Boards fly at the 30,000 foot level, but the brushfires that commonly occur in schools can take our eye off the big picture and put our navigation at risk. A good process for setting annual board goals can help us stay on course.
The goal setting process described in the following is well-suited for Boards, but it can also be used by administrative teams and as part of the strategic planning process. It incorporates an acronym that many of us are familiar with, producing SMART Goals. An internet search will come up with a variety of words to match the initials in S.M.A.R.T. I’ve chosen ones that best correspond with the needs of faith-based schools.
S is for Significant. A goal that is not significant, will fail to capture people’s imaginations and fail to address the important needs the school faces. Goals by their nature should help us focus on what’s most important.
M is for Measurable. Goals are meant to guide us, but they can’t if we don’t see exactly where they’re leading or how close we are to getting there. We need metrics to mark our path. For some goals, especially those which are perhaps subjective but nonetheless meaningful, it’s hard to identify quantifiable metrics. But we must still know what it will look like when we’ve achieved the goal. And what it looks like if we don’t.
A is for Attainable. Before we set off on the journey, we better be confident we can finish it. What will have to happen, or have to not happen, if we are to achieve our goal? Does it depend on a good economy, the strength of feeder schools or decisions being made in the political realm?
R is for Responsible, as in who is. Many people will likely have to contribute to reaching the goal. But who will be responsible? Who will make sure participants get recruited and the meetings take place? If that person or group can’t be identified, the goal isn’t a goal yet but a wish.
T is for Timed. Running a mile isn’t much of a goal, if it takes me two weeks to complete it. But running a mile in 8 minutes, now that’s a goal! At least for me. Setting a completion date will help us schedule all the steps and make time for them in the busy board or school schedule so they actually get done and the goal is accomplished.
The different between a successful and an unsuccessful strategy is that a successful strategy is one that people make work. And people will make a strategy work if they have ownership for it. So it’s important to use a collaborative process to the formulate the goals, involving those who will be key to achieving it.
In the case of setting annual Board goals, the first step will be to identify the issues board members consider the most important for the coming year. A way to do this is to list on a flip-chart all the issues members feel are important. At this stage we want to make sure nothing is overlooked, but this list will probably be too long to be effective. Goal-setting is one of those cases where less is more. The more we can focus on what is most important, the more likely we are to accomplish what is most important. So we need to decide as a group the three or four issues that rise to the top.
We do this by giving each Board member a fixed number of dots (3/4” peel-off dots available at office supply stores). I like to give them a number equal to the number of goals we want to end up with, plus one. I’ve found that most boards can focus on about four major goals successfully in the course of a year, so I like to give them five dots. Each participant goes up to the list we’ve created and places their dots next the issues they find most important. They can expend their dots however they like. If they think only three items are important enough to be considered, they can distribute all their dots only to those three.
After everyone has voted, the dots are tallied, and the top three to four issues are identified. The group then breaks down into smaller groups of equal size, one for each issue selected. Each group is given a large sheet of paper already prepared with fill-in spaces for the SMART goals. Each small group decides what the goal needs to be to address the issue they’ve been assigned, gives it a short 3-5 word name, and fills that in at the top. Next, they put a one or two sentence description of what the board is going to accomplish with this goal.
Then they briefly answer the SMART Questions on the sheet: Why is this Significant? How will we Measure whether we’ve accomplished it? What needs to happen, or not happen, for it to be Attainable? Who will be Responsible? And what is the Time-frame for beginning and completing the activities needed to accomplish the goal?
Then each small group presents its SMART goal to the Board as a whole. This is an opportunity to make sure all Board members understand what they are committing to and that the SMART characteristics have been addressed adequately.
Often the board chair, or the small groups themselves, will do some final editing and formatting outside the meeting. The goals are then confirmed at the next meeting and the board reviews progress at each ensuing meeting.
If you’d like to get more information about planning for faith-based schools, please explore our website www.managingformission.com, or to receive a free template for formulating SMART goals contact me at my email, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also watch the video tutorial at the top of this post, which will show some of the tools described in this post.
Thanks for your extra care to make sure your school’s work is focused and effective. God bless.