Do you want both you and your team to rise to new levels of achievement and success? Embracing goal setting may be the tool you need. Goal setting is the process of developing outcomes (goals) that serve as the aim of an individual or team’s actions. Goal setting costs little, but is a very valuable means to accomplish the end result of greater success.

Setting goals increases motivation. Muhammad Ali illustrated this by saying, “What keeps me going is goals.” Multiple studies concluded that giving people specific goals to achieve rather than telling them to do their best increases their motivation.

Setting goals increases achievement. Brian Tracy emphasizes this point when he stated, “Goals are the fuel in the furnace of achievement.” Earl Nightingale adds support when he said, “People with goals succeed because they know where they are going.” Many studies show that setting goals increases success rates in a wide variety of settings.

Goal Setting Guidelines

Zig Ziglar emphasized the importance of goal setting by advising, “A goal properly set is halfway reached.” There have been a number of research projects that provide us with the guidelines to make goal setting work for us. Research tells us:

1). Set challenging yet attainable goals. More difficult goals lead to higher performance than do easy goals — as long as the goal is seen as realistic and attainable. Michelangelo observed, “The greater danger for most of us isn’t that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

For example, assume you are currently producing five widgets per day. A goal of producing six per day may motivate you to work a little smarter and/or harder to reach the goal. However a goal of 10 widgets may be considered impossible to achieve and discourage you.

2) Set specific goals. Specific goals are more likely to lead to higher performance than goals that are vague or very general. Research indicates that specific goals, such as producing six widgets per day, are more motivational than a general “Do your best” goal.

3) Provide feedback on goal accomplishment. People like to know where they stand and whether they are on course or off course in their efforts. Getting specific feedback on our actual results versus the goal can encourage us to step up our efforts if running behind the goal. Or if the feedback shows we are meeting or exceeding the goal, we will be motivated to keep up the good work.

4) Build goal acceptance and commitment. People work harder for goals they accept and believe in; they resist goals forced on them. Remember the key principle, “Change imposed is change opposed.” Participating in the goal setting process helps build acceptance and commitment — the all important “buy in.”

Research shows that we must be able to accomplish the goals and feel confident on those abilities. In our widget example, if we have a goal to produce 10 per day, but we believe that our abilities are insufficient for the task, we will lack the confidence to work hard to achieve the goal.

5) Clarify goal priorities. People appreciate expectations that are clear as to which goals should be accomplished and which goals are of the highest priority. It is valuable to explain the “why” behind the goal priorities and to emphasize the benefits of meeting the goal. In explaining the why, I found it useful to tie back to benefits to one or more of our key stakeholders: investors, customers, employees, and the community.

6) Reward goal accomplishment. Motivational expert Bob Nelson counsels, “You get what you reward. Be clear about what you want to get and systematically reward it.” By rewarding positive accomplishments, we are increasing the probability of future positive accomplishments. Remember the principle that “success breeds success.”

Set SMART Goals

A SMART goal is a helpful acrostic that defines characteristics of good goals. A SMART goal is:



Ambitious yet Attainable


Time specific

Let me share some examples of SMART goals. Assume you are a mail professional and want to expand your knowledge and further your career. A SMART goal could be to “Pass the CMDSM certification by March 31, 2017.” As I am writing this, I am teaching a cohort of university students who have a SMART goal to “Graduate with a B.S. degree in Business Administration from George Fox University by December 17, 2016.”

Put Goals in Writing

Writing the goals down gives them more importance and formalizes the agreement. Studies have shown that writing down goals increases the probability of their achievement. One such study by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, included a wide range of 267 professionals. Those professionals that wrote their goals down were 42% more likely to achieve them! Adding accountability worked even better. Those who translated their goals into actions, made a commitment to a friend, and provided weekly progress reports increased goal achievement by 78%!

Have an Action Plan

Setting goals is very important, and to make our goals a reality, we need to have action plans to ensure achievement of the goals. Tom Landry emphasized this by saying, “Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan”.

Involve your team members in building action plans — you will gain their ownership and end up with better quality plans. As we know, often the best ideas come from the people on the front lines doing the work, not those of us in management roles that are not as close to the action.

In closing, remember the Yogi Berra quote, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” I wish you well as you set goals and action plans for yourself and your team, then enjoy celebrating progress as you experience even more success!

Wes Friesen is a proven leader and developer of high performing teams. Wes and his teams have earned multiple awards from a variety of organizations over the years. He has extensive experience in leadership and management roles, in both the business and non-profit worlds. He is also an accomplished University Instructor and Conference Speaker.

His book, Your Team Can Soar! Powerful Lessons to Help You Lead and Develop High Performing Teams. Your Team Can Soar! has 42 valuable lessons that will inspire you, and give you practical pointers to help you — and your team — soar to new heights of performance. Your Team Can Soar! can be ordered from or (under Book) or an online retailer like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Wes can be contacted at