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Goals to Action: Tips for Setting Meaningful Goals

I had a recent conversation with a friend who recounted how her new principal set all the teachers’ development goals for them, rather than asking them to set the goals as is the usual practice. The leader also increased the goals for improvement far beyond anything they had previously achieved despite the changes to education in response to COVID-19. This is a good example of how the basics of good goal setting are not always understood or practiced by leaders despite their training and experience. There are a few generally simple steps that can be implemented in setting goals that support employee motivation and performance rather than hurt it as I am sure is the case for some teachers in this situation.

It is difficult to understand why the new principal adopted this approach without talking to him directly and we should assume attentions were good. Perhaps he feels prior goals were set too low? Or the school district may have increased expectations for the school, and he is simply realigning goals to the new expectations? Whatever the reasons were, the following tips could strengthen the goal setting process.

  1. SMART Goals: Many of us are familiar with setting SMART goals, so I will briefly review the steps here:

  • Specific: The goals are well defined.

  • Measurable: You understand how to track progress and what success looks like.

  • Achievable: They are realistic. Ideally, the goals are challenging but not impossible. The principal in my example may have violated this requirement by significantly increasing the goals.

  • Relevant: It is clear why the goal is important to the organization and/or individual. Additional communication about changes in the goal process and reasons for increasing the goals could enhance the relevance in the example above.

  • Time-based: Expectations about when the goal should be met are clearly defined and understood.

  1. Set goals in conjunction with the individuals doing the work. Doing so increases buy-in among team members and helps increase ownership of the goal. It is appropriate to encourage them to set stretch goals.

  2. Ensure short term goals are aligned with long term goals and ensure employees understand the connection.

  3. Set goals aligned with individuals’ strengths and interests to make them more meaningful.

  4. Related to number 4, ensure any resource, equipment, and training needs for accomplishing the goals have been addressed.

Many of these tips are based on Locke’s goal-setting theory and related research (Locke & Latham, 2002). I have found them to be helpful in my personal life and with my clients. Hopefully, you will also. Connect with Higher Up Consulting if we can help you set meaningful goals for yourself or your team.


Locke, E., & Latham, G. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychologist. 57 (9): 705–717.

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