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5 Pitfalls To Avoid When Writing Goals

Stop Sign photo by John Matychuk

At some point in the year, businesses usually start talking about goals and spending time setting them. Typically, this is when some employees check out, others are frustrated as they see the process as a waste of time and yet there are the few that hope, just a little, that this time things will be different.

Goal setting is critical to businesses focus and delivery. Without setting a clear objective for the business to meet teams, employees and management are simply not aligned.

They help shape the conversations around prioritisation and, done right, can fire up the business the outperform.

What could possibly go wrong?

With the key benefits of goals, businesses tend to spend time focussing on them and writing them but oftentimes they miss the mark and end up outputting goals that don't help improve focus, alignment or key business metrics they leaders sought out to achieve.

Here are my breakdowns of why businesses often miss the mark when writing goals.

Not Measurable

If you can't measure your objective how do you know you have succeeded?

Being able to measure progress is critical to success. Without having a goal that has a clear and measurable objective the business and employees will not know if they have succeeded.

At GoRoadie we are metrics and data-driven. We build features and we measure how well it performs for the business, so no doubt everything we do on the business also has to be measurable.

A very clear example of not doing this is;

GoRoadie is used by learner drivers across the country!

Yes, this sounds ambitious, however, how do we know we have succeeded? If we are in one city in Scotland, England and Wales? It's not clear and how would one measure progress against that. A better objective would be something like;

GoRoadie is used by learner drivers every day in 20 towns and cities across the UK.

Okay. Not perfect, as we are only focussing on the learner driver, however, you can see what has now been brought to the table. We have a specific point - learner drivers using GoRoadie every day in 20 locations. We can measure this easily and we can tell if we are 5% or 10% or 90% there.

No Clear Timeline

When setting goals and objectives its good to practice to set a timeframe for when you wish to achieve these. This could be within the next week, month, quarter or year.

This sets an expectation of when the work or progress should be completed by.

Without this, there is confusion as to when this work should be completed and could hinder prioritisation conversations and exercises.

A clear example of having a time scale in your goal or objective is:

GoRoadie will launch its service into Leeds by July 2014

For demonstration purposes, the goal is short but the idea is clear, simply having "by XXXX" sets the expectation and it's clear to whoever reads this when the objective should be complete by - there is no second-guessing this part of the goal.


We're an ambitious bunch, aren't we? Speaking personally, I often want to bite off more than I can chew. Thankfully, I have become quite accustomed to writing objectives and breaking down goals into smaller chunks.

Committing to unrealistic goals can cause severe problems in many organisations, like; decreasing morale or put unrequired pressure on employees or cause others to lose trust in the business ability to perform. Yet, it's so easy to be carried away.

In the past at GoRoadie we committed to unrealistic objectives; we thought we thought we could launch in so many locations immediately after going fulltime whilst committing to a three-month accelerator programme. Needless to say, we did not launch in 5 locations in those three months.

When writing goals, think about these questions:

  • How much effort is required to achieve this?
  • What is the resourcing available?
  • What is the timescale?
  • What other commitments are there?

When you answer these questions, walk through your goals with someone else, allow them to challenge you. You might just realise that you're overcommitting.

Stop Sign photo by John Matychuk

Too prescriptive

One of the biggest problems business have with writing goals is that they become too involved and almost micro-manage the process from the get-go.

Writing goals for businesses should be something shows a that is a key metric change. For example, revenue or number of subscribers. Too often, I've seen businesses write their goals and objectives that commit the teams to do a specific piece of work.

One of the biggest boosts for engagement in teams is to give them the ability to problem solve and to be creative. By being prescriptive in goals and objectives, there is less opportunity for team members to contribute and to offer solutions.

An example of a prescriptive goal would be:

We launch our Propose New Date service to driving instructors by April 1st.

That doesn't seem too bad, it has a specific date so we know when it should be completed by. However, we are being very prescriptive in the solution.

The actual problem we are trying to solve here is to allow the instructors to propose a later date to their potential students so that they don't miss out on new business. Fundamentally though, we want to have a higher acceptance rate for learner drivers.

A better goal would be:

We improve our acceptance rate of booking requests to 90% by April 1st.

This is measurable, timebound and non-prescriptive. When this goes down to the team, they could be as innovative with the solution as we aren't telling them how to solve the problem, but telling them which problem to solve.

Too many objectives

Typically, businesses have the best of intentions - they should be ambitious of course. However, taking on too much could mean that very little is achieved.

In the past I've seen businesses commit to six goals over three months, however, this makes prioritisation difficult and it can create a lack of focus for teams. In this scenario, it is often the case that none of these goals are fully completed and leaves the team demotivated going into the next set of objectives. Not great for morale, especially in a startup.

Of course, businesses sizes can vary. There are businesses like Google or Amazon, or you can have a two-person startup or somewhere in the middle.

It will take time to find out what works for your organisation, feel free to experiment. Anice guideline is to start with three objectives for the business and let them trickle down - trial this over three months.

More about Goals

For further reading about Goals, check out SMART Goals, which cover a lot of the points in this blog post.

Want to hear more about GoRoadie's startup journey? You can read about Our Story or keep up to date with our new Startup Story series.