You don’t need to be a marathon runner to know that you can’t run 26 miles by just focusing on the finish line.
For one thing, you can’t see that far ahead. For another, if you’re going to cross the line in good time and good shape, you need to concentrate on the steps you’re taking along the way.
The same goes for business. Achieving an ambitious end goal starts with breaking down the overall goal into short-term milestones and then measuring progress toward the final result.
Why Documenting Your Goals Matters
You’ve probably heard the famous Taoist proverb: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” However, finishing the journey depends on the many other steps along the way. You also need to know where you are and where your journey is taking you. Goal documentation lets you draw the map and track your journey.
Documenting goals can sound like time-consuming administration — taking up valuable time when you feel you need to plow ahead. But it comes with some important benefits.
Documenting goals gives clarity.
Achieving team goals depends on keeping everyone on the same page. Setting goals, interim objectives, and the time frame makes sure that everybody involved knows what the objective is and what they need to do, as individuals and as a team, to achieve it.
“Documenting goals puts it all down in black and white. That allows us to see a goal’s progress more objectively so we can understand what’s going right and what needs improvement.”
Documenting goals creates accountability.
Knowing what you have to achieve and the tasks you need to complete along the way lets you take responsibility for putting them into practice.
“A goal that isn't documented is just an idea,” said Gates Little, president and CEO of The Southern Bank Company. “Documenting goals helps us sharpen our focus, and notice if our goals are not as substantial as we thought. It also helps us simply remember them, and most importantly, solidifies the commitment.”
Peer networks and manager support also give an extra measure of accountability. When you document and share your goals and your progression — your successes and your challenges — you can get valuable, actionable feedback that keeps you going and keeps you on track.
Documenting goals helps align employee and organizational objectives.
Effective goal documentation is a perfect opportunity to align individual and team goals with the wider company objectives.
For example, if the company is striving to improve its reputation for excellent customer service, managers and employees can work together to establish individual goals for achieving a consistently high customer satisfaction score in after-service surveys.
During performance appraisals, managers can then draw the line between the employee’s individual success and the company’s outcomes.
How often should you document goal progress?
To stay on track, it’s crucial to take stock of your progression toward your specific goals at regular intervals. That way, you can tweak and adapt your short-term goals and remain on track, even if things don’t always go swimmingly.
The frequency of your progress documentation will depend on the project involved. The key is to strike a balance between checking in often enough to stay on target, but not so often that no meaningful progress has been achieved yet.
“It’s crucial to discuss documentation with your team so you can decide on the ideal cadence together,” advised David Janovic, founder and managing director of RJ Living. “You don’t want them ignoring documentation duties, but you also don’t want to bog them down in time-consuming admin and lose productivity.”
A few of the most common cadences are:
- Weekly: Document your progress toward personal goals (both your professional development goals and your contribution to team goals) weekly. That way, you can recognize what went well and what you need to do differently next week to meet your targets.
In Getting Things Done, author David Allen suggested a method of checking in on and staying on top of your goals and projects every week that he called the “Weekly Review.” In his book, Allen explained: “The Weekly Review will sharpen your intuitive focus on your important projects as you deal with the flood of new input and potential distractions coming at you the rest of the week.”
A weekly cadence is also good for reviewing progress on urgent, high-priority team goals. And, in a Databox survey, nearly three-quarters of respondents (74.4%) said their weekly team meetings were very useful.
- Monthly: For most larger projects, it’s a good idea to track progress once a month as a team, in addition to weekly reviews. Where your weekly goal progress documentation will often focus on whether or not you achieve specific tasks, a more formal monthly review takes a higher level view. This can help you check in and realign with the rest of the team.
- Quarterly: For long-term goals, follow up your monthly assessment with a more thorough quarterly review. For individual employees, a quarterly review of goal progress can be used to form the basis of a performance conversation. For teams, reviewing your progress once a quarter is an opportunity to course correct if necessary, as well as to celebrate key milestones.
How to Collect Evidence of Progress Toward Your Goals
There are many different types of goals that you might want to track, including:
- Personal development goals
- Career goals (also known as professional goals)
- Team goals
Lattice’s goal management software provides a range of tools for collecting evidence that you can use to measure progress toward goals:
- Our built-in notes feature lets you add details on your own (or others’) progress within the performance feedback system.
- Self-evaluation tools help you assess and analyze your own performance, so you can monitor progress and make adjustments as you go.
- One-on-one meetings with managers can be valuable for gathering feedback, so you get a holistic picture of how well you’re achieving your goals. Lattice’s platform makes one-on-ones an easy and effective way for managers and employees to collaborate, set schedules, and track and document progress.
