The Power of Written Goals

Guest Post

Here’s a guest post by Dr Jon Warner of Ready to Manage on the Power of Written Goals.

Goal setting as a discipline or activity has a very long history (much longer than most modern management methods).

Armies in particular, have set goals for thousands of years to win battles and wars. Over time, these skills have been developed into systems and methods that can be used in much more mundane circumstances and applied to much smaller groups, such as modern organizations of all sizes and types, departments of companies or even to a single individual.

In itself, the activity of goal setting is part of a general process of planning for the future.

What deliberate goal setting attempts to achieve is to provide a translation vehicle or language from a broad intent to a tangible step or task that is likely to achieve the intent in some fashion.

At a personal level this is easy to illustrate. For instance, we may intend to stop smoking or to lose weight for example but will not do so until we set a goal (to reduce the number of cigarettes smoked a day by a given amount until we quit altogether or to lose a certain number of pounds, usually in a given timeframe).

At its most simple level then goal setting essentially involves thinking about and writing down a specific objective that a person, a team or a whole organization wants to achieve.

This serves a dual purpose.

Firstly it helps to clarify to the individual or group what he or she aims to do in very concrete and meaningful ways.

Secondly, written goals serve to make it clear to others what needs to be done (with actual targets or outcomes being described as opposed to loose intentions).

The simple step of recording goals for a new enterprise might sound like a very simplistic activity and one that can be “dashed off” in a few minutes.

In reality, the vast majority of people spend little or no time on writing down their goals and thereby miss out on a huge potential benefit.

Although the research was originally carried out in the 1950’s, proof of the benefits of written goals was carried out by Yale University on a large group of students.

These students, at the end of their degree courses were invited (voluntarily) to write down their specific career goals. Despite the instruction, only 6 people (or 3% of the entire population) actually did as they were told and produced a written sheet of personal career goals.

Twenty years later, each member of the group was re-contacted to see how successful they had been, as measured by their personal wealth accumulated.

Remarkably, the six people (3% of the group) had accumulated slightly more in earnings that the rest of the population (97%) put together.

All three people confirmed that their written goals had specifically focused their attention and helped them to achieve success.

So what are you waiting for? Whether you are leading an organization, a small team or just yourself, just invest a little time in thinking carefully and crafting one or even a few well-written goals and refer to them frequently to guide your actions.

About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organisational Psychology.
Jon is Editor-in-chief of ReadyToManage, Inc. and can be reached at

Gordon Tredgold

Leadership Principles