Here's how 12 successful CEOs set their goals for the year

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Creating new goals to achieve at the start of each year is common practice for many business leaders and individuals.

Although checking in throughout the year to make sure you’re on track to achieving them is often forgotten about.

For looking for ways to make sure they stick with their annual goals, and achieve them, we asked 12 Australian executives what they do each year to ensure success.

Here’s what they had to say.

Melanie Perkins, co-founder and CEO of Canva

Canva’s Melanie Perkins/ Supplied

One of the most important things is to be able to set big goals that inspire and motivate your team. I think it’s easier to attract great people when you set out to achieve something that’s crazy huge, because great people like great challenges. It’s also essential to set a clear direction for the company and frequently talk about the future. If everyone knows where you are trying to get to, I think there’s less debate about the small things that don’t matter.

Staying on target

Good communication is one of the most important aspects of being a good leader and helping the team make good decisions on achieving their goals. At the start, there were just a few of us sitting around one table and everyone always knew what everyone else was working on; now that we’ve grown to more than two hundred people across our two offices in Sydney and Manila, it’s important that we have a focus on making sure everyone has as much context as possible.

Throughout the week, each team catches up daily progress, and on Fridays we do a team standup which is a great opportunity to bring the team back together and for teams to share knowledge. Our structure of small, empowered teams enables everyone to be nimble and move quickly, and also gives each team ownership over their work so they can be as effective and creative as they can be.

Our company has scaled from just a couple of us to now over 250 team members across Sydney and Manila, and from an idea to a design and publishing tool that is loved by millions across the globe — the challenges that we need to solve have also changed rapidly with this 10x growth. Being able to adapt and thrive even when there are changing circumstances is an invaluable skill.

But as our goals may change, our mission has been the same since day one: empowering everyone to design anything and publish anywhere. Everyone in the company is constantly learning and adapting to change, and part of my role is to consistently help people to focus on the things that matter.

Justin Dry, co-founder of Vinomofo

Justin Dry/ Supplied

First I dream as big as I can by asking myself what would I do if I was certain I couldn’t fail? What would I do if there was no fear holding me back?

Then I play with these ideas. Firstly I let them roll around in my head before writing them down on my blackboard at Vinomofo or a large piece of paper at home.

I love doing strategy visually. I need to see it all in front of me like a puzzle I’m putting together. It kind of looks like the workings of a madman with lots of weird and wonderful shapes and lines connecting the words.

At the moment my office blackboard is completely covered with ideas and planning for our global expansion – the markets we’re in currently in, the next few we’re launching and the related strategies, opportunities, challenges and timelines etc.

Once I’ve finished thinking through a project or idea, I bring other smart people including the relevant team leads in to discuss, expand and challenge to then settle on the final plan.

Everything is then transferred to our favourite project management tool Trello. Here it’s broken down into its bits with tasks and time frames for each team. From here I take on my responsibilities ordered from priority number 1 down and that’s where my energy goes.

Being accountable is one of our core values for each member of our team; we empower people to be accountable, to make decisions, to question, and take the lead to get things done. We’re a startup at our heart, despite having grown rapidly over the last six years, so we approach things in an agile, fast, creative way.

A goal for me last year was to launch in another international market, having two launches in 2016, I really wanted to get another done in 2017. However, we didn’t quite make it. I thought HK was going to be the next market but after spending more time on it and in market, I decided it wasn’t the way to go.

This wasn’t a failure by any means, I think it was the right decision to reverse, research and reassess in order to make the right choice rather than the easy one. As a result we are now tackling the largest wine market in the world in 2018 – USA.

The first thing I did, once it was decided we would shift our focus from HK to the US, was to tell the team. The more time I spend leading, the more I realise just how important regular and open communication is,” Justin Dry – Co-Founder & CEO, Vinomofo.

Karen Lawson, CEO of Slingshot

Karen Lawson/ Supplied

There is much that’s written about goal setting, but ultimately it’s mostly about deciding where you want to be in 5-10 years time and breaking that down into quarterly or monthly milestones. In saying that, what used to work in the past isn’t necessarily going to translate into future success given things now operate at a different speed. Companies are driven by a consumer/customer needs with increasing expectations and CEO’s have to navigate a very different world with faster change, technology and connectedness. This means a long term plan needs to be continually tested adjusted or will be irrelevant.

CEO’s must be able to do two things at once; manage existing BAU and focus ‘horizon 3’ disruptive solutions which provide long term value creation. So, goals need to be set in the context of this environment. Your planning process for a cruising business or even an airline will be different to a retail or media business and it’s your responsibility to ensure you create an environment to lead in your chosen field.

The CEO does set the vision – but to do this you need to be equipped with knowledge to harness both internal and external talent and solutions. Don’t look narrowly at your industry or its competitors, look across industry, dont think local, think global. Don’t think like a corporate, think like a Startup. Focus on the customer and create a better experience. Start testing, learning and collaborating to create faster, more informed experiments.

