Refine a Team Goal Using the Formula “From X to Y by When”

Why do it?

Too many managers set vague goals — Improve customer retention, for example — leaving their teams unsure how well they’re doing or even exactly what they’re working toward. This simple formula, from The 4 Disciplines of Execution, provides a powerful way to identify “where you are today, where you want to go, and the deadline for reaching that goal.” While not every single goal naturally fits this formula, using it can help you and your team talk about goals in ways that are specific, measurable, and easy to understand and communicate.

How to do it:

1. Pick one of your team’s goals to refine.

You may decide to refine a goal because it’s a high priority for your team or you think the goal lacks a clearly defined result. And/or you could ask your team which goal they want more clarity on. You could also use this formula at the outset when selecting a shaping a goal with your team.

2. Reword the goal as “from X to Y by when.”

If you find that the goal you picked doesn’t fit into this structure (perhaps because it’s a goal to explore something unknown), at least consider adding any relevant specifics and a “by when” to make the goal time-bound. For example:

  • Vague goal: Improve customer retention.
  • Refined goal: From 65 percent customer retention to 75 percent by the end of this quarter.
  • Vague goal: Test sales approaches in the new market and learn which one prospects respond to most.
  • Refined goal: Test three sales approaches in the new market to learn which one prospects respond to most by the end of this year.

3. Seek input from your team on the “from X to Y by when” goal.

Depending on your situation, you could present your “from X to Y by when” goal statement to your team for feedback or draft the initial statement together. Regardless, your team’s input is important for buy-in and to ensure you’re setting a good, challenging yet achievable goal. While discussing the goal, you might ask:

  • “How realistic is that outcome, given where we are now and how much time we have?”
  • “How could we make this statement even clearer, by simplifying it or using more specific language?”
  • “Could there be any misunderstanding about what we’re actually trying to do?”
  • “How, if at all, would refining the wording of this goal change your approach?”

4. Use the finalized statement language when you talk about the goal.

Certainly, you and your team will need to do more work to figure out your full approach to the goal: How will you get from 65 percent to 75 percent? How will you determine which sales approaches to try? But your “from X to Y by when” statement can serve as a compelling shorthand for the goal — easily shareable and repeatable across the company and easy to write on a whiteboard or team dashboard for progress checks.

Additional Resources:

Video: Leverage Four Principles to Execute in Times of Change

Downloadable GuideExecute Your Strategic Goals and Create Breakthrough Results

On-Demand Webcast: Achieve Breakthrough Results in the Midst of Your Whirlwind

Case Study: Learn How the 4 Disciplines of Execution® Created Breakthrough Results at Marriott Hotels

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