team?
  • In thinking about our outcomes (results, quality, customer engagement, etc.), what targets are we hitting — and which ones are we missing due to our own actions as executives?
  • What am I not hearing or dealing with as a leader that I need to address?
  • Is there anything I can do to get out of the way of — and, indeed, accelerate — our success?

3) Lessons learned this year… to incorporate into next year. The turn of the year offers a perfect opportunity for a business to evaluate its performance, and adjust course. Consider these questions:

  • What new lessons has 2017 taught us — and what lessons from 2017 and prior years have we yet to fully address? Are there endemic issues that need to be looked at?
  • How has our business ecosystem — market, products, customers, providers, partners, costs, competition or regulatory landscape — changed since last year? How well did our strategy track in response — or in leading those changes? And what do we need to adjust in 2018?
  • How have our SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) evolved in 2017 — and what should that mean for our goals in the new year?
  • What are the most relevant metrics for today? What do success, neutral, or failure look like in 2018? What should our measurable goals be going forward?

4) Make them relevant to your bigger picture. Once you’ve settled on your goals for 2018, ask yourself: how aligned are these goals — and our people — with our organization’s business plan and three-year strategic priorities? With its larger mission and vision? This is a good opportunity to check your direction before plunging into the new year.

5) Communicate! Decide the best way to package your goals, and then communicate them throughout your organization. How will you cascade these messages, and ensure everyone is crystal clear on the goals you’ve worked so hard to design?

When it comes to setting business goals, don’t settle for “doable”

The turn of the year offers a perfect opportunity to set your course for the next 12 months — and beyond. So don’t settle on “doable” for 2018. Use these tips to hone down and choose the right 3-5 goals that will have you feeling like you hit it out of the park where it really matters.


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

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