Set a vision, and be focused on the intent of these goals. Create actions which not only build on those of yesterday, but improve what you do tomorrow. Your pathways will need to be flexible, challenged and accountable.

Creel Price, co-founder of Investible

Creel Price/ Supplied

Every New Year’s Day when most of my compatriots are hungover I set off on a solo hike for three days. When I reach the top of the mountain that’s where I set my goals for the year ahead. I find that being out in bush and the elevation helps me to get clear on what I want to achieve. It’s all too easy to focus on one goal to the detriment of others, so I make sure to get clear on what I want to achieve across six aspects of my life: career, health and fitness, friends and family, spiritual, financial and adventure.

I think it’s also important to not just focus on the year ahead, but to look at the bigger picture. Generally, I believe we have a tendency to overestimate what we can achieve in a year, but grossly underestimate what we can achieve in five. So, by thinking forward to 2023, you might shift some goals for 2018 to build the necessary foundation for future achievements.

Given goals aren’t “set and forget”, establishing new habits through constant assessment is incredibly important. It also pays to be kind to yourself. For example, if you want to run a marathon, but tear your ACL, be flexible and don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s also important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater – there will always be marathons to run and it can go on the list for next year.

Failure is an important part of life. If you’re achieving all your goals, then I don’t believe you’re setting anything challenging enough. Instead of sweeping failures under the rug, see them as learning milestones to be reflected on and shared.

Nazar Musa, CEO of Medical Media

Belinda PrattenNazar Musa

The goals that I need to focus on are closely aligned with the strategy of my business, and this is divided between myself, the board and the management team. Following this strategy drives what our team does to achieve our target goals, and on a professional level my goals drive the us all towards future success.

From my experience, I’ve found that in a start up or scale up environment, it’s easy to have an eye on the long term strategy, but better to operate and think relatively short term.

It’s vital that as CEO I don’t lose vision of where we as a team, want the business to be in the long term.

On a personal level I try to set goals that challenge me in ways my professional life doesn’t. I try to set new targets each year and I’m trying very hard to ensure that these personal goals receive the same focus as my professional ones.

I tend to work on the process of goal setting on my own, and then once we as a company have a strategy and a plan in place then it’s really up to me to set goals and how to achieve them with my team.

In the recent past I’ve left the office and gone away for a weekend, sometimes I find It’s much easier with a clear mind to focus on what needs to be achieved and how to get there.

I feel that constant reviews of what we are trying to achieve is the best way to stay on target. I also have weekly hour-long sessions with my senior managers, with the focus being solely on how I can help them achieve what their goals are. I find It’s very useful to ask during those sessions how they feel I am performing in supporting them. While the answers can sometimes be tough on the ego, I find it’s a very effective way of staying on track.

If I’ve done all I can with no result, then I don’t think the goal was achievable, and so I don’t dwell on it. I try to have the mindset that hopefully I’ll learn from my mistakes and in future, it improves the goals I set myself and in turn makes them more realistic and achievable.

Mick Spencer, founder and CEO of ONTHEGO

Mick Spencer/ Supplied

Every CEO needs to be forward-focused and that requires setting goals for the short to medium term as well as the long-term. It’s most effective to establish these earlier in the year, as there are less distractions and there is greater capacity to take time out and reflect on what the core business goals are.

I always start off a new year with a clear picture of what my three-year company vision is. This involves knowing what I want the business to look like from a top-line perspective and understanding how I am going to implement that vision on the ground. This goal-setting process is completed alongside ONTHEGO’s key executive team in a thorough, end to end strategy session, where we produce a one-page document that outlines business goals by channel as well as business benchmarks by area.

We then have quarterly whole company and team reviews so we can address how we are tracking, if we are meeting our goals, and if we aren’t meeting our goals, addressing why that is.

When setting goals for the year ahead, it is also important to review last year’s and evaluate how you performed against them. It’s valuable to know where you’ve come from when planning for where you’re going. It’s unrealistic to think a company will hit all of its goals every year but a CEO’s role is to empower their leadership team to drive the company ethos down to their immediate teams and ensure individual members are setting targets for themselves too. Everyone in a company needs to buy into the process of goal-setting, not just the CEO.

Julie Demsey, GM of SBE Australia

Julie Demsey/ Supplied

There’s nothing more motivating than working toward a goal you’ve personally set. It keeps you focused and enables you to push through barriers that might otherwise be a deterrent. For example, if one of my colleagues set a target on increasing Springboard Enterprise Australia applications this year by 10%, I believe she is going to be more motivated than if I was to set the target for her.

Not only does goal setting help bring out the best in individuals, but it helps bring out the best in teams. In the workplace, where you’re all working under the one brand, goal setting is instrumental in making sure everyone is on the same page and excited about where the company is headed over the next year. Too often, I see businesses setting goals with just the management team. However, I believe it’s crucial to gather input from everyone in the workplace – from the board members to the intern – to gain diverse and valuable insights and to get buy-in from staff members.

