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Between running Gentner Communications (now ClearOne) and Listen Technologies, I’ve racked up over 30 years of organizational management. One of the most powerful concepts I’ve learned in these years is to align goals, objectives and assignments. I thought it might be helpful to pass along a little of what I’ve learned.

Aren’t goals and objectives the same?
This is one of the biggest misconceptions. The answer is: No. Goals represent an aspiration while objectives represent a specific outcome. In fact (and this is critically important), objectives are the specific things you do to accomplish a goal.
Goals usually come out of the vision or mission of the company.
For example, a company might have the goal to improve the turnaround time from when an order is received to when it is shipped. This goal may have come from the vision of the company to be a customer focused organization. It’s just great to have a goal (especially when it’s tied to the vision), but behind this you MUST put some specific objectives that support the primary goal (more below).
Company Vision > Goals > Objectives > Achieve the Objectives > Achieve the Goals > Get Closer to the Vision

Key Concept: Vision and goals are useless if you don’t have a specific system to put them in action! That’s where SMART objectives come in.


SMART Objectives
Personally, I like the SMART test for objectives and I think that all objectives should be SMART. For an objective to be SMART it must be SPECFIC, MEASURABLE, ACHIEVABLE, REALISTIC and have specific TIME for completion.

Example Goal and SMART Objectives
So let’s take the goal above and think through some specific objectives that support the goal.
Let’s say the XYZ Widget Company has the following goal for 2012 that is tied to their vision of being a customer focused organization.
Goal: Improve responsiveness to customers.
In setting this goal, XYZ knows one of the things it needs to do is to reduce its order turnaround time. Therefore the following SMART objective is created:
Master Objective: Reduce the order turnaround time from 5.6 hours to 2.3 hours by June 30.
This becomes one of the master objectives for this goal (there are several other objectives that are needed to achieve this goal).
XYZ then starts tracking this within the company. The weekly average turnaround time is posted on a bulletin board so that everyone can see the progress on achieving the goal. The company can now rally around something that is SPECIFIC and MEASUREABLE!
From this, the company comes up with this objective:
Objective 1: Form a cross functional team that analyzes our ordering processing system that produces objectives for improvement. Complete this process by March 1.
This cross functional team then comes up with these objectives:
Objective 2: Implement a bar coding system that reduces the time needed to package and ship a product by May 15.
Objective 3: Redesign the layout of the warehouse to reduce picking time and implement by May 15.
You will notice that each of these objectives meets the SMART criteria.
This is all well and good, but if you don’t have a plan of action for each objective you won’t achieve the goal. So my suggestion is that whenever an objective is agreed to, the following is set up to support the goal:
1. One person is responsible for the objective (project manager).
2. The project manager is then responsible to create a written plan.
3. A measurement tracking system is put in place.
4. The project is implemented.
So for example, let’s take Objective 2: Implement a bar coding system that reduces the time needed to package and ship a product by May 15, 2012.
1. Mary is named as the project manager.
2. Mary writes a short plan (one page). Mary shares the plan with her boss and the project team members. The plan includes:
a.  The Goal. Team members need to understand why they have this objective and why it ties into the company goal.
b. What the objective is and how it will be measured.
c.  A list of assignments for each person on the team.
3. The objective is placed in the weekly management meeting agenda each week until accomplished (this is the tracking system). Mary must report her progress on the goal. By doing this, the goal becomes measurable.
4. Mary then uses her plan to follow up with her team to ensure that each assignment is completed and the project proceeds to completion.
As each project manager (including Mary) completes and achieves their objective, the master objective is completed and the XYZ Widget Company gets closer to achieving its goal to improve customer responsiveness and closer to its vision.
Let’s review:
1. Create goals towards an organizational aspiration that is tied to the company’s vision. Most companies should have a low number of goals at any one time. If you don’t keep it low, you’ll have too many objectives!
2. Once a goal is created, create the necessary objectives to support the goal. Make sure the each objective is SMART. Most goals require 2 to 5 objectives to achieve the goal.
3. For each and every objective:
a.  Name a project manager.
b. Project manager writes a one page plan that includes specific assignments.
c.  The project manager creates a tracking system to track the progress on the objective.
d. The project team completes their assignments and the project tracking system shows the objective has been achieved.
4. As each objective is created, the company gets closer and closer to the goal.
5. The goal is complete, the company celebrates the success!
Company Vision > Goals to Support the Vision > SMART Objectives to Achieve the Goal > Project Plans to Achieve the Objectives > Specific Tracking System for Each Objective > Assignments Completed > Objectives Completed > Goal Achieved > Company Gets Closer to its Vision
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