How to Set Goldilocks Goals That Are Just Right 

By Karen Carmody, PCCTo be successful at anything, you need to have a plan. Whether you’re running a marathon, renovating your home, or developing your leadership skills. A critical part of an Executive Coaching Engagement is creating a Developmental Action Plan based on a client’s goals. The Developmental Action Plan provides a road map to guide clients to achieve their goals. Once the goals have been identified, the next step is creating a Developmental Action Plan that identifies specific action steps. 

Two primary reasons people generally fail at their goals are because they are:

  1. Vague and lack accountability for taking specific action steps within a specific time frame
  2. Too aggressive leading people to feel overwhelmed and eventually deflated their goals 

The most successful goals find a balance between being a stretch and unsurmountable. Dr. Laura Hills coined the phrase “Goldilocks Goal” to describe goals that are not too soft, not too hard, but “just right.” Goldilocks goals are the ones that are challenging and motivating, but not unattainable. For more about “just right” goals, read “A Critical Leadership Skill: Creating Stretch Goals.”

I utilize the Goldilocks approach in combination with SMART Goal Setting. My technique has two components. The first is identifying the goals using the Goldilocks “Just Right” approach to establish the appropriate stretch goals. The second is using the SMART approach to validate the identified goals. 

SMART goals were first presented by George Doran in the November, 1961 issue of Management Review in a paper titled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives.” Since then, businesses have used them to create project objectives and agree on goals. 

Here’s an example to illustrate the Goldilocks-SMART technique. In this scenario, a client is a newly promoted Senior Vice President. Her goals include enhancing executive presence, building a high-performing team, and focusing on building a strategic network to enhance relationship building. 

For her goal to focus on relationship building, she will break it down into several action steps. She first develops a list of key stakeholders. Next, she prioritizes her most important key constituencies. Then she wants to conduct introductory one-on-one meetings with key stakeholders. She will use these meetings to learn about the stakeholders’ roles, business areas, how they will work together, and to build trust and credibility. Her next two actions are to schedule and conduct those meetings prioritizing her most important stakeholders first. 

This is a good first step. Now the client must get more specific about her action steps. Let’s use scheduling the one-on-one meetings as an example to identify how many to schedule during what time period. 

Starting with the Goldilocks approach, the client needs to identify what is: 

Too Soft — Low
Just Right — Middle
Too Hard —High

The client states her highest (Too Hard) would be 10 one-on-one meetings/month and her lowest (Too Soft) would be 2 one-on-one meetings/month. She takes the middle (Just Right) (10÷2) and will conduct 5 one-on-one introductory stakeholder meetings/month until her list is completed. 

Next, we move to the SMART portion. We review the following 5 questions for the SMART criteria. For this scenario the responses would be: 

Specific – Is it clear what the action step is?
Yes, conduct 5 one-on-one introductory stakeholder meetings/month. 

Measurable- Can progress be measured for the action step?
Yes, the client can count how many of the 5 introductory stakeholder meetings were conducted during the month.

Actionable-Does it have the client taking action toward her goal?
Yes, the client has to conduct 5 stakeholder meetings/month. 

Relevant-Is the action step related to helping the client make progress toward her goal?
Yes, these meetings are important to learning about her key stakeholders’ roles, business areas, and how they will work together. This will ultimately improve her relationships with these key stakeholders. 

Time-Based – Does the action step have a deadline?
Yes, 5 meetings will be conducted by the end of each month until she completes her stakeholder list. For more specificity, I then work with the client to further break down the number of sessions per week and the actual dates for each meeting to ensure higher accountability and likelihood of success. 

If all the answers were not yes, then the action step would need to be refined to meet all criteria. This process continues for the multiple action steps for each goal until the Developmental Action Plan has been completed. The final step is to discuss how I can support my client’s accountability to execute the action steps based on their preferences. 

Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy says too many people concentrate on the moonshot goal instead of the action steps needed to get there. A wealth of psychological research shows that people who achieve most in life take the deliberate steps to ensure they attain their goals.

As the saying goes, a goal without a plan is just a dream. By creating a Developmental Action Plan with Goldilocks-SMART action steps for each goal, you can significantly increase your success in achieving your goals. 

To get smart about Goldilocks Goals, SMART GOALS and the steps you need to take to become a better leader, schedule a consultation with Karen.