Setting Sustainable Goals

goal_settingTell me if this sounds familiar. You’re gathered in a conference room, the senior leader in the room says that the purpose of this meeting is to establish your company’s environmental, sustainability, or recycling goals, pick your topic. Now here’s where it gets good. The meeting is scheduled for 30 minutes and she needs the goals for her meeting with the executives tomorrow.

Don’t laugh. I’ve been there. If you haven’t, good for you. You are one of the fortunate ones. I’m still surprised that after all this time we still have the mentality that goals can be pulled out of the air and then we act shocked when we are unable to accomplish the, often publicly, stated goals.

So, how do you go about establishing goals for your programs? Is their a better way? I think so and that’s what we are going to talk about.

But first, let’s look at a few reasons why goals fail.

1. The measures aren’t credible with intended data users

2. Management isn’t interested in the results

3. Results are reported too infrequently

4. Not enough time is allowed for corrective actions to take effect

5. Lack of accountability or recognition

6. The goals drive the wrong performance

7. The results aren’t used to make business decisions

William R. Blackburn, The Sustainability Handbook

You’ve seen examples of these in your practice. The data isn’t useful to your intended audience, data doesn’t come in a timely fashion, no one seems to be driving the process, and the results of the program aren’t used to bring about business practice changes. You do have goals, you are collecting data and you will be able to provide a colorful chart in your next CSR report. But, are you able to bring about the required change that your business needs in order to sustain it’s growth?

What is missing? We had our meeting, we talked, we brainstormed and selected what we thought was a good goal. A key element that is often overlooked and should be present in your goal, is that it must be elevating! It has to personally challenge your team members and it must create a sense of urgency. John Kotter writes in his book, a sense of urgency, “Underlying a true sense of urgency is a set of feelings: a compulsive determination to move, and win, now…feelings are more influential than thoughts.” Kotter also provides four tactics for increasing a sense of urgency.

urgency_cover_web_stampFour Tactics for increasing a sense of urgency

1. Bring the Outside in

2. Behave with Urgency Every Day

3. Find Opportunity in Crises

4. Deal with the NoNos

Ok, so urgency is important, got it. What other attributes should our goals have? Here is where you go back to the time tested and proven S.M.A.R.T method. Sometimes the old ideas are the best.

S.M.A.R.T. refers to goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Framed.

Specific: Goals need to be something specific. To set a specific goal you must answer the six “W” questions:

Who: Who is involved? Have you identified all shareholders and stakeholders?
What: What do I want to accomplish?
Where: Identify a location. Where is this going to take place?
When: Establish a time frame.
Which: Identify requirements and constraints.
Why: Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal. Don’t be afraid to ask “Why are we creating this goal?”

Measurable: Goals need to be measurable. Establish concrete criteria for measuring progress toward the attainment of each goal you set.

Achievable or Attainable: Goals need to be reasonable and achievable.

Realistic: Goals need to be realistic. To be realistic, a goal must represent an objective toward which you are both willing and able to work.

Time Framed: Goals need to have a time frame. Having a set amount of time will give your goals structure. With no time frame tied to it there’s no sense of urgency.

When you establish your goals with these concepts in mind you will be surprised at how much excitement you’ll bring to your company’s initiatives. You’ll be able to create more that just colorful graphs and charts, you might find that you are able to bring real lasting change! At the very least you should be able to make sure that you don’t have to sit quietly through another corporate meeting, now you have ideas, suggestions and questions you can ask to liven up things.

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