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How to define your short-term goals for long-term success

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Short-term business goals are the secret ingredient to achieving long-term business goals. Short-term goals bridge the gap between the broad, strategic vision of the C-suite and the focused, tactical lens of managers and employees by breaking the overarching vision into smaller pieces. They empower employees to take on manageable workloads while showing progress toward that greater goal.

When setting short-term goals, you need to determine how, how much, and who. These components are critical to turning strategic planning into tactical execution.

Related: Why Short-Term Goals Lead to Long-Term Rewards

The How: Defining Goals

If the goal is the destination, then goals are the directions. Objectives are tactical steps taken to achieve a result. But as with driving directions, there can be more than one way to get to a destination. It’s important to remember that, unlike goals, which are fixed, goals can be changed. How a goal is achieved is not as important as achieving it. If something doesn’t work, try something else.

Defining objectives should be a group effort. Managers should involve their teams in a brainstorming session and generate as many ideas as possible. Write them all down, from logical to improbable; there are no wrong answers.

The purpose of this exercise is twofold. First, it gives employees a sense of ownership and creates a deeper connection to the contribution of their work. Second, providing a list of options saves time in the long run. If one plan doesn’t work, you can move straight to the next without having to hit pause to come up with a new approach.

Next is sorting and arranging all the ideas. Which ones work the most? What can be quickly implemented and tested? A thoughtful search helps the team prioritize which ideas to try first, establishing your initial goals. Keep in mind that goals don’t have to be done one by one. When arranging your list, look for opportunities to run objectives side by side, such as A/B split testing.

The objectives must be clearly defined before they are implemented. There should be clear instructions on how the work will be done, how much it will cost, what the expected results are and how long it will take. This clarity is necessary to measure progress. You need to know what you are looking for and how that result compares to the work being done.

Once team-level goals are established, managers must communicate with each other to develop interdependencies and prioritize resource use, such as the technical and creative departments. This not only prevents backlogs and delays, but also creates project transparency. Managers can see where their projects depend on each other and convey that importance to their team members.

Related: Why Our Brains Like Short-Term Goals

The How Much: Measurement

All objectives must be measurable. If it cannot be measured, it cannot be managed. Without a way to benchmark progress, you have no idea if your efforts are paying off. Measuring an objective should be part of the pre-implementation process. Usually this is in the form of a KPI, but if it cannot be correlated to the progress of a goal, establishing a measurable baseline is sufficient.

In addition to measuring, the objectives must fall within a strict time frame. Short-term goals are just that: little time. Goals that take too long to deliver are not viable options. In addition, set benchmarks from the start. These act as early indicators and avoid wasting time. So much progress is expected in two weeks, so much in four. If these predictions don’t come true, it’s time to try something else.

Measurement should be a continuous process, not a one-time task. A goal can be promising in the beginning, but slow down halfway through. This is why consistent check-ins are vital.

Related: The 5 Golden Rules of Goal Setting

The who: accountability

Every target needs a navigator: someone who is responsible for overseeing the chaos and making sure that all the moving parts move in the same direction. Who fills this role is different in every company. That could be a chief operations officer, a governance officer or even an experienced manager. Regardless of the title, whoever assumes this role is responsible for overseeing each functional component to achieve that goal.

They are responsible for collaborating with the functional managers of the participating teams and ensuring that they communicate with each other. They consistently consult with teams and measure objective progress. They keep goals to their timetable and call for turning around when progress isn’t keeping up. When new information comes in, it’s up to them to look at the plan and decide what changes need to be made. Risk management and contingencies are their responsibility.

Two things vital to their success are documenting everything and staying impartial. If something isn’t written down, it doesn’t count. You cannot find success assuming that people always understand you. Having thorough documentation for each step of the process provides something to reference and produces an overview of what worked and what didn’t to make better decisions for the next round of goal setting.

Impartiality is essential because it prevents you from getting bogged down in unimportant details. It doesn’t matter how managers organize their teams, as long as they deliver results. No matter how much potential an objective has, if it doesn’t show progress in the allotted time frame, move on to the next one.

The transition from strategic vision to tangible results can be a bumpy one. As the saying goes, “Easier said than done.” And while you can’t account for the unknown, you can plan for it by setting clear guidelines. Defining how the work will be done, how success will be measured and who will be responsible creates a framework that is flexible enough to adapt to change, yet sturdy enough to see you through it.

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