Developing 2021 Goals Backed by Research and Data

Finishing a race. Reaching the top of the mountain. Mastering a new skill. Big or small, achieving a goal is exhilarating. Beyond a sense of accomplishment, setting and achieving goals can have positive psychological outcomes such as increased energy, persistence, and motivation (Locke & Latham, 2012). 

The benefits of good goal setting do not just apply to individuals, but organizations too. Goal setting has been found to increase group and team performance (Kleingeld, van Mierlo, & Arends, 2011). But how do you know if you’ve achieved your goal? Usually, there is some form of an indicator that you did in fact fulfill your goal: Crossing the finish line, the vista at the top of the climb, or the successful performance of a new skill. But with groups and organizations, sometimes the indicators of fulfilling a goal are not as clear. 

As 2020 nears an end, many leaders and organizations are looking ahead to what 2021 may hold and how they can work towards growth and being better. It’s one thing to have a goal, but a truly impactful and motivating goal is well-structured and easily measured. You can very easily say that your goal is to be better or improve in some way, but narrowing in and defining the goal with specificity and clearly identifying metrics can make your goals more vivid, exciting, and motivating. SMART goal setting is one of the most widely known tools for goal setting. The SMART goal setting framework identifies that good goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. For some organizations, identifying specificity, the reality of if a goal is attainable, the relevance to the organization, and a timeframe for completion is the easy part. But a goal without measurement doesn’t fall within the SMART framework. 

Identifying the right metrics for goals is a piece that many struggle with. Developing the right goals, for yourself or your organization, necessitates having the right information. Having the right information allows you to identify your progression and ultimately determine if you’ve achieved your goals. In some cases, having the right data involves generating, collecting, and analyzing data for your goal metrics. For instance, if your organization has a goal of encouraging healthy behaviors among members, you will need to identify the information that will help you determine if members of your organization are actually engaging in healthy behaviors. This might involve conceptualizing and determining what the organization qualifies as healthy behaviors. In this example, healthy behaviors might include physical movement and walking so the organization might be interested in finding ways to measure how frequently their members engage in physical activity or how many steps they take throughout the day. 

Confidently achieving your organization’s goals may require undertaking research and evaluation initiatives to gain a full understanding of your organization’s progress. The idea of research might spur images of scientists, laboratories, and experiments. But, for the context of most organizations, conducting research involves developing sound questions that connect to your organization’s goals and designing data collection and analysis mechanisms that can help answer those questions. The following set of questions can help you determine if you have the data you need to measure your progress and confidently put a check-mark next to your goals:

  • What are the organization’s goals? 
  • Do these goals follow the SMART goal framework? 
  • What metrics and data (quantitative and/or qualitative) will be used to assess the progress and completion of the organization’s goals? 
  • Is the organization currently collecting data to support the metrics related to its goals? 
  • Are new data sources and collection mechanisms needed to support the metrics related to the organization’s goals? 
  • How will the organization analyze the data to determine goal progression and fulfillment? 

Does your organization need help to answer any of the above questions? If you have an idea of where you and your organization want to go, Plaid can help in making sure you have the right information. Plaid provides consulting and support for research and assessment initiatives that can help your organization identify the right data sources, collection methods, and analysis to ensure you have the information you need to evaluate performance and achieve your goals. From quantitative methods, such as survey design, to qualitative inquiry, such as interviews or focus groups, Plaid has a team of research professionals who can help tailor a research plan to support your organization’s goals. To learn more about Plaid’s research and assessment offerings, email


Kleingeld, A., van Mierlo, H., & Arends, L. (2011). The effect of goal setting on group performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(6), 1289-1304.

Locke, E. A. & Latham, G. P. (2012). Goal Setting Theory, 1990. In Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (Eds.). (2012). New developments in goal setting and task performance. Taylor & Francis Group: New York, NY. 

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