Writers and life coaches often refer to goals as though they were geographical features along the side of a road. In many ways they are, but I invite you, especially if you’re a business owner or senior manager, to think of them as tools that allow you to measure your progress. Done right, this means writing your key performance indicator (KPI) directly into how you describe your objective.

A Quick Primer on Goal-Setting

You might have already read about how important it is to set S.M.A.R.T. goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. There’s a lot written about that around the Internet so if you’re really keen on the topic, go here, or here, or here. I won’t spend more time on it myself.

You might also have heard about how important it is to develop short and medium-term goals that help you achieve your long-term ones. Life coach Stephen Covey, in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, calls this “beginning with the end in mind.”

But short term goal setting – normally in the 1-3 year range – often doesn’t get specific enough. If you want to succeed in your short, medium and long term goals, you need targets that can be measured by the month, week, day and hour.

How Short-Term Goals Fail

Even if they are part of a bigger plan, seemingly SMART short term goals can still fail. Lets say your objective is to grow your business or professional revenues by 10% this year, how are you going to achieve that? What specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound activities are you going to take on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis in order to get 10% more cheddar in your fridge?

Short-term goals fail because 1-3 years is still a long enough time that people can put them off without immediate repercussions. “I can make that cold-call tomorrow,” “I’ll reschedule that weekly sales meeting,” “I can fill out my invoices at the end of the week.”

The cold-calls add up, the sales meetings lose their relevance, the invoices pile up, and you’re left wondering why it’s so hard to meet that 10% increased revenues target even though it seems like such a clear goal!

Setting Effective Short Term Goals

Now what would happen if I set a goal like this:

 “I will make one cold-call a day, every day, for the next year.”

What happens if you push back that cold-call? You just failed in your goal, but you received immediate feedback. You didn’t have to wait for a whole year to find out that the wheels were coming off your goal.

Effective short-term goals should be so easy to measure that you can immediately tell when you’re going off track. Compare these examples:

Ineffective Short-Term Growth Goals

  • Acquire 1,000 new customers by year’s end
  • Increase total sales by 15% year-over-year
  • Expand operations with 5 new staff

More Effective Short-Term Growth Goals

  • Launch four seasonal advertising campaigns this year in order to acquire 1,000 new customers by year’s end
  • Hold a sales meeting every week for the next year in order to support a 15% YOY sales increase
  • Hire new staff in February, April, June, and September, 2013.

Effective short-term goals contain the many steps of the road map within them. They are articulated in such a way that they show you a clear picture of where you’re going.  Vague goals fail because they are easy to ignore. The danger is that before you know it, your medium and long term objectives seem further away as well.

Writing this blog post, for example, is part of my short-term goal of writing two posts a week across all the platforms I blog on, which feeds into my longer-term writing goals.

Note that effective project management, related to goal-setting, involves setting milestones where your progress is re-evaluated and goals are reformulated to be realistic once again. (We do this for our clients all the time) That said, even the best project manager can only do so much; if you don’t know where you’re going, they probably won’t be able to help you.

What are some of your short-term business goals and how do they play into your long term growth objectives? How would you phrase your goals in a way that sets you up to win? Let us know in the comments below!