Goals and Measures – a simple guide

I wish I had a simple, definitive definition of what a ‘goal’ is for you and your business – but there are so many different applications of the term. One consequence I have seen all too often is that without clear and concise goals, we end up with poor quality measures, or even worse – we end up confusing measures with goals! Let’s look at some of the basic types of ‘goal’ I’ve come across in performance measurement:

1. Actions and Milestones

A goal can be something that will be done – that has a start and an end. This makes it an action. When it is completed by a certain date, it is a milestone. Goals that are actions or milestones are project management goals, not performance management.

For example:

  1. Train staff in new systems.
  2. Carry out research to inform decisions by October.

The obvious measure for an action is a binary one – done or not done. In order to make it part of your performance management strategy, you need to consider what the purpose of the action is, and whether or not the action achieved the result intended.

2. Targets

When your goal is phrased as a percentage or value you want to achieve, you’ve created a target not a goal. This is often created even before measures are established!

Measuring goals that are expressed as targets is, as Stacey Barr would say, “putting the cart before the horse”. Targets are set for measures, not for goals. Goals should state the result you want, measures will quantify how much that result is happening, and targets state where you want the measure to move to.

3. Goals that are performance results

When your goal is phrased as a state or level you want to reach and sustain, it’s a performance result. For example:

  1. Reduce time spent on delays and rework across the organisation.
  2. Decrease the cost of packaging our products.

Measuring goals that are performance results is where you want to be.   These measures are true performance measures, the kind that drives us to recreate the world so it’s more like the one our mission and vision proposes. These measures are about making a difference, not just ticking boxes.

Meaningful measures track goals that are performance results.

As Stacey Barr writes, the important things to get right when you set goals are:

  1. Keep project management (activity) goals separate from performance management (performance result) goals.
  2. Set your performance result goals first, then design performance measures for them.
  3. Set targets for your performance measures.
  4. Set your activity goals, and use project management to ensure the right things get done.
  5. Monitor your performance measures to ensure that your activity goals are indeed moving

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