Goal Setting

This Goal setting guide helps you reflect on your learnings from the past month, turn those learnings into action and set goals that will move your business forward.

We aren’t talking about big corporate strategy sessions here and we aren’t talking about the typical startup approach, grabbing a coffee. This may be the most important thing you’ve likely never done as a company.

Goal setting is critical for your business, no matter what stage you’re at. Many companies, mistake motion for progress. Motion is being busy, progress is moving your business toward an intended outcome. Effective goal setting allows you to find a place between the chaos of no focus and the rigidity of myopic focus.

Goal Setting Overview

An effective goal answers two questions. What progress do we want to make? How will we know if we are making progress? OKRs are a popular way to answer these two questions. The Objective states what progress we want to make and the Key Results enable you to know if you’re making progress on the objective.

Goal Setting Timing and Cadence

Goal setting is an important technique for building a high growth company, and there is another essential aspect of effective goal setting: cadence. The power of goal setting comes from creating a rhythm of setting goals that capture the progress you want to make, working toward achieving those goals, learning by comparing the progress you made to the progress you expected to make, and integrating those learnings into the next goals you set. This is the engine of progress for any business.

If you are growing more than 50% year-over-year, I strongly encourage you to create a monthly cadence of goal setting. If your growth is less than 50% year-over-year then a quarterly cadence of goal setting generally works well.

The other key aspect of goal setting is checking in on your progress. I strongly encourage you to hold an Operations Review (Ops Review) meeting once a week. This is a quick weekly meeting where you review your Objectives and give an update on the progress you’re making on the Key Results. Goto the Ops Review page for an overview on how to run that meeting.

The Goal Setting Meeting

Gather your team around a large whiteboard. You’ll need six colors of sticky notes and roughly 60 minutes.

During this exercise it’s important to have the following things handy: your Company DNA, Lean Canvas (or Business Model Canvas and Value Proposition Canvas), Impact Uncertainty board,  your calendar, email, and any work management boards/software.

Setting the Stage

Place three sticky notes along the top of the board all the same color. On the far left sticky write the date about one month ago. On the middle sticky, write today’s date, and on the far right one write the date about one month from today.

Reflect: Moments

Next we are going to reflect on what happened over the previous month. It’s important to understand how we got to our current situation and all those learnings before we consider the future work.

Each person grab a pad of stickies that are the same color as everyone else’s sticky notes. Take about 3 minutes to work silently and individually. Write as many stickies as possible. Ask yourself, what were the key moments (events, factual data, actions, etc) over the last month? Write one key moment per sticky note. Come back together as a team when the time is up. One at a time each team member should come to the board and place their stickies in chronological order based on when the moment happened. Quickly read out your stick and avoid discussions. Quick clarifying questions are ok, but keep your answers short. If there are duplicates on the board, place your sticky near the ones already on the board.


Strategy 1.mov

Reflect: Emotions

Each person grab a pad of stickies that are the same color as everyone else’s sticky notes and different than the moments. Take about 3 minutes to work silently and individually. Write as many stickies as possible. Ask yourself, what emotions were related to these moments over the last month? Write one key emotion per sticky note. Come back together as a team when the time is up. One at a time each team member should come to the board and place each sticky near the associated moment. Quickly read out your stick and avoid discussions. Quick clarifying questions are ok, but keep your answers short. If there are duplicates on the board, place your sticky near the ones already on the board.


Strategy 2.mov

Reflect: Learnings

Each person grab a pad of stickies that are the same color as everyone else’s sticky notes and different than the emotions. Take about 3 minutes to work silently and individually. Write as many stickies as possible. Ask yourself, what did we learn from feeling these emotions living through the moments over the last month? Write one key learning per sticky note. Come back together as a team when the time is up. One at a time each team member should come to the board and place each sticky near the associated moment. Quickly read out your sticky and avoid discussions. Quick clarifying questions are ok, but keep your answers short. If there are duplicates on the board, place your sticky near the ones already on the board.


Strategy 3.mov

Reflect: Advice to Yourself

Each person grab a pad of stickies that are the same color as everyone else’s sticky notes and different than the emotions. Take about 3 minutes to work silently and individually. Write as many stickies as possible. Ask yourself, given the learnings, emotions, and moments over the last month, what advice should we give ourselves as we determine our next set of goals? Write one key piece of advice per sticky note. Come back together as a team when the time is up. One at a time each team member should come to the board and place each sticky near the associated moment. Quickly read out your sticky and avoid discussions. Quick clarifying questions are ok, but keep your answers short. If there are duplicates on the board, place your sticky near the ones already on the board.


Strategy 4.mov

Identify: Key Pieces of Advice

As a team, spend 5 minutes identifying the 3 to 5 most important pieces of advice that are on the board that you want to make sure you consider as you create your next set of goals. You can do this with open discussion. If you want to avoid some of the natural bias of group discussions, you can give each person two dots they can spend to vote for the pieces of advice they think are the most important to bring forward into the goal setting part of the session. Have each person decide on where they are going to place their dots before anyone actually places dots, this will minimize bias. Pick the 3 to 5 stickies with the most dots to move forward into the goal setting exercise.

