Better goal setting through vetting


No I am not talking about SMART goals. I do not have anything against smart goals in fact it is an excellent tool however what I want to talk about is vetting  goals not setting goals.

What do I mean by vetting?

Vet (v) “to make a careful and critical examination of (something)” in this case goals.

Whatever methods or tools you used to set your goals it’s really important that you take time to do some careful and critical examination of those goals.

That vetting process can include others from within the organization or from trusted advisors, colleagues, consultants or even friends. The key all in here is to focus on the goal and bring differing opinions ideas and levels of critical thinking to what those goals are. With that in mind I propose a framework for vetting goals whatever means are used to set them.

Vetting Goals

For every goal ask yourself the following questions;

1)            Why is this goal important to me?

2)            Why is it important to my business?

3)            What do I have to do, change or become to achieve this goal?

4)            Can I achieve this alone? Who or what do I need to help me?

5)            What beyond the goal itself will be the impact to my business when it is achieved?

6)            If the goal is not achieved, what will be the impact to the business?

7)            What does the goal depend on?

8)            Have I set my sights to low or too high with this goal?

It’s easy to set goals in business and most individuals and organizations do it regularly. It’s also relatively easy to set SMART goals. In fact it’s probably too easy to set goals.

I know you’ve heard that it’s critically important to set goals and it’s true but just setting them, even setting smart goals, is not enough. They really need to be goals that are worth achieving.

It is hard to dig into the goal in depth and in a careful and critical way. Following the eight questions in vetting goals is an excellent way to drill into that goal and make sure that that goal is worth achieving.

All too often goals turn into nothing more than task-like things we establish for ourselves.  We believe that these goals will help us achieve a certain amount of success, but in reality they were not meaningful and we only achieve checking them off. These are not goals, these are distractions.

The “why” behind goals

The first two questions–why is that goal important to me and to my business–focus on what is behind the goal and not just the goal or the process of achieving it. Sure lots of things are required as stepping stones to progress, but those are not goals. Goals by their very nature should be those big things that you can rally around you can set your sights on and work hard to achieve. And when you achieve that goal something big and important has happened.

A goal worth achieving is worth the effort required

The third question has been a source of tremendous insight for me over the years. If the goals that I have set don’t require me to do, change or become something more significant, than for me that’s not much of a goal. If it’s not pushing me to excel or to transcend the state that I’m currently in then it’s just task planning.

Don’t get me wrong, having a detailed task is really important, but it is not on the same level as your goals. Besides my task list does not motivate me. Even completing tasks on my list only hold a very short-term motivation for me. Achieving a goal on the other hand, that effort will keep you focused days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years. If it’s worthwhile goal, it’s worth the effort to achieve that goal.

The insight for me was that for goals to be meaningful they really need to push, to drive change. It’s often said that we are either growing or dying. What is also said is that we can just be growing more entrenched in our ways which is kind of like dying.  If we really want to grow wouldn’t it be much better to be doing that growth in the direction of our choice? Shouldn’t that direction be driven by our goals?

Solitary Goals

The fourth question is really about if I set a goal that only requires me to achieve that goal I am of course wholly responsible. That is both good and bad. The good part is that I am the arbiter of my own success or failure. I have no one to hold me back and I have no one to challenge me. But the other part of that is that when you achieve the goal it is only your goal and so the success is only magnified by one person.

When you have a goal that requires others to help you achieve it, the success is magnified by all those people and you. When you have a goal that not only requires other people to help you achieve your goal but actually the whole group helps each to achieve their own goals the force of that amplification is so much greater. First because now you become a group with a connected purpose and secondly because each of you knows you contribute not only to the goal but to the success of that goal in others.

The goals of groups are tremendously powerful. Group goals where each member of the group must also grow do or change something significant to achieve the goal are greater still.

Looking beyond the goal

With the fifth question we take a broader view around goals. To truly understand the value of the goal must also understand the results beyond just what the goal creates. Landing on the moon was the goal but the impact beyond just that goal was tremendous. It came in many forms and has lasting impact to this day. It’s clear when you think beyond just what was achieved to see how spinoff technologies, techniques, and entire understandings of planets and even our ideas of space travel were generated not by the goal itself but because of achieving the goal itself. In this broader context we see white goals are often much more than the goal itself. Again how the world changes as a result is not always directly connected to the goal itself.

Another way to consider the impact beyond the goal, is to think about what will you do after achieving that goal. What opportunities will you create? What new skills or abilities will you possess? Where will that have to meet you? If the answers don’t become clear before you begin, don’t worry. Often times it’s not about knowing the answer to these questions, but rather to be asking them as a way to open you up to possibilities


Looking at the impact beyond the goal leads directly to the question, “what happens if we don’t achieve our goal?” The sixth question seemed to understand the impact that failure might have. This is a useful tool because it helps us to focus on on why it is important and reminds us of what is at stake. It is also clear that when we look at failure outcomes that there is insight into what actions need to take. First to ensure that we do not fail and secondly to be prepared for the fallout if we do.

Some might say that thinking about what happens if we fail is partially self-defeating. I have not seen this to be true. Most times thinking about the outcome of an unsuccessful goal assures us that if that were to happen we would survive, our business would survive, and we would carry on. Knowing this it makes it easier to push a little harder, reach a little further try a little more. This makes it more likely that we will succeed.

Depend on goals

Question seven, like number four, looks beyond the goal itself. What ideas, actions or things does the goal and its attainment depend. This is a great way to examine our assumptions both of the goal and the outcomes. If we have that goal to travel to the moon but no one possesses the rocket fuel to get us there, then the goal of getting to the moon depends first on finding or making that fuel. If you don’t consider that and we simply assume that we will get there with what we have we greatly limit our success. While that seems obvious with large goals is also true that even smaller goals can have unanticipated dependencies.

The process of thinking this through opens our eyes to assumptions and potentially two ways to create leverage to improve her chances for success and to simplify the process. Again looking at the wider implications of the goal helps us to truly put in context what we seek to do. Providing one of the most realistic expectations and outcomes only makes it easier for us to be successful.

Reality check

The last question, have I set my sights to low or too high, it is quite possibly the easiest one to dismiss from this list. It begs the question of what my goal really is. Many times I have seen friends, colleagues and clients set goals either so low or so high that they virtually guaranteed to fail. Ridiculously low goals mean nothing for us to achieve, we know this and thus we often ignore the entirety of the goal and fail to even try. This results in us failing to achieve even that which is beneath us. The opposite is equally destructive. That which is absurdly unattainable provides us no more motivation.

There is a distinction between setting goals that are too high and the idea of attempting the impossible. In all this I don’t mean that you should not set high and difficult goals. In fact you should!

But setting a goal that is “impossible” can quite often be more motivating than setting a goal that you know cannot be achieved. It’s not a matter of impossible it’s a matter of won’t happen. Often times the impossible goals actually require a mindset shift to reveal that they were never impossible we just thought they were. How is that different?  In some ways it’s not.  Setting big goals often requires that we shift how we think about things to make them achievable. The reality check is to decide what goals are too low or too high. If the goal fuels too big a shift and how you think about it changes stat, then the goal was just right.

Wrap Up

It seems like a lot of work to ask these eight questions about every goal, and of course it is. However, I think you will find the goals you set and the time you invest asking the questions will provide a wonderful and radical transformation of your life and business.

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