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  • Writer's pictureMatthew B. Courtney, Ed.D.

Improvement Planning 101: Goal Setting

Updated: Jan 7, 2023

Welcome to #BeyondTheMean! Check out this post to see what this blog is all about.

Goal setting is an integral part of the continuous improvement planning process. It comes after you have checked in with your mission, vision, and values and have performed a needs assessment that reflects on past performance and current gaps. In this step of the improvement planning process, you must begin to think towards the future and set concrete steps that will help to get you there. Crafting meaningful goals and objectives not only helps you to achieve your desired outcomes, but it can also help you to communicate about your work to stakeholders, monitor incremental progress, and make heavy tasks feel more achievable. In this post, I want to break down some important considerations for goal setting.

Goals vs. Objectives

Let’s begin by considering the difference between a goal and an objective. Imagine that the continuous improvement process is a journey. Your goal is your endpoint. Your destination. It is a brief statement that seeks to encapsulate what you hope to accomplish through your efforts. By contrast, objectives are like the bullet points along your travel itinerary. They house your strategies, benchmark steps, and monitoring mechanisms that ensure that you are making progress towards your goal over time.

Both goals and objectives are important to the continuous improvement planning process as they help you to think through what your journey will look like. They work in a hierarchical from, so begin your planning conversations by setting your goal (destination) and then craft the objectives (pit-stops) that you will use to get you there.

Long Term vs. Short Term Goals

When you are engaged in goal setting conversations, it is important that you consider the impact of both long-term and short-term goals. As their names suggest, long-term goals are the ones you hope to accomplish by the end of your planning cycle. These are usually a year or more out and are usually slightly aspirational. I say slightly aspirational here because you want to craft a long term goal that is challenging while still achievable. It should force you to push and stretch without secretly knowing that you will fail. I have worked with countless organizations who fail to reach their lofty long-term goals because they set goals that they knew were impossible to achieve. Create a goal that stretches you without breaking you.

Short-term goals should be in service to your long-term goals. They are the incremental changes you hope to make along your continuous improvement journey. Short term goals are usually crafted in terms of weeks or months. When you craft your short-term goals, you should start by breaking down the various steps necessary to achieve your long-term goals and then set a timeline or data trigger to institute the goal. Unlike your long-term goals, your short-term goals must live in reality. They should not be aspirational or feel like a stretch. If your short-term goal feels too lofty, that is a signal that it is too big and needs to be divided down again into more short term goals.

Outcome Goals vs. Process Goals

To add another layer of focus to your goal setting process, you should consider setting both outcome and process goals. Outcome goals are those that work in service to your long-term continuous improvement dreams. In an education setting, those goals may include student proficiency rates or the number of students enrolled in dual-credit or advanced placement courses. A process goal is one that focuses on refining your existing systems and may be measured in procedural nuances such as job satisfaction or work products.

It is important to create both outcome and process goals during your improvement planning conversations because they work in service to one another. In education, there is a direct link between the health of your systems and processes and your student outcomes. If your systems and processes are out of whack, then you will never achieve your student outcomes. Similarly, if you don’t have clear outcomes to work towards you won’t know what kinds of systems and supports you need to create and refine on your path.

Crafting Goal Language

There is lots of guidance on the internet about how to graft goal language. Acronyms like SMART and PACT proliferate on the web. Personally, I think the acronyms hold people back because they spend so much time focusing on how their goal aligns to the acronym that they forget to write a meaningful goal in the first place. Having a meaningful goal that is clearly understood by everyone on your team is the most important part of the improvement planning process – regardless of which order the words come in.

As you set your goals, make sure that you have a few key elements. First, your goal should be measurable in some way. Make sure your goal is clearly rooted in that measure so that you will know whether you got there. A good goal should have a deadline that is, again, clearly stated for everyone to understand. Finally, your goal should state who the responsible parties are so that everyone knows what their role is in the continuous improvement process. If you can write goals that include these three vital elements you will be well on your way to success.

As you can see, there is a lot more to goal setting than meets the eye. A good goal can help you communicate about your work, monitor your progress, and adjust your course along the way. Remember, continuous improvement is called “continuous” for a reason! Your goals are never set in stone and they should evolve as your work progresses. I hope this post has given you some meaningful food for thought as you begin your improvement planning process. If you haven’t already, make sure you check out the tools I have made available in The Repository. These tools will help you when you get stuck. Good luck on your journey friends!


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