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4 Tips for Setting Short-Term & Long-Term Business Goals

Never underestimate the power of having a strong set of goals for your business. Business goals are more than just figures on an earnings chart displayed in boardroom meetings—they’re also a key part of how businesses motivate their employees.
Goals give employees something to work towards and measure their progress against. For any organization, having a good mixture of both short- and long-term business goals can be vital.
But, how can your organization set the right goals to ensure that they are achievable and employees are motivated to meet them?

1) Keep Short-Term Goals Varied

There’s a psychological phenomenon known as the Einstellung effect, wherein repeating a single solution to a single problem over and over can blind people to other possibilities. As research highlighted in a Science Daily article states, “Our brain generally prefers a familiar, trusted solution, rather than exploring alternatives.”
In other words, people keep doing things the same way over and over again not because it’s the best way to do something, but because it’s become a habit. If such a habit is allowed to form, people might ignore better solutions that are sitting right in front of them—in fact, as the Science Daily article states, subjects in an experiment “were, quite literally, blind to the alternative, better solutions.”
This phenomenon is capable of strangling innovation and turning workers from active, engaged participants in work into passive near-automatons doing the same thing day in and day out.
By repeatedly having workers chase the same goals in the same tasks over and over, employers risk running afoul of the Einstellung effect and having a monotonous workforce.
However, organizations can combat the Einstellung effect by varying the short-term goals of different work units. This keeps employees from just focusing on one solution for one set of tasks, helping stave off the mental stagnation of shooting for the same goals all the time.
Additionally, engaging in learning activities where employees are asked to challenge their preconceptions of the most efficient ways to complete a task can be helpful.
For example, give workers a logic puzzle with two or more solutions and present them with the more complicated or time-consuming solution first. Then, challenge them to do it as quickly as possible to see how many simply repeat the known solution.
On completion, show them the second solution—the one that can be done more quickly and easily.

2) Don’t Be Afraid to Set Audacious Long-Term Goals

Here’s a tip from Salman Khan, the creator of Khan Academy, an online learning platform that offers free lessons in a diverse array of subjects—like algebra, physics, world history, computer programming, economics, and more.
In an interview for Big Think, Khan talks about how he set his goals for Khan Academy:

Thinking on larger scales and, you know, the next 4 years, or 10 years, or even my lifetime is, well, what could this be?… Instead of it just being a one-off collection of videos or a one-off software app that I tried to do as a venture-backed business, maybe [Khan Academy] could be the next Stanford, the next Harvard, this new type of institution that people haven’t visualized quite yet, but it could help empower millions or billions of students for the next 500 years.

Instead of being intimidated by challenges, Khan decided to pursue the most aggressive long-term goal he could think of and turned his challenges into opportunities. By doing this, he was able to inspire others because, as he said, “as soon as you start thinking on those scales, you go after a bigger problem and you phrase things differently and, frankly, you inspire more people. More amazing people are going to want to be part of that audacious goal.”
Long story short, having amazing, audacious, and visionary goals for your long-term strategy can inspire others—making them more engaged with work or even attracting brilliant people who would otherwise have overlooked your organization.

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3) Use a Consistent Goal-Setting Framework

Don’t know where to get started in deciding upon your business goals? Start with one of the countless goal-setting frameworks that organizations can use to create goals that follow some kind of consistent logic.
For example, there’s the SMART framework. While the acronym’s specifics might change from one case to the next, a common interpretation is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.
Other frameworks include BSQ (think BIG, act SMALL, move QUICK) and Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). Each of these goal setting frameworks operates on slightly different principles, but the overall objective is the same—to create aggressive but achievable goals for either the short-term or long-term operation of the business and individual business units.
Whichever goal setting framework you use, it should be consistently applied to ensure that the goals you create are both meaningful and easy to interpret for employees. Changing goal frameworks with every planning session is almost sure to cause confusion as employees lose the ability to understand the logic behind goals.
While your short- and long-term business goals might change, the logic behind them should remain consistent.

In any business, the long-term goals are the vision of what the business could be. However, if the long-term goal is the destination for the business, then short-term goals are the roadmap to reaching that goal.
Each short-term business goal should be treated like a stepping stone on the path to reaching a long-term objective. If a short-term goal doesn’t bring the business any closer to meeting its long-term aims, then why is that goal important enough to make employees focus their time and energy on it?
Setting short-term objectives that don’t align with long-term business goals runs the risk of having employees see meeting those goals as pointless busy work. As noted in one article on Entrepreneur about leading frustration factors at work, “It’s frustrating when employees can’t see the goal behind completing certain duties, which leads to reduced quality in this type of work.”
When employees don’t see the “point” of doing a specific task or meeting a specific goal, they won’t engage with it—compromising their ability to perform. By linking short-term goals with meaningful long-term objectives, you can give employees the “big picture” understanding of why their work matters.
Setting goals for both the short- and long-term is a vital part of any business’ operations. And, having the right goals can make a huge difference in how employees engage with their work.
Learn more about this and other challenges of leading others from experts like retired Navy SEAL Rob Roy, Harvard Business School Professor Teresa Amabile, and many others in Big Think+’s “Leading Others” Course. This educational course helps leaders develop the talents of their teams to leverage individual strengths and bolster weaknesses. Get started with a free demo of Big Think+.

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