Management Articles


Pathways and Pitfalls to Setting Organizational Goals and Priorities

By: Jim Clemmer

Jim Clemmer is an international keynote speaker, workshop leader, author, and president of The CLEMMER Group, a North American network of organization, team, and personal improvement consultants based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His other bestsellers include Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance, and his most recent book, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. His web site is

"Concentration that is, the courage to impose on time and events his own decision as to what really matters and comes first is the executive's only hope of becoming the master of time and events."
    Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive
  • Your management team must identify its three or four strategic imperatives for the next twelve months. A laundry list of urgent goals diffuses focus, spawns unproductive "busywork," and provides enough bureaucratic cover to justify any pet project or protect turf.

  • Set specific improvement targets for each strategic imperative. The clearer the target, the surer the aim. "Improving customer satisfaction," "reengineering key processes," or "changing the culture" show up on every organization's wish list today. Setting, concrete measurable goals for improvement turns the rhetoric into reality.

  • Improvement goals should be absolute targets (for example, actual number of dissatisfied customers), never as percentages. Percentages allow you to turn problems into impersonal statistics. They also release the constant improvement pressure since anything over 90 - 95% sounds pretty good ("after all, perfection is impossible"). Real numbers force you to think about the actual number of dissatisfied customers, defects, etc. and their costs to the organization.

  • Each member of your team then sets three or four personal or team goals or objectives that flow directly out of your strategic imperatives for their area of responsibility. They also establish measurements for each of their goals or objectives along with the level of improvement they are shooting for in the next twelve months.

  • Every member of you team now meets with individuals or teams reporting to them to repeat the process based on your team members' goals or objectives. This continues throughout the organization until everyone is included.

  • This process can be driven in a traditional top-down way or be quite participative and interactive. In a top-down approach, each level of management essentially decides and commits to (with perhaps some discussion) what the targets will be for everyone they're leading. A participative approach is much more difficult to manage and takes a few years to get it rolling smoothly.

    Using this method, goals, objectives, measurements, and improvement goals are set by the teams that will make them happen. They do this in negotiation with the manager or director they report to. The manager or director than takes these commitments to peer meetings who pull everything together and coordinate whether the commitments and planned activities will be enough to help them reach their goals and objectives. This "rolls up" the organization until everything is consolidated and reviewed by the senior team responsible for the original strategic imperatives. I prefer this much messier, clumsy, and participative process.

  • A key part of this cascading goals and objectives process is the learning, coordination, and communication that happens in regular (often quarterly) reviews. Each team meets with the teams or individuals reporting to them. They review progress on the goals and objectives. This should not become a "snoopervision" exercise. The purpose of the meetings is early, joint problem solving and learning. After the review with the people and teams reporting to them, each team and/or person then meets with the team they report to for a similar problem solving and learning session.

  • Focus all organizational systems and key processes on your strategic imperatives. Training, measurements, information systems, improvement teams, human resource systems, and other resource-intensive activities must pass the value-add test; does this work help or hinder movement toward our strategic imperatives?

  • Ensure that all your improvement and project teams' activities are ultimately linked to strategic imperatives. Intensify and concentrate your improvement process by connecting it to the important and urgent organization issues that are keeping you and your management teams awake at night. Far too many department and process improvement teams are wasting valuable time and resources making improvements that don't really matter. Concentrate precious resources on key leverage points.

  • Push yourself and others to set breakthrough objectives and stretch goals. An increase of 10 or 20 percent doesn't excite imaginations. We can keep doing things the same old way. Targets of ten times improvement force people to break out of their old patterns, habits, and ways of thinking. Big, stretch goals inflame creativity and innovation. Help people fulfill their deep craving to be on a winning team. Help them become "the best" at what ever you're aiming for.

© Copyright 2001 The CLEMMER Group

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