The Grammar of a Measurable GoalNovember 10, 2015 by Stacey Barr
Goals, objectives, priority statements and performance results are just some of the terminology we use to describe the stuff we want to measure. There are different ideas and different practices for how to articulate these things, and here I offer you the simplest possible way to do it, so you can successfully find a meaningful way to measure it.
Just read through a few different strategic plans and you’ll quickly realise just how much variety there is in how goals are written.
For example, there’s the verb-subject-target-timeframe formula that goes something like this:
- Improve the loyalty of key customers by 10% before December next year.
- Reduce the safety risk by 50% by the end of June.
- Achieve industry best-practice delivery timeliness within 12 months.
The trouble with this formula is that it forces us to select a target before we even know how we’re measuring it.
Another way goals are written is with the formula of verb-subject-action:
- Increase customer loyalty through a CRM.
- Reduce safety risk by training all operational staff.
- Improve delivery timeliness by streamlining the delivery process.
The confusion with this method (which is often recommended by followers of the S.M.A.R.T method) is that people end up measuring the action, not the result.
A more common formula is simply verb-subject:
- Increase customer loyalty.
- Enhance safety.
- Achieve best-practice delivery.
When they’re trying to measure goals like these, people often ask “so how do you measure the increase?” or “how do you measure ‘enhance’?” or “how do you measure best-practice?” They focus on the wrong part of the goal.
My preference is to simply articulate the performance result you are pursuing, as though it’s already a fact. The performance result is the bit that you’re trying to measure, and that’s all you need until you have the measure. Targets and timeframes (and how-to actions) come later. So the formula I recommend is subject-state:
- Customers are loyal.
- People are safe at work.
- Delivery is timely.
Of course, these statements still need some work on weasel words, like loyal, safe, and timely. But once you’ve replaced them with more specific language, you have something that you can easily design a measure for. So the above result statements could become these:
- Customers keep buying from us.
- People go home from work unharmed.
- Widgets are delivered quickly.
Why make it any more complicated?
Try writing one of your current goals using this simple performance result formula, and notice how much easier it is to understand and find a measure for.
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