Strategy & LeadershipIn strategic goal-setting, the key is balance

In strategic goal-setting, the key is balance

Goal-setting is a stock feature of leadership strategy, but in 2021 organisations must recognise the importance of balance

Balance (both in business and in life) is so important. In fact, it feeds into just about everything we do, from managing our work-life balance, to injecting balance into our workplace initiatives. But I think it’s time to address another crucially important (and yet often neglected) form of this: balance in strategic goal-setting.

I was reminded of this in my personal life recently. When I was taking an online spin class, the instructor started out by talking about goals, and the importance of finding ones that work for you. I thought about this for a moment, and realised that, even within the context of day-to-day exercise, I actually have multiple goals across the two programmes I am enrolled in:

  • The first one is based on points: if you get 40 points in a week, you get perks such as a free drink at a local coffee shop or a free online movie
  • The other is based on achievement badges: you receive different badges for things such as working out x number of days a week or month, or riding x number of miles.

As you can see, by having these different goals and measures of success it creates a more balanced workout. If I only had the first goal, all I would care about is the number of workouts each week: the quantity, and not the quality. The same logic works in the reverse scenario.

This also applies to goal-setting. It’s just as important to build in balance so our people and our business get the right results. Those following approaches such as the balanced scorecard and SMART goals are already doing this to some degree, but in this article I’d like to take it to the next level and share some tips on balance in goal-setting, using my experience with exercise as an analogy.

1. Have short and long-term goals

One of the things I love about the online exercise company I use is their wide array of badges and challenges, ranging from a badge you receive for your first workout, to one for completing a certain number of miles for the entire year. By having both short and long-term goals, it gives me ongoing motivation as well as regular feelings of accomplishment.

Too often when it comes to goal-setting, we focus on the big picture; those goals that need to be done by the end of year. And while this is important, it’s also important to think about if there are also any specific short-term goals. If not, it can pay to build in short-term milestones so that employees feel that sense of accomplishment.

2. Have well-rounded goals

If all I ever did was spin classes, then I wouldn’t have a very balanced exercise regime. By adding yoga, strength and meditation classes, I’m working my entire body and mind, and thus meeting my overall health and exercise objectives.

This approach should also be taken into consideration when setting goals. The balanced scorecard approach introduces this thought process by focusing on several categories: financial, customer, internal process, and learning and growth. But that said, I’d also encourage you to explore if there are other measures or “classes” to be taken to drive and support the individual’s development and performance.

3. Have goals that bring you out of your comfort zone

If we’re ever going to develop and improve, we need to push ourselves. We need to “get out of our saddle”, as they say in spin class; it’s all about getting out of your comfort zone. Inevitably, this can’t happen all of the time, or we’d surely burn out and eventually give up, but it should happen from time-to-time to help us improve and grow.

These “out of the saddle” types of goals should be built into your overall goals, creating balance between those that are in your comfort zone and those that aren’t. Together they create a balanced and more meaningful “workout”.

4. Have goals that focus on your “posture”

Another key mandate in spin class is for us to focus on our posture. Quite simply, if you get it wrong, you can injure yourself, and thus your goals will be even harder to attain.

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The same is true with goal-setting: it’s important to consider the ‘how’ and not just the ‘what’. Often, this is done by building in your values and behaviours. Much like posture, this ensures that you’re achieving the goal in the most safe and effective way, aligning with and driving your company’s mission and purpose.

5. Have a flexible approach to setting (and resetting) goals

Sometimes when I start a workout I may have one goal in mind, but depending on how I’m feeling and how I’m doing, I may need to adapt the goal. This isn’t giving up, it’s recognizing that sometimes things change, and that it’s better to have a new goal than to give up entirely.

Many companies did this in 2020, having their employees revisit their goals, which is exactly what needs to happen on an ongoing basis. Keep in mind that a key part of goals is to motivate, so if the current goal is not doing this, then take a step back and change it if required.

6. Find the right motivators

Finally, it’s important to understand and find the right motivators for each person when building goals. For example, I’m motivated by achieving the badges and challenges, whereas my husband is motivated by achieving a certain spot on the leaderboard.

I know it’s not always realistic to always build goals around motivators, but we should still try to find some room for this. For example, I’m motivated by being creative, so if I had a goal to build a new recognition programme, it would make sense to build in something about me working with the creative team to design the branding and communication material.


In 2021 performance management will be a critical tool to help your people and business succeed in this challenging world. For this reason, it’s important to be strategic in how you goals are setting, keeping in mind the six tips shared in this blog.

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