It’s goal setting time! When the annual goal setting process begins, we immediately think of SMART goals — goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound. But there is a major flaw with the SMART goal setting process. While this tool can give you well written goals, they may inadvertently set you up for failure.

Here’s a better process to follow when you’re setting your annual goals:

The Vision

First, begin with the vision. As Stephen Covey says, “begin with the end in mind.” Before you start writing specific annual performance goals, you must establish the vision. Look into the future and ask, “What should our continuous improvement program look like 5 years from now? What do we want our company’s continuous improvement culture to look like?” Depending on your company’s leadership and the pace of change within your company, it will take anywhere from 3-7 years to make a lasting culture shift. Looking 5 years out keeps the team focused on the big picture.

Most organizations will have a continuous improvement vision like “we want all employees to practice continuous improvement every day. We want them to constantly seek opportunities to be better and implement new ways to be more efficient, more effective and provide better service to our customers.” 

When setting the vision, identify how you will know when you get there. What is the measurement that will demonstrate progress toward achieving this vision? The most common way to measure CI success is through a continuous improvement maturity model. The maturity model establishes a baseline of the company’s current continuous improvement culture and allows the team to measure progress consistently over the next several years.

Your vision for continuous improvement should be unwavering. While your company’s leadership will change, your customers’ preferences may change, and outside factors will influence the business, your vision will be set.


This year, instead of starting with SMART goals, start with your vision and your pillars to ensure that those goals are driving you to your ultimate destination.


Once the vision is set for your continuous improvement program, next, determine the core pillars of your program. Pillars establish the major focus areas that help achieve the vision. Those pillars typically include training and education for employees, communication planning, coaching and mentoring, rewards and recognition, and leadership behaviors. These are all aspects that will lead you toward your continuous improvement vision.

All of your employees must have basic training and education on continuous improvement tools and skills. Your leadership must be trained and coached on leadership behaviors to promote continuous improvement. Some employees will need advanced skillsets to address more challenging problems. Furthermore, you’ll need constant communications to remind the organization of the vision and mission, as well as to communicate success and improvements along the way.

Outline each of these pillars that you need to achieve to accomplish your vision and identify a metric or measurement for each pillar. Identify core milestones that are needed to progress each area.


The third step in the goal setting process is setting those SMART goals. After you have established your vision and your pillars, then you can set SMART goals. Two or three times a year, your continuous improvement team should evaluate your maturity model and progress towards the vision and ask “Are we achieving our vision? In which areas are we making progress? Are our current goals helping us achieve that vision?”

Annual goals should align with each pillar and create incremental progress towards your vision. Each year, simply modify the SMART goals to get one step closer to that vision and take one more step towards that continuous improvement maturity.

This year, instead of starting with SMART goals, start with your vision and your pillars to ensure that those goals are driving you to your ultimate destination.

Goal Setting Workshop: November 2020

Right now, we feel like we can’t plan ahead for the next 5 months, let alone the next 5 years. But without a long-term continuous improvement vision, how do we know where we are going? It’s like starting a road trip without a destination in mind. (How do you even start packing?)

As your business grows and changes, your vision stays the same but the “how” you achieve your vision may also change. We’ll use tools and templates to guide you through the process. Plus, we’ll use real examples of goals used in industry. Oh yeah, we’ll also have time for open discussion to share with other students.

Visit our WEBINAR PAGE to see our upcoming free webinars and watch our latest webinar recordings.

Author: Allison Greco

Author: Allison Greco

Founder, CII

I created my foundation with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering and MBA from the University of Oklahoma. Over the past decade, I have held Continuous and Process Improvement roles for Black Hills Energy, Williams, the US Air Force and BNSF Railway. I’ve started new CI programs and reinvigorated stale ones. Along the way I earned a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and became a licensed Professional Engineer.