Social Entrepreneurship 101: Goal Setting Fundamentals
January 14th, 2021
By: Annemarie Cutruzzola
Welcome to Social Entrepreneurship 101! In this blog series, we consulted various coaches and advisors that have worked with startups at the Social Ventures Zone. They provide our entrepreneurs with mentorship and guidance in growing early and mid-stage social ventures. In our last post, we asked two SVZ coaches for tips on securing funding. For the final post of this mini-series, we’re tackling all things goal setting.
As we enter a new year, goal-setting is at the top of many people’s minds, especially entrepreneurs planning for the year ahead. The process of setting the right goals and following through with them can be daunting, but there are some basics to keep in mind.
Aliya Ladhani and Wilbert Madarang are SVZ coaches experienced in strategic goal-setting. We asked them for their best advice on goal-setting for a social venture, what to do when you don’t reach your goals, and more.
Why and How to Set Goals for Your Venture
Entering a new year often comes with expectations of setting goals – but why is goal setting so important, and how will it help you with your social venture? Ladhani says visualizing and prioritizing are two of the main functions of setting goals for a business. “Look at goal setting holistically, not just for the venture itself but how it fits into your life,” she says. “It gives you that fuller picture of what's going on.” Just as important as the goals themselves are the criteria that you use to determine what should be prioritized. Having specific criteria helps clarify why you want to prioritize certain goals. “Coming up with that before you even dive into what goes on the list is really important,” says Ladhani.
The criteria will be specific to you and your business, but Madarang emphasizes the importance of determining the “why” behind your venture, and aligning your goals closely to that mission. As we examined in our post about storytelling for social ventures, making this “why” as clear as possible helps clarify your direction and acts as a guiding principle for everything you do.“If you don't have a strong alignment to why you're doing things, what you're doing, and what that end goal looks like, it's very easy to get sidetracked,” says Madarang.
Having a clear understanding of your “why” can also prepare you to navigate challenges and stay in control of your priorities. “It allows you to manage your day to day rather than let your day to day manage you,” says Madarang. Ladhani agrees that having this vision helps entrepreneurs focus on what's important and what the next step is.
“Look at goal setting holistically, not just for the venture itself but how it fits into your life."
Staying on Track
Both coaches emphasize the importance of focusing on short term outcomes you can achieve in days or weeks, rather than always looking to the months and years ahead. The easiest way to balance long term and short term goals is to break down your bigger goals into smaller ones.
“You want to start off with an aspirational goal as your long term, but you want to quickly come down to what's actionable and achievable,” says Madarang. Madarang also notes that mapping out larger goals into yearly and quarterly targets can help with focus, motivation, and morale. “Agree to something that you can accomplish and set that as your baseline goal,” he says. Meeting or exceeding your targets will feel so much better than over-committing and under-delivering.
“I feel like long term goals are harder to work towards because you don't go back and think,” says Ladhani. So if you do shorter-term goals and you're checking in with yourself often, you're able to catch yourself earlier.” She advises thinking of the first step and determining the actions you can take today to work towards your 6-month or 1-year goal.
Something both coaches noticed was the tendency many entrepreneurs have to become overwhelmed with the volume of everything they want to accomplish, and wanting to focus on too many things. “Sometimes, we want to do big audacious things, but we get bogged down by the complexity and by the magnitude of that work. Sometimes that can be very demoralizing,” says Madarang. He suggests finding quick, achievable wins that will make you feel like you’re making progress and jumpstart your motivation. “A good practice is to break down the complex into what's achievable,” says Madarang. “It's easier to manage many simple steps rather than managing one big complex problem.”
Madarang highlights the importance of establishing a cadence – a working rhythm with frequent check-ins where you can measure what you’ve achieved against your original goals. “Together with taking action and committing to meeting targets, establishing a regular cadence is such a critical best practice that will enable you to acheive your goals,” he says. While there’s a lot of work that goes into the initial goal-setting, it’s important to not stop there.
“A good practice is to break down the complex into what's achievable. It's easier to manage many simple steps rather than managing one big complex problem.”