The best way to stay on target is to systematically revisit goals and to track progress regularly as it keeps the team focused on priorities. From my experience, celebrating success when you hit milestones is a must. Equally, when goals aren’t achieved, it’s crucial to debrief on that too and do a postmortem to learn from the experience.

Beau Leese, co-founder and co-CEO of Intersective

Beau Leese/ Supplied

I think goal setting for startups is part art and part science, but good structured processes definitely help. Our goal setting process starts with our enduring mission – to build the worlds leading platform for experiential learning, and we have some broad metrics about what that means.

As a startup we operate in a much shorter timeframe and our context and resources are constantly evolving. Our management team focuses our goal setting on a rolling 12 month operational plan, budget and more detailed metrics, so we know what we need to focus on. Our team then breaks this down to what is achievable.

This is a disciplined but dynamic process. As a startup our operational plan is essentially a collection of hypotheses, some of which will be wrong. We’ve got to be prepared to react quickly, and adjust our short term goals quickly as long as we’re delivering sufficient progress against our company goals

This process provides the right balance of certainty for our teams and flexibility to react to new opportunities. Over the past two years we’ve hit our annual targets, but often not in the way we originally thought.

Tim Bentley, Vice President, APJ at Proofpoint

Tim Bentley/ Supplied

Ahead of setting company goals, executive leaders must know and understand which data is core to their business. They need to ask themselves two fundamental questions.

Firstly, what are the key predictors of the future? And secondly, which lead indicators are most closely correlated with main business outcomes, such as revenue? Once these have been identified, the next step is measuring these lead indicators across a consistent timeframe. For example, I prefer to measure the team’s top three lead indicators weekly and monthly.

Controlling these business inputs, rather than outputs, and making teams and individuals accountable for them, is the best way to ensure business goals stay on course.

Kelly Quirk, CEO of Harrier Human Capital

Kelly Quirk/ Supplied

In my role, meaningful goals need to be closely aligned with the business’s objectives: If the business is looking to grow or diversify into new markets or geographies, my goals need to be directly linked and focused on how we can achieve that, through acquisitions or new clients for example. I find it helpful to separate goals into short term (six to 18 months) and long term (18 months to three years), as larger goals are likely to require the accomplishment of other milestones along the way.

It helps me to physically write my goals down, so I keep a personal notebook that I can easily refer back to throughout the year. In the busyness of our daily lives we can often lose sight of the progress that has been made, so this is a tool I use to look back at what has already been achieved and acknowledge how far we’ve come – even if there’s still a way to go or a new set of goals to reach.

It’s easier to stay on target when you set goals that are necessary, important and have tangible outcomes: If it’s something I truly believe in, or something my business needs, I feel compelled to stay on track. As the CEO of a privately owned business, I have a board of directors who I’m accountable to and a national team and clients who implicitly trust that I’m going to do what I said I would. This means that I have a wider system which keeps me on track as well.

One of the most important parts of goal setting is reflecting on those that have not been achieved, as there’s always something that could have been done differently. If the goal is still relevant or important, then I consider keeping it on my list for the upcoming year. It might be that I had a far too ambitious timeframe (as with last year’s personal goal to improve my golf handicap!) or it was put on the back burner by something unforeseen or more urgent: Whatever the reason, reflection and moving forward is always my aim – not beating myself up or overanalysing what could have been different.

Steve Orenstein, CEO of Zoom2U

SuppliedSteve Orenstein

For me, the best time to set goals both personally and professionally is around the start of the year. The new year brings the promise of opportunity and my motivation levels are running high. Given it can be difficult at times to not get swept up in the massive list of tasks that need to be done, I make sure to take a step back rather than running on autopilot. By thinking big picture, I run through what I want to have achieved a year down the track. I can then work backwards to establish my goals from there.

Often, I find that the goals which I set at the start of the year end up evolving into something completely different. But, that is not necessarily a bad thing. The beauty of goal setting is that goals can be used as guidelines which are fluid based on the direction the business is growing. Sometimes, goals need strategic planning, while other goals can develop organically. For example, a strategic goal may include increasing our delivery numbers, reaching new revenue milestones or decreasing our customer wait time. An organic goal, on the other hand, might be implementing an idea or system based on customer feedback or specific data received.

At the start of every day, I review my goals and make sure it aligns with my to-do list. I like to brainstorm as this allows me to start with the “big picture” then drill down into smaller tasks and set targets. By regularly reviewing my goals and tasks I am able to properly prioritise those which are the most important, those which need adjusting and those I can cross off.

Philippe Odouard, CEO, Xtek

Supplied

My process is pretty standard. First you have a strategic plan that overlooks the next four to five years. You look at your strengths and weaknesses, look at the opportunities that exist on the market and look at the products you have.

Then you fix general objectives from this for the long term. You take these and distill them into yearly progression targets in each of the segments you’re pursuing. Map out the progression for the next 12 months and align it with the budget, and then from that assign objectives to different staff and different managers to reach them.

So you’ve got your global picture for five years, then you’ve got your 12-month step-by-step plan for how to get there, and you make sure your managers are given objectives for those 12 months.

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