Good Business Goals Need Specific Language

Photo by Craig Sunter / CC by 2.0

For a business to meet its goals, it first has to figure out what those goals are and express them in writing. In my experience, however, many businesses' goals are not clearly written. In fact, they're often so vague they're almost meaningless, or at the very least they're unhelpful. When I am writing marketing materials for a company—whether the project entails a website or a white paper or anything else—I like to ask what the company's goals are. The project might be somewhat removed from larger goals, but still it should be aligned with them in order to be effective.

A client of mine recently brought me on board a website project for his own client. In an e-mail questionnaire, I included a question about what the company's goals were. The CEO wrote:

The goals of our firm are to maximize customer satisfaction by offering superior service, products and terms. It's also our goal to attract, train and retain the best employees in [our] industry whether that is a [redacted] or a [redacted].

These goals exemplify the vagueness I'm talking about. What's wrong with them? The first part says:

The goals of our firm are to maximize customer satisfaction by offering superior service, products and terms.

"Maximize customer satisfaction" and "superior service" are often heard in the business world, but these phrases don't really mean much. Everyone claims to offer superior service, and "maximization" is hard to quantify. How will this business know if customer satisfaction is at its maximum? It would probably have to do extensive surveying of its customer base, which I don't think this business intends to do. And what does customer satisfaction at its maximum limit really look like anyway? I can't picture it.

Let's just say then that this business wants to please its customers. Still the question remains, to what end? Perhaps satisfied customers spend more. Perhaps they provide valuable referrals. Perhaps they come back for repeat business. Until the business digs deeper into why it wants to "maximize customer satisfaction," the phrase remains an empty cliché.

We could next do a dissection of the goal to "attract, train and retain the best employees." What specific qualities define "best"? And how will the company know if indeed it has recruited the best? It's not clear. Furthermore, how will these "best" employees be put in service of the organization? In other words, what are the goals of the company?

We're back to square one.

If a company has goals that aren't clearly written, then it really doesn't have any goals at all.