There are many ways to keep track of goals ranging from sticky notes to organizational apps. Ladhani thinks there’s no right or wrong method to use to hold yourself accountable. “Whatever works for you and whatever is a lightweight tactic to remind yourself,” she says, listing digital reminders and weekly reflection periods as other ways to track your progress with your goals. When you’re working with a team, she advises that holding each other accountable with check-ins on both short term deliverables and longer-term goals can be beneficial for everyone.
When you don’t reach a goal
An inevitable part of the process of setting and tracking goals is not being able to meet a goal you set for yourself. When this happens, it’s best to avoid glossing over it or being too hard on yourself for not accomplishing the goal. Both coaches recommend a rational and logical approach to evaluate why the goal wasn’t met and how to move forward.
“Ask the question: why did I not achieve the outcomes that I set out to accomplish?” says Madarang. He says understanding the root causes of goals not being met is an essential starting point. From there, you can revisit your strategy or tactics to make adjustments – and do so regularly. “The more frequent your checkpoints are, the more you're in a position to adapt quickly and tweak your tactics,” says Madarang.
Ladhani suggests examining how your time leading up to the goal was spent. “It's not beating yourself up about not getting something done but acknowledging what you did accomplish in that time,” says Ladhani. Being mindful and purposeful about how time is spent is something she notices many entrepreneurs struggle with. This kind of reflection can bring about more self-awareness and can help you move forward with your goals. Ladhani also recommends thinking ahead and recognizing possible obstacles for your goals, and having a mitigation plan in place beforehand.
Ladhani also notes the burnout and feelings of being overwhelmed she observes in many entrepreneurs. Mental health is a significant issue in the entrepreneurship community, and even more so during COVID-19. She advises incorporating the other elements of your life into your goal planning. “People are whole people – they're not just one part,” says Ladhani. “It's not just about the venture. How do you take care of your health? How do you stay connected with your family and with your friends? That needs to be incorporated into the picture.”
Social Entrepreneurship & Goal Setting
The process of setting goals and measuring targets will be similar across all types of ventures, but the specific focus of a social venture’s goals can be different. “It really depends on what you as a founder really want to accomplish,” says Madarang. With social impact as the driving goal, financial targets might not be a critical success factor, especially with some ventures being non-profits. Ladhani agrees, saying that goal-setting for social ventures means “figuring out what's meaningful for you in terms of measurement.”
Madarang stresses the importance of revisiting the reasons why you chose to be a social venture. “Social ventures always need to go back to the whys, and they also need to make sure their goals are aligned with the whys,” he says. Ladhani agrees that goals for social impact should be included with other goals for the business and kept at the forefront of a social entrepreneur’s mind.
Madarang advises starting with defining and writing out your desired outcomes – the more specific, the better. This could mean breaking down abstract goals about social impact into actionable and achievable outcomes, and creating indicators to measure your progress.
“There has to be a definition of success for your venture,” says Madarang. “You want your indicators to tell you: are you headed in the right direction or in the wrong direction? Are you about to fall over a cliff?” Quantifying your measurements of success can help you determine if you are meeting or straying from the goals you set for the venture, or if you need to reassess the way you’re doing something.
“Social ventures always need to go back to the whys, and they also need to make sure their goals are aligned with the whys."
Ladhani and Madarang have both worked closely with ventures at the SVZ on setting goals. Madarang has led workshops on how ventures can work towards their desired outcomes for social impact. He has also worked with our ventures one-on-one to assist them in setting goals and working step-by-step to ensure they are both financially sustainable and socially impactful. Through her workshops on goal-setting, Ladhani has provided our ventures with a new framework for thinking about goal-setting that emphasizes moving forward step-by-step. She encourages entrepreneurs to focus on working towards their bigger goals with actions they can take in the short term.
While there are some fundamentals to consider, goal-setting ultimately comes down to your personal preferences and what works best for your business. “Everybody knows their venture best, it's part of who they are,” says Ladhani. “I work with them to help them find the answers that they already have within themselves.”