Part 1 of a series on Mastering Management Competencies. For the full list of management competencies, go here.

“Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the goal” – Nietzsche

According to many experts, up to 70% of strategic plans fail. This high failure rate is because execution is flawed. And the reasons for this failure to execute are clear, and include the following:

  • Too many strategic goals
  • Unclear wording of goals
  • Confusion between goals and activities
  • Unclear accountability for goal achievement
  • Unclear measures and targets
  • Under resourcing of key initiatives and projects
  • Lack of senior management active support
  • Lack of clear alignment between higher level and lower level goals

In my work with leaders and their teams who find themselves stuck, I find that there is very often confusion between goals, measures and targets…and that’s where the failure begins. So it’s important that you and your manager get this right, and model the way for everyone else, otherwise the plan can go off track very quickly.

Here are some operational definitions you can begin with as you discuss with your manager your goals and how they support higher level goals:

Goal: An output or outcome, described without including how to achieve it or how much to achieve. Examples are “Increase market share”; “Decrease operating costs”
Measure: Sometimes referred to as a key performance indicator (KPI). Simply put, the metric(s) used to report on performance over time. Examples are “Cost of Goods Sold”; “Sales Volume by Division”; “Percent Satisfied Customers”
Target: The degree to which the goal is to be achieved, consistent with the measure being used.
Baseline: The current or latest snapshot of the measure.¬†Examples are “% customer satisfaction as of (date)”;
Timeline: The date by which the goal is to be achieved.

Here’s an example of some goals, measures, targets, baselines and timelines:


Of course the important thing here is to ensure that there is a common understanding between you, your manager and your team concerning goals, measures, targets, baselines and timelines (G-M-T-B-Ts). Breaking them down this way ensures you are addressing the main aspects.

Once this is established you can then move on to identifying the sub-goals and activities necessary to achieve them. The key is to not get into the activities until there is a clear, common understanding of the G-M-T-B-Ts. You might also want to extend this spreadsheet to describe how each one supports a higher level strategic goal.

Working with your manager requires that you speak in a common language. Far too many strategic plans start off on the wrong footing because of lack of a common language or understanding.

There can also be issues or even conflicts around other aspects of goal setting and execution, such as :

  • The aggressiveness of the goal
  • The timeline for achievement
  • The resources at your disposal for achieving the goal
  • Was the goal set by your manager, or set by both of you?
  • Disagreement around the linkage with higher level strategic goals

Some of these disagreements may stem out of personality differences. If you are using the DiSC Model, as many of my clients do, then you probably are aware that the faster paced styles (D, i) tend to be more aggressive goal achievers and less patient than the more moderate paced styles (S, C) who are more cautious risk takers. Just keep this in mind as you are working with your manager – you may have to flex your style to establish rapport. And remember, there can be no influence without rapport!

In a future article, I will provide a downloadable matrix that you can adapt to your needs which will aid you in this alignment of goals.