Make big goals successful

success big goalLast week I heard a colleague lament that her change team was focusing so much on goals that were “low-hanging fruit,” that she and other team members feared that the big or long-term goals would never get accomplished. The value of addressing low-hanging fruit is often to give the team a burst of energy and sense of accomplishment by achieving a short-term goal. In my experience, I have worked with teams that have gotten sidelined because they did overfocus on low-hanging fruit that did not translate to longer-term goals. At the same time, I’ve seen teams spin their wheels during change efforts when they have too many big, long-term goals that seem too ambiguous and far out of reach.

Ann Latham, a change consultant at, says that the most successful goals are:

  1. Specific – the team knows what needs to be accomplished and has the tools to do it
  2. Certain – the goal is realistic and results are possible
  3. Immediate – the result can be accomplished fairly soon

By definition, big, long-term goals have the opposite characteristics of successful goals in that they are too big to be specific and certain and the result may be several years out. For instance, one of the big goals for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities in Charting the Future is to: “dramatically increase the success of all learners, especially those in diverse populations traditionally underserved by higher education.”  This is a big, long-term goal that the student success implementation team is wrestling with right now. They are in the midst of setting strategy and exploring possibilities, but at this moment in time, the goal can seem vague, uncertain, and far out into the future in terms of:

  • What specifically needs to be done to accomplish the goal? What are the steps?
  • Who can contribute to accomplishing the goal and what are their specific roles?
  • What is the timeline?  (including the measurements for accomplishing this goal and the milestones that should be met)

To make big, long-term goals successful, Ann Latham recommends breaking them down into chunks, so that are in fact a series of short-term goals, which are specific, certain, and immediate. If a long-term goal spans 5 years, consider how that goal can be broken into action strategies for the next five years, with each year moving the team or organization closer to the long-term goal.

I am confident that Charting the Future implementation teams will soon get to this point in architecting specific action strategies to accomplish MnSCU’s goals and I am excited to see the results of their work in the gallery walks that will soon be held on college and university campuses in our system.

From your experience, what has helped you and your team achieve long-term goals?

Anita Rios


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