- Gathering peer feedback from colleagues and team members can flag ways you could be working more efficiently toward your objectives.
- Integrations with Jira, Salesforce, Slack, and Microsoft Teams can help you ensure that your individual and team goals are acted on continuously.
How to Document Goal Progress
So, you’ve figured out some of the evidence you could use to track your progress toward individual or team goals. You’ve made a decision about how often you’ll want to document your progress (whether that’s weekly, monthly, or quarterly).
Now it’s time to dive into the how. What information should you include in your goal documentation? How much detail should you get into?
Here are a few ways to approach goal progress documentation:
1. Establish a clear framework for setting goals.
Without tangible boundaries and structure, goals can easily become fuzzy and fall by the wayside. Goals should be motivational, not merely aspirational.
Perhaps the most common approach to establishing goals that are clear and effective is ensuring they are SMART goals. The acronym stands for:
- Specific: Have you clearly defined exactly what you want to achieve?
- Measurable: What unambiguous metric would demonstrate success?
- Attainable: Is it a reasonable target given the resources you have?
- Relevant: How is the goal aligned with and poised to contribute to the company’s objectives?
- Time-Bound: When do you aim to achieve the goal?
For example, “Improve online sales” is not an effective goal for an individual. It is vague, lacks any metric for improvement, lacks context to know if it's achievable or relevant, and is open-ended with no due date. A SMART goal, by comparison, could read, “Increase quarterly online sales of [product] by 10% within six months.”
When you define your goals clearly, you also make it clear what information you should be collecting to track your progress. For our example goal above, you now know you’ll need hard sales numbers (including your current baseline) and interim weekly, monthly, and quarterly milestones.
2. Consider using OKRs.
Objectives and key results (OKRs) are an alternative approach to documenting goal progress. When you set up OKRs, you don’t only establish what you need to achieve, but you also set out a pathway to achieving it. The OKR framework gives you a ready-made tool to track and document progress toward the goal.
Using the OKR framework for goal-setting and documentation comes with some major organizational benefits.
- OKRs help align employees and managers with organizational goals.
- They help bridge the gap between overarching goals and the daily tasks you need to complete to reach those goals.
- They make it easier to prioritize those tasks that move the needle on your most important goals.
- OKRs foster a more transparent company culture, because everyone knows what each team is working toward.
- They create clear accountability around goal ownership and make it easier to understand performance expectations.
You can download Lattice’s workbook for setting meaningful and effective OKRs to help you work through the process.
3. Document quantitative and quantitative measures.
OKRs and SMART goals are a great starting point, but they don’t always delve into the more intangible markers of progress. For instance, you might have increased sales results, but it would be a greater achievement if you did so while remaining a strong contributor to other shared outcomes.
It’s worth finding ways to integrate small wins, notes on next actions, and areas of improvement within your own goal progress documentation. “Include everything from hard metrics to small wins,” advised Janovic. “Both are valuable and motivating in their own ways. If you only track metrics alone, you miss out on the qualitative data containing valuable lessons for next time.”
When you’re documenting team or individual goal progress, aim to include:
- Quantitative measures (such as progress toward your key results)
- Skills demonstrated
- Who was involved
- Whether you’re on track timewise
- Notes on what was achieved
- Areas of improvement
- An action plan for next steps
- Any changes that need to be made
Here’s an example of what that could look like:
Lattice’s goal management software makes this easy. You can set up your documentation process to include your big-picture goals, track real-time progress toward individual or team milestones and deliverables, add notes on specific areas of excellence or improvement, and link goals into performance review conversations so they remain front of mind.
Lattice OKRs & Goals makes documentation easier.
Documenting goals is a key part of making progress toward achieving the results you want. But it can be a pain to do it manually. Lattice’s goal-setting functionality allows employees and managers to track and report progress toward their objectives. Integrations with platforms such as Slack, Salesforce, and Jira offer teamwide visibility to make documentation easy and accessible.
If you’re keen to get started with OKRs but aren’t sure how to begin, we have a free workbook that can help. With our guide How to Set Meaningful and Effective OKRs, you’ll learn everything you need to know to develop, roll out, and track OKRs successfully.
In this article, we’ll explore:
- Why documenting your progress helps with achieving goals
- Different approaches to goal tracking (with examples)
- The what, when, and how of goal documentation
OKRs are made of two components: the objective and the key results.
Objectives are the why behind the goal. Key results (KRs) are the ways that you are going to measure your progress — the how.