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08-02-2017 · Leadership & Strategy,

Three Thoughts on Goal Setting from July

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The start of the new school year is around the corner, and with that comes planning and goal-setting. As you look ahead and anticipate what the 2017-2018 year could bring, please consider these reflections.

Setting Realistic Expectations

I learned about the Rule of 35 about 10 years ago, and in my experience, projects and initiatives tends to track accordingly – things will take 35% longer, will cost 35% more to do or deliver, and the results will be 35% less than the goals originally forecasted. This rule has served me well, and has ensured that I set realistic expectations. One of the challenges we often face in the higher education field is initial enthusiasm about a new program launching or a new project starting. Our enthusiasm, however, is not always based on market data, trend analysis, or an objective look at the reach of our university’s brand. For these reasons, the program or project often underperforms the expected goals.

Similarly, with existing programs, people tend to set goals for future years based on hope and desire. However, hope is not a strategy. Just because you would like a 20% increase in enrollments for a given program doesn’t mean that will happen. Data needs to drive goal setting, so you can make informed decisions. Projections must be made based on tangible behavioral or market changes if you want to see growth. Ultimately, setting realistic goals is important because when lofty or unfounded goals are not met people are inevitably disappointed and disgruntled.

What You Measure Matters

When we begin a partnership with a school, we start out by asking them 3 key questions:

  1. What would you consider to be a critical success measure for this engagement?
  2. Why is this considered a critical success measure?
  3. With your goals in mind, what is a numerical range you would use to indicate that we met an acceptable goal for this measure? And moreover, what data informs that acceptable range?

By answering these questions in the beginning, the notion of metrics and data is brought to the forefront of the conversation, rather than leaving them for the end of the project.

For example, if you want to grow a program by 20% year over year, your measures would need to reflect an increase in traffic, leads, and applications in the marketing funnel. Ultimately, if your organization is not measuring success, then the goal setting will be particularly challenging and realistic expectations will be much harder to determine.

You Didn’t Meet Your Goals – Now What?

As a strong proponent of continuous improvement, any accurate data about results and factors leading to results can be valuable if you learn from them. When a goal is not met, it is often a bigger learning opportunity than if your goal is met. In my personal experience, I have learned more from failures and unmet goals than I have from having met specific goals or objectives. The key is moving past personal disappointment and focusing on the factors that may have contributed to the shortcomings.

An idea that particularly resonates with me is the concept of the spheres of influence – what are the things in my control and what are the things outside of my control. When it comes to unmet goals, I can address and recognize that there are environmental factors outside of my influence. However, I can use data and persuasion over the areas I can control to ensure different outcomes in the future. I try to use unmet goals as a learning opportunity for continuous improvement.

Random Gratitude

This past month we had a healthy rain fall, and I am particularly thankful for this because it helped my garden grow, and the rain fall made my bees very happy!