The Power of Setting Quarterly Goals Here's How to Break It Down
The most common reason I become discontent as a leader is when I detect the teams and organizations I lead are not moving forward (getting bigger or better). I think this is a central frustration of all leaders. We want to soar, but we cannot seem to launch. Rather, despite our best efforts, we only sputter around. We are busy, moving at neck-breaking speeds, yet inching forward at a snail’s pace, at best.
In this article, I propose that one reason leaders fail is their inability to execute their strategy. I will then break down a solution you can apply today to set quarterly goals.
Keep reading for my bonus download—and personal announcement!
There are typically three reasons leaders can’t seem to unshackle themselves and their teams from whatever is holding them back from a successful launch:
- The vision stinks. We don’t know where we are going or why we should go there.
- The strategy is poor. We don’t know the steps we must take to get where we want to go.
- The execution is weak. We can’t seem to get the steps we laid out in our strategy accomplished.
As I look back at all the organizations I’ve led, helped to lead, or were on the governing boards of, poor execution has been paramount. In my experience, failure is less often due to a lack of vision or poor strategy. Having said that, I still encourage you to start by quickly examining your vision and strategy.
First think about your vision. For a moment, forget the art of writing a glorious vision statement, a shiny word-smithed sentence that will move the hearts of men. Just ask yourself this question and jot down a few answers. Where would I love this organization to be in ten years? For some this is clear. For others, thinking about this is a painfully slow process. Stop and write down where you’d like to see your organization in ten years (or five or three). Write details if you want.
Second, think about strategy. Again, forget about developing a fancy strategic plan with multi-colored charts. Simply answer this question: What has to happen before the vision can be accomplished? The big steps—maybe five to ten action-items that have to be completed to achieve your vision. This is your road map. Your strategy.
Please note, it is likely that the vision and strategy are not the problem. If I pressed you, I bet you could tell me your vision and strategy even if you don’t have them written down. The problem of stagnation is usually inaction. You may say, Wes, brother I am working hard, getting a lot done. That maybe true, but you are not achieving the key actions that will lead you to fulfill your vision.
When we are busy, but not moving higher or deeper, it is because we are busy caring for the mechanics of the organization and putting out fires. What moves us forward is tending to a few important items that generate progress. These are often the big projects that whisper in our ear, but we procrastinate or dismiss because we are scared to attempt them, or finish them. The reason we don’t move forward is because we are consumed by the day-to-day (or week-t0-week) operational demands. Allow me to show you how to get out of this rut.
Set Quarterly Goals
Create a shared document with your leadership team, or start with yourself. Here is a link to a Goal Matrix Tool I use to help you set up your quarterly goals.
At my organization we use Google Sheets. Commit to accomplishing five to twenty goals during each quarter, depending on their size. Remember, the goals you put here may be big problems. Don’t put little tasks you need to do. Hopefully the majority of these goals are not operational demands, rather ways to improve your team or organization.
1—Divide your year into quarters.
Why quarterly? I like quarterly goals for several reasons. Annual goals are nice, but we tell ourselves, “I have all year to work on this,” and we never seem to get to it. Also we don’t receive frequent gratification as we accomplish our goals, only once at the end of the year. Monthly goals (or weekly goals) are also good, but we may feel, “I don’t have enough time to tackle the big challenges, so I’ll leave off the big, daring goals.”
Now, we are going to divide our goals based on two criteria: importance level and by your team/organization divisions or sections.
2—Filter your goals by importance level.
Identifying levels of importance or priority is not to help us determine what to work on first, but to ensure we are coming up with goals that are daring, not average. These goals are in reference to our competition. If you don’t have competition, you can compare these goals to your previous or current state.
In the sheet linked (Goal Matrix Tool), you will see three examples of importance levels:
- Average goals: These goals get you up to par with your competition.
- Big goals: These goals propel you above most of your competition.
- Huge and daring goals: These goals launch you above the competition.
In our organization, we divide our goals using five importance levels.
- Out of a crisis – goals that will bring us out of devastating or highly risky conditions compared to our competition.
- Out of a crunch – goals that will take us out of a poor state compared to the competition.
- Average – goals that will get us up to par with most of our competition.
- Into the clouds – goals that will take us to where a few currently are.
- Into the stratosphere – goals that will take us above all of our competition.
I hope you understand the benefit of this step. It is easy to set goals that are mediocre and quickly attainable. By identifying the distinctions, you force yourself and your team to think of goals that will challenge you to soar.
3—Distribute your goals based on your organization’s divisions.
The next step is to organize your goals into your company’s priorities. In the sample worksheet (Goal Matrix Tool), you will find these divisions:
Depending on the structure of your organization, you can put your divisions here. This is to make sure you are not focusing on one aspect or area of importance in your organization and leaving the rest behind. At our organizations we created “5Ps.” These are the areas we aim to succeed in: Purpose, People, Patients, Processes, Preserving (finances).
Don’t complicate things.
There are many project management systems and software out there with features to help you track who is working on what, and what percentage of the work is complete. I have tried many. Most of the time, we use it once, then trash it. This has been my experience anyway. Just keep it simple. I recommend for each quarter to have no more than twenty goals, at least using the sample goal matrix provided. Put your top level goals here, those you think will move your organization forward.
Let everyone see it.
Share these goals with as many people as you can. Allow everyone to make an impact—your voice, thoughts, and opinions alone will not make a big impact. Hear everyone’s voices. Ultimately, show them that they work for an organization and team that supports them to contribute.
Put someone in charge of getting things done.
Ask someone around you who excels at making things happen, to be sure these goals are actively being met.
Our accountability system is sharing our goals with our team. Also, when goals are not completed by the end of the quarter, we give ourselves one week grace period, then the color of that item turns red on the spreadsheet (and remains red). Once we get it accomplished, we change it to green.
On a personal note: My son, Daniel Habib Saade, was born a week and a half ago, 6/21/18 at 3:16 am. He is the first child Joanne and I have. We named him after two men we loved and lost in recent years. Daniel was Joanne’s young, handsome brother who lost a fight to cancer at the age of 26. Habib is after my father, meaning “beloved” in Arabic. We are thankful for this special gift and for all of you who have sent well wishes.
For Further Reading: