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How to set strategic goals that produce tangible results

Setting goals for your practice, or your own personal development, is an analytic process that has to be worked through step-by-step, say business coaches.

05 January 2023

Traditionally, the New Year is a time for reflection and a time to plan ahead for the next 12 months. Many make New Year’s resolutions, but when it comes to business and personal development, architects need something more substantial and meaningful than resolutions. However, setting goals that make a real difference and sticking to them is sometimes difficult. And creating goals that produce tangible results is even trickier.

We asked leadership coach Britta Siggelkow, who works with architects and designers on business vision and strategy at THINK:BUILD, how to go from a wish list of one-line resolutions, which might last a day or so, to transformative goal setting.

“Setting goals is a process,” Britta says. “It requires planning and strategic thinking about the steps needed to get there. It has to be set within a context, and it will need a time frame.”

Goal setting should be a process (Photo: Unsplash)

How goal setting can be like working on a project

Britta argues that setting goals is the sort of process that architects undertake all of the time and do really well because it is analogous to working on a project.

On a project, architects approach each one with a clear intent and by creating a concept design. Naturally, projects have to be set within the context of the client’s brief and budget. Britta recommends applying this same approach to goal setting.

Britta says she always starts by asking her clients to consider some fundamental questions: what does their practice stand for, what are its core values and what do they really want to achieve in the long term?

It will require some soul searching, but the aim is to be clear about the bigger picture and what the destination should be. A clear vision will provide a sense of purpose.

“The key thing is that a goal needs to be rooted in what is important to you,” she says. “It has to be aligned with your values if it is to be fulfilling.”

Break each new goal down into tasks, starting with the key areas that you need to focus on for your business development – for example, visibility and expansion into a new market, new services and skills development, talent attraction and retention, productivity and quality of work – and then breaking down these goals further to your near-term sub-goals is a great way to start. And, of course, there will be a timetable.

Encouraging business leaders to be ambitious

Goals should be ‘stretching’ - if something is likely to happen anyway it is not much of a goal. Britta encourages business leaders to be ambitious and identify what she calls “the big, hairy and audacious goal”. The trick then is to find the sweet spot where the goal is suitably ambitious but still feasible.

The next stage is taking stock – looking at where a practice is right now – and asking what a practice’s current realities, skills, and competencies are.

Once this audit has been undertaken, you are ready to look at filling the gaps, and break down what needs to be done into achievable milestones: “This is where the strategic thinking comes in, and identifying where you need to become better in key areas.”

Smart goals can help with short term results (Photo: Unplash)

How to identify ‘smart goals’

The shorter the time frame, the more specific the goals need to be. Britta recommends that in the near term, practices should be looking for ‘smart goals’ that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant to the wider vision, and time bound.

When the process finally begins, it becomes a matter of focus and choosing one or more smart goals that will really start to make a difference to your business. Team members should apply themselves to these tasks as they would to a project, with target completion dates.

How to use goal setting techniques for personal development

Britta advises individuals looking to set themselves personal development goals to go through the same process as directors would if they’re looking to grow the business – using the same techniques of self-reflection, taking stock, and analysis of what steps you can focus on this year to get closer to realising your ultimate career vision. This could be developing new skills or increasing your visibility for new leadership opportunities.

However, one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to personal goal setting. Personality will always play a part, and some will embrace the bigger picture, and be happy with the “audacity” of their goals, while others will shy away.

“Goal setting is a mix between having something inspiring and exciting to aim for and being realistic and analytical,” she says. “You have to get the balance right to move forward – be too ambitious and nothing will happen.”

Why goal setting is an evergreen requirement for businesses

With architects staring at a forecasted two year recession, there will be a lot of practice leaders thinking that it might be better to put their plans of action and goals on hold.

Britta thinks, however, that this would be a mistake and that there are always routes to develop a practice or a personal career path that are completely independent of downturns and recessions.

You could decide to become a thought leader in a particular area, for instance – a goal that can be worked on at any time. Again, she advises applying the process and identifying what extra knowledge you will need, and what you will need to do in terms of marketing and communications to promote yourself.

“Remember that goals need to be driven by you,” she concludes. “If all your goals are dependent on external events beyond your control, they are probably not the right goals.”

Thanks to Britta Siggelkow, Strategic Thinking Partner and Coach for architects and designers, THINK:BUILD.

Text by Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas.

RIBA Core Curriculum topic: Business, clients and services.

As part of the flexible RIBA CPD programme, professional features count as microlearning. See further information on the updated RIBA CPD core curriculum and on fulfilling your CPD requirements as a RIBA Chartered Member.

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