Reflect: Trends

Up to this point we have been internally focused on our learnings from the last goal. Now it’s time to focus outside the building. In this section we will surface key trends outside the company we want to consider as we set our goals.

Each person grab a pad of stickies that are the same color as everyone else’s sticky notes. The color doesn’t matter, all that matters is that everyone has the same color. Take about 3 minutes to work silently and individually. Write as many stickies as possible. Reflect on what’s going on in your market, the moves your competitors are making, the feedback you’re getting from prospects/customers, and the advice you’re getting from others. Ask yourself, as I look out over the next two months (or quarters if you’re setting quarterly goals) based on what’s going on in the market, the actions of our competitors, feedback from our customers, and advice from advisors, what trends should we consider as we set our goals? Write one trend per sticky note. Come back together as a team when the time is up. One at a time each team member should come to the board and place each sticky toward the bottom of the left side of your board. Quickly read out your sticky and avoid discussions. Quick clarifying questions are ok, but keep your answers short. If there are duplicates on the board, place your sticky near the ones already on the board.

Identify: Key Trends

As a team, spend 5 minutes identifying the 3 to 5 most important trends that are on the board that you want to make sure you consider as you create your next set of goals. You can do this with open discussion. If you want to avoid some of the natural bias of group discussions, you can give each person two dots they can spend to vote for the trends they think are the most important to bring forward into the goal setting part of the session. Have each person decide on where they are going to place their dots before anyone actually places dots, this will minimize bias. Pick the 3 to 5 stickies with the most dots to move forward into the goal setting exercise.

Shared Understanding

Finally, make sure the team has a shared understanding of what’s on the board. This reflection over the past month, key pieces of advice to yourself and key trends will power the next section of goal setting.

Now it’s time to move to the right side of the board and think about the future.

Plan: Future Timeline

The section will help you identify events and commitments that are already on the calendar that you should consider as you establish your goals. Each person grab a pad of stickies that are the same color as everyone else’s sticky notes and different than the colors on the left side of the board. Take 3 to 5 minutes and work as a team. Open up your calendars and identify the events taking place over the next month (or quarter if you’re setting quarterly goals). These may be market events, product releases, commitments you’ve made, or anything that will affect your goals. Put one event on each sticky note and place the sticky note chronologically along the timeline. This will enable the team to see key moments that will take place while you’re making progress on your goal. 


Strategy 5.mov

Plan: Goals

Each person grab a pad of stickies that are the same color as everyone else’s sticky notes and different than the colors on the left side of the board. Take about 3 minutes to work silently and individually. Write as many stickies as possible. Reflect on the actions you didn’t get done last month, the key pieces of advice you chose to give yourself, and the key trends you identified. Ask yourself, given these trends, advice, learnings, emotions, and moments from the last month, what goals should we set for the next month? Write one key goal per sticky note. Come back together as a team when the time is up. One at a time each team member should come to the board and place each sticky on the right side of the board below the timeline. Quickly read out your sticky and avoid discussions. Quick clarifying questions are ok, but keep your answers short. If there are duplicates on the board, place your sticky near the ones already on the board.

 Prioritize

This is the most important part of the exercise. As a team it’s time to pick your key 1-3 goals for the coming month. As a group, spend several minutes coming to a shared understanding of what’s on the board. Then discuss the 1-3 goals you have to achieve this month. As you pick your key goals, pay attention to the work needed to achieve them and if you have enough time and capacity to do the work. Place a star on each of the key goals you pick.


Strategy 7.mov

Next pick the 1 key goal you have to achieve this month. This is the one goal that matters the most. Again, identifying this may require moving around other goals and actions. Place a double star on this goal.

Turning Goals into OKRs

As you articulate your goal in the format of an Objective and a Key Result, keep a few things in mind. The Objective states what progress we want to make and the Key Results enable you to know if you’re making progress on the objective.

Organize with OKR

Post a fresh Strategy Worksheet (PDF version is here and a Google Doc template is here). Take a moment and re-write your goals from last month. Now, record your actual performance against the goal. Note the Gap.
Strategy 8.mov

Now reflect on the moments from last month. How did these moments contribute to your team’s performance against your goals. Push these learnings directly into the OKR sheet (below is just a visualization – you don’t need to line up your stickies.)


Strategy 9.mov

Next, Consider the emotions and learnings. Push those learnings directly into the “reactions and learning” box.


Strategy 10.mov

Now, reflect on the pieces of advice you chose to give yourself. Push those directly into the “advice going forward” box.


Strategy 11.mov

Next, move to the right side of the sheet. Push your top three objectives into the primary and secondary objective boxes. Place the associated tasks in the actions box.


Strategy 12.mov

Determine the key results, or the specific, measurable, and time-bound metrics that you will measure against this goal.


Strategy 13.mov

Unearth any unresolved issues associated with these goals. These are the further learnings you may need to gain before fully completing your goals.


Strategy 14.mov

Finally, write any risks and dependencies that you may run into. Post your OKR sheet somewhere visible and make sure each team member knows the key results to work towards. Push the rest of the goals and actions directly into your work management system.


Strategy 15.mov

 As a reminder you can download the Strategy Worksheet as a PDF version is here and as a Google Doc template is here.

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