Make Planning Matter: Create Goals that You Can't Ignore


Make Planning Matter

We’ve all been there: January 1st rolls around and we’re eager to set our new year’s resolutions.

Resolutions that we’ll stick to, this time around.

It’s also generally this time when we scratch our heads and try to remember what we intended to do last year.

This same set-goals-and-try-to-remember-them also happens at our workplaces. A performance review arrives and we dust off the goals we set months (and months) before and assess our progress.

I hope you’ll agree that this approach to goals is not very effective.

Yes, we can revisit goals more frequently. (In recent years, thanks to the Together Professional training, I’ve set up weekly, monthly, and quarterly recurring appointments in my calendar to conduct “step-back meetings” with myself and my team to ensure that we review our goals regularly.)

But more than that, how can we create better goals that inspire high performance, guide our work in real time, and that we want to revisit on a regular basis?

Here are some suggestions I’ve learned on how to make goals that matter:

  1. Set a range. To make goals more motivating, consider setting a target range instead of a fixed number, as recommended in a recent Harvard Business Review article.

    The reasoning? Research shows that when goals have a high-low number (and not a fixed one), people find them both challenging and attainable and will persist to achieve them.

    At EP, this year we’ve updated one of our ongoing organizational key results – program participants – to be a range instead of a fixed number. We made the switch to ensure that our participant number was both challenging and attainable for our team, and to encourage all staff to both meet and exceed targets.

  1. Measure your Net Promoter Score. Companies across industries – banking, technology, retail, travel, and more – track and measure their Net Promoter Score (NPS) as the key metric that will help them  better understand and improve their customers’ experience.

    After an online purchase, have you received a short survey (usually one or two questions) from the company asking if you’d recommend them to a friend, typically on a scale of 0-10? That is the NPS question.

    NPS can also be a key performance measure for nonprofit education organizations. Why? We all exist to better serve our key stakeholders. The more satisfied they are, the more likely they’ll be repeat “customers” or recommend us to other organizations or people. When that happens at EP, we can attract and spread more talented people farther and wider across the sector to benefit more organizations and students.

    At EP, our work is to serve our partners, fellows, alumni, and staff well. As such, we have set the NPS score as one of our four organizational goals for this year.

    Learn more about NPS and how a few questions can change how can gather the data you need to inform decisions about your work.  

  1. Leave strategic “gray areas.” As Yves Morieux and Peter Tollman from BCG write about in “Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicated,” empowering employees – and not restraining them with more processes and systems – can impact performance.

    They liken it to a relay race, which “works best when some objectives are defined (the first runner needs to get out of the blocks quickly) but others are left up to the runners (where exactly on the course to pass the baton to your teammate).” The best relay teams are not just the ones with the fastest runners.

    In an environment where changes happen fast and you must adapt to them, find areas where you can leave room for your team to find ways to cooperate to reach goals.

    At EP, we’ve implemented a formal cross-departmental review of our team goals led by one team member to ensure that we identify areas for cooperation. In the past, we’ve done this informally but switched to a formal process to ensure that we’re all moving forward in the same direction, together.

Work environments are increasingly complex, and performing at high levels as individuals, teams, and organizations requires that we set meaningful goals – that we want to revisit and achieve – to get us there.


Eugine Chung

Eugine Chung is the former Vice President of Strategy & Learning for Education Pioneers (EP) and an EP Alumna. She is responsible for ensuring that EP is guided by a strategy that enables us to maximize our impact, respond to our partners' needs, and adapt based on findings from evaluation. Eugine has a passion for developing leaders who can bring transformative change to ensure every child receives a high quality education.



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