by Nick McLean

Companies that don’t track their business goals in real-time are significantly less likely to reach them, yet the majority fail to do just that. 

In theory, a business goal should be a useful tool designed to guide you toward your desired outcome. However, too often, business goals are used less as practical objectives and more as executive wish lists. Stretch goals, in particular, are becoming an increasingly common trend in business. These wildly ambitious objectives are designed to impress the public, not to actually be achieved.

But stretch goals are just a symptom of a larger problem. The issue lies not so much in the goals themselves but in failing to regularly check in on the progress that’s being made. According to research by Censuswide and Geckoboard, small and medium-sized businesses that track their growth targets in real-time hit them nearly twice as often as those that don’t, and yet only 1 in 10 businesses actually track their goals.

If you’re serious about the objectives you put forth for your business, then you need to be equally serious about determining how to track your goal progress at regular intervals. A business goal, after all, is a destination — if you fail to stay on the path that leads there, then it will always remain in the distance.

How to Accomplish Your Goals by Focusing on the Journey, Not the Destination

When you set an objective for the future, it can be easy to think that the goal is the thing you should keep your eye on. In reality, however, an effective goal assessment strategy is one that focuses on the process rather than just the final objective. At my company, for example, our ultimate target is to buy businesses — but that’s not necessarily a good goal. Instead, we think about what processes we want to follow to reach that goal, making sure the whole team is committed to them. Then, we determine how to evaluate our goal progress by creating measurable components within the process.

When you dive deep into the mechanics of the business, you can take an active role in determining what aspects of the organization are indispensable and what needs to change. This is a key factor in creating an agile business that can hit the goals it lays out and quickly change those targets when necessary.

But how can you use this approach to help you better reach your long-term business goals? Here’s how to measure your progress toward your goals in four steps:

  1. Assess where you are right now.
    Before you can measure your progress going forward, you need to figure out where you are right now. What are your current goals? Do they still match where you want your business to go? If not, what goals should you set instead?Determine the milestones you should have hit by now and see where the business stacks up to reality. Have you managed to meet your deadlines so far? Did you even have regular deadlines or goal metrics set up? Looking at your current progress can help you move forward with a clear view of what works, what doesn’t, and what’s missing.
  2. Develop and support your key initiatives.
    Key initiatives are one of the most crucial elements when navigating how to measure your progress toward your goals. Decide what areas of work need to be completed to accomplish each goal. Once you have your initiatives, you can develop goal metrics around them, turning your strategic vision into actionable, smart business goals.From there, you need to provide the training and tools necessary for employees to not only get the job done, but also understand their role in the company’s strategic vision. Check in regularly, offering feedback and coaching from managers to keep everyone on the same page. Playing an active role in the accomplishment of key initiatives will help you reach them faster and give you a better sense of where you are in the process.
  3. Break down key initiatives into short-term goals for your business.
    Long-term business goals provide you with something to reach for, but short-term goals are what keep things moving. Many businesses’ top-level goals (such as revenue growth) are for the next year. So, what goals should you set throughout the year to achieve success?Shorter objectives are the measurable units that inform your progress and keep people accountable. Each objective should have a leader responsible for its success who will update you at the next check-in point. These short-term goals should be derived from your key initiatives, breaking down those broad areas of work into more manageable chunks.
  4. Make adjustments as needed.
    In many ways, the ability to change is even more important than reaching your goals. According to a survey in the Harvard Business Review, companies with the greatest ability to change were significantly more profitable than those who had difficulty adapting.Business is dynamic. If a situation changes, your goals and strategy might need to as well. Although you might have your heart set on a particular strategic objective, if it no longer matches your long-term vision or the reality of the situation at your company, then it needs to be adjusted.

Setting and tracking business goals is critical to your company’s success. At the end of these steps, you should have a goal assessment process that can be easily tracked and monitored. Because each stage of the process has clear guidelines and responsible parties, you can easily measure your progress while also keeping an eye on the industry in order to adapt.