Prioritizing goals for strategic alignment: 

How do you prioritize your work; ensure you spend the most time on what counts most; align individual and team goals with organizational objectives; maintain a big picture focus?

Here are some places to look, criteria, parameters…to align your efforts with the big picture—and help others do the same.


Top-Down Planning: The classic method of strategic planning it to set organizational goals; then have the business units set their goals; then the departments / functions / teams set their goals; and then finally have individuals set their goals. The idea is for each level to set goals that directly support the goals at the level above them in the organization. Unfortunately, many organizations don’t use this top down method, and their planning becomes haphazard, disjointed, and isolated (in silos). Even if your organization is not using this top-down method, you can still look to your organization’s vision, strategy, and values to proactively set goals that contribute to team and organizational objectives. “What do I need to do and how much do I need to accomplish this year to live the core values and help my organization achieve its objectives?”

Job Goals: Refer to your job description and performance goals—they should contain important clues as to what is most important, relevant, and meaningful. Try to focus on issues that you are most passionate about and that are most relevant to your job. Unfortunately, job descriptions are often “thin” and out of date.

Ask Your Boss: Ask your boss about his/her priorities before you do your goal setting. You might say: “I am setting my goals for the year; can you please tell me your priorities so I can make my goals as relevant as possible to your needs?” If this is not possible, then seek feedback after setting your goals: “Here are my/our goals for the year; can you please review them to make sure they are aligned with your goals and the big picture? I would really appreciate your feedback.”

Learn the business: The better you understand your business, the more value you will be able to add and the better you will be able to keep yourself aligned and relevant. Important issues to research / study from time to time: your company’s competitive advantage, key drivers of success, strategic priorities, stakeholder needs, scorecard, financial targets, metrics (balances scorecard), core values, core capabilities, and so on.

Strategy Map: Make a one-page “strategy map” for your business and use it as a compass when hiring, prioritizing, making big decisions…and generally, to keep a clear line of sight to the big picture. A strategy map includes the highest-level statements of your company’s identity and goals, e.g., the mission, vision, strategy, and core values. If you can get your hands on it, you might also include key financial targets, business challenges and opportunities, brand statement, etc. A strategy map helps you confirm your goals are aligned and balanced.

Line of sight: Always think about how your work fits into the big picture; how your work makes a difference; how it impacts the stakeholders. And try to think one level up, i.e., think about what your boss is accountable for; what his/her challenges are; and how your work contributes to his/her success. What can you do, how can you structure your job, and what should you focus on to help your boss achieve his/her objectives?

Proactively look for opportunities: Look at documents outlining your mission, vision, strategy, and core values (your strategy map) and ask yourself what you can do to contribute more to these big picture goals, plans, and initiatives. That is, you can deduce (reverse engineer) a few goals directly from these big picture statements—as relevant to your job.

Impact Analysis: When choosing between various possible goals or projects, assess the potential impact of those projects on the organization and its stakeholders: the bigger the positive impact, the greater the strategic value. (See this blog for a way to do this.) Make sure your projects do not create value for one stakeholder at the expense of another. They should be value adding; value creating. If you can, do a cost-benefit analysis or an ROI analysis but make sure to consider both potential impact and strategic relevance.

Engage others: Involve others in setting team priorities. It is important, of course, to get the right people to the table. One group of people may need to be informed; others consulted; and others fully involved in your planning efforts. Three big skills here: (i) figuring out who needs to be involved, (ii) involving them at the right level (e.g., inform, consult, or collaborate), and (iii) collaborating with them effectively (collaborative practice). Discussing priorities with others reduces the risk of getting lost or “out of touch” or missing important information; this is a great reality check. It also helps build consensus and alignment. If you can’t get key people involved in the planning phases, try to involve them after the fact, i.e., ask if they will review your goals and offer feedback.

Benchmark: If you can, compare your goals with what is happening elsewhere in the organization, in other organizations in your industry, and in other industries. This can give you an additional measure of the value of your work. How ambitious are your goals; how quickly are you progressing; what is your rate of innovation (are you keeping up); etc.?

Focus: John Kotter (The General Managers, 1982) found that effective managers spend about half of their time working on one or two key priorities—priorities they describe in their own terms, not in the terms of what the business plan said. The priorities, of course, regardless of how they are formulated, must contribute to the organization’s mission, vision, strategy, and core values.

Possibility: Look to what is possible. Setting goals is like strategic planning (see here). Great companies don’t just administer the status quo or build on past successes. They look for new opportunities; they create new opportunities and cut new paths. Goal setting for your job (or team) is just the same. What resources do you have at your disposal and how far can you go?

Aligning Goals 1


This is part of a four part series on prioritizing and alignment:

  1. Setting priorities: 2×2 grid shortcut
  2. Aligning goals with organizational objectives
  3. Aligning teams
  4. Auditing your priorities


Aligning Goals 2


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