3 Reasons Goals Fail and How To Avoid Them

Goals are a destination, not a checklist! 

Destination guides the journey, the timetable, the route you take >> therefore, goals guide mission priorities, action steps, and to-do lists. Align activity to what is important for your ministry on a weekly, monthly, quarterly basis. Without cascading your goals in this way a ministry will struggle getting to the destination.

Reason #1: Activity is Not Focused

It’s not simply about writing your goal down, though in One Thing Every Goal Needs, I reflected on how writing it down is an important element for goal achievement. Additionally, how goals show up in your weekly to-do list matters. I was getting derailed every week from what I set out to do. I was getting tired. Then, Jesus showed me I was spinning too many plates, trying to do it all. I needed to focus on one “plate” and let that priority drive my “yes” and my “no”! Focused goals will guide your decisions and help you manage time, energy and resources. 

How to get focused: Every week set aside 10 minutes either personally or as a team. Look at your calendar, your to-do list and your goals. Where do they align and what is out of alignment? Pick one activity you will do differently next month to keep your focus on the goal.

Reason #2: Goal is Not Relevant

A particular “good” goal is not necessarily the right move, now. Too many things can qualify as “good” things to be doing in your ministry. If they aren’t relevant (or core) to our mission, then they are not the right goals. Relevant goals are connected to the ministry’s strategic focus, big idea, stated values and structure. Most of the leaders I work with are truly committed because they believe in the mission. The bigger picture matters. We need to see how what we do every day makes a big difference in the long run. Goals need to matter at a deeper level.

Make sure they are relevant: Not sure if your goals connect at a deeper level? For the next 30 days, write out your goals each day. Don’t look back at yesterday, but from memory >> from your heart. It’s not a test, but a journey to see what sticks and what emerges. A powerful way to move goals from the paper to your heart and mind.

Reason #3: Goals are Not Reviewed

In ministry outcomes are difficult to quantify. It’s too easy to leave it up to gut feeling or anecdotal stories. Find a way to quantify or qualify your goals. Start by asking questions like: 

  • What will you see if …? 
  • How will things be different if we …? 
  • How will we know that the goal has been accomplished? 

Sometimes our answers may be numbers, other times it may be stories that reveal the outcome of our goals. Then, celebrate those outcomes …. regularly. We often don’t do this because there is always on to the NEXT thing. Or, we don’t want to over-focus on what we have done when the glory belongs to God. We celebrate what God has done, because what we celebrate we accelerate.

Schedule Your Review: Set formal check-ins at regular intervals. I like monthly, some people do quarterly. Add informal check-ins at team meetings or just ask spontaneous feedback about how others perceive things are going. Don’t forget to celebrate progress along the way!

We can make goals stick! If goals are focused and relevant, then it’s easy to adapt as needed when you review them along the way. You can shift quickly in response to new information or changing circumstances and stay aligned to our mission and make forward progress. Need to brainstorm through how to accelerate your goals? Grab a 30-minute strategy session on my calendar today. I would love to chat. 


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Annie Perdue Olson

Annie is founder of Leading Better Together, guiding leaders through the relationship and people challenges that sidetrack ministry. With 20+ years of experience in nonprofit management and pastoral ministry she equips people and teams to work better together. She holds a Master of Arts in Human Resources and Change Leadership from St. Thomas University and received her coaching certification from the Center for Coaching Excellence.

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