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Strategic Agency Goals: A Comprehensive Guide to Setting and Achieving Success

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Updated on:
February 27, 2024
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Every agency worth its salt needs something to strive for. Goals are an essential part of life, giving purpose to our actions, and a sense of achievement when they are finally met. An agency is no different. Whether it’s a drive for a bigger market share or more social media engagement through a campaign, goals can give direction to all levels of an agency and enable a higher chance of success.

An agency can have several goals for different areas, be it project management, client relationships, or what drives the agency itself. This article will explore these different areas and popular methods for creating and pursuing sustainable goals.

Project goals

Project goals are those set for a certain task. An agency outlines a clear set of aims to be accomplished with the resources and time allocated. These goals will help define the project and give shape to actions and expectations. The task of setting goals can be carried out collaboratively or defined by a project manager.

What’s most important is that these goals are clearly defined and in place before a project begins. Ill-defined aims or ones that aren’t available to all key players can easily lead to confusion and a clash of purposes.

It can help to have a thorough project management strategy in place before deciding on goals. A sound strategy provides solid foundations, and should analyze:

  • A project’s scope and scale.
  • The market and any competition.
  • Deadlines and schedules.
  • The allocated budget.
  • The desired team composition.

Good goals should never exist solely as lofty ideas, but should always have a clear list of objectives backing them up. Objectives are the measurable tasks that need to be completed in order to achieve a goal. They can take the form of certain actions or even project milestones. While the goal defines the “what” of the project, the objectives will be the “how.”

Once the strategy is set, it’s time to create a list of goals that will ensure project success.

Working SMART

Without clear goals to work towards, a project can quickly lose focus and those assigned to it lose direction. A project whose goals are badly defined or non-existent runs the risk of countless problems. These include:

  • Delays in meeting the client's deadline
  • A project exceeding its budget through overservicing
  • A clash of individual goals and directions resulting from the lack of overarching ones
  • A lack of benchmarks and milestones, leading to missed deadlines and production bottlenecks

The SMART system of goal-setting is perhaps the most famous and reliable method of crafting project goals that can be attained and measured. Introduced in 1981 by George T. Doran, the system has undergone various refinements, quickly becoming popular in a wide range of scenarios, from global business management to treating individual cases of depression.

This method can be a reliable bedrock to start outlining the most suitable goals for an agency’s project. Each letter of the SMART system pertains to a certain requirement of robust goals:

  1. Specific – A project that tries to achieve everything often succeeds at nothing. Goals should be clearly defined in precise terms, with little room for confusion or ambiguity. The more specific a goal, the more finely honed the idea driving it, and the easier it’ll be to execute.
  2. Measurable – In the corporate world, the success of a project needs to be measured in quantifiable terms. Measurable facts and numbers in a goal not only help in providing greater specificity but also provide all key players with useful indicators of progress and success. It gives the agency something concrete to aim for and a client something to look for.
  3. Attainable – Sure, a small agency could promise the moon to their clients, but the realities of delivering it to them may prove more difficult. Goals should always be as grounded as possible in the financial and physical realities of their situation. An agency should carefully consider resources, skills, and the market before making any promises to clients. A solid strategic process beforehand (even a SWOT analysis) can go a long way in ensuring that even the most ambitious goals are grounded.
  4. Realistic/Relevant – Every goal should have a clearly thought-out reason for existing. This requirement provides the “why” of an aim. Goals need to stay aligned with an agency’s strategy, a client’s needs, and the realities of the market to remain relevant. What will this goal achieve, and does it matter in the grand scheme of things?
  5. Time-Bond – Perfection is a good thing to strive for. Too much striving, though, and a project will never see completion. Deadlines are a reality of the business world and creativity needs to be balanced with prompt delivery. Goals should always be created with time in mind, be it short, mid, or long-term. These can be measured in terms of concrete dates or even project milestones. A well-defined goal should help teams prioritize objectives and workflows while providing clients with clear parameters for their expectations.

The SMART system, and indeed any goal-setting method is useful not just for project management, but for setting goals in any scenario. Agencies can use them in defining their own goals, for example.

Other goal systems

While the SMART system is undoubtedly the most popular way of setting goals, it isn’t the only one. Many have pointed out the failures of the system in the years since its release. Some perceived shortcomings include:

  • The SMART system doesn’t encourage enough ambition or innovation, acting rather to reinforce and refine the status quo rather than surpass it.
  • The system, while good at helping develop goals, comes up short in defining the objectives needed to achieve them.
  • Rigid adherence to goals can often come at the cost of spying new opportunities during the process.
  • Project goals are often not well-defined or transparent with all team members when a project begins, leading to confusion and clashing visions.

For these and other reasons, there exist many alternative methods for goal-setting. Some can complement the SMART method, while others replace it completely. There are too many to list, but here are some of the more popular ones.

The OKR system

The OKR system traces its roots back to Intel in the 1970s. Its simple structure enables it to be used in a variety of scenarios and at a variety of levels. OKR stands for Objective Key Results. The Objective is the goal and the Key Results are the measures taken to achieve and measure it.

Agencies using the OKR system usually do so in a top-down way and follow the Aspirational model. Much like the SMART system, a goal can be clearly defined by its criteria. The loose phrasing of Key Responsibilities, though, gives a lot more freedom in how these goals are refined, which can be both good and bad.

Stretch goals

Stretch goals are a response to the perceived lack of ambition present in the SMART system and work to provide the remedy. While not a complete system in itself, stretch goals can be added to a project to encourage risk-taking and innovation.

Once a certain goal is safely achieved, employees can be challenged to push themselves further. As a result, failure in a stretch goal won’t sink the project, but success can take it to new heights.

The PACT system

The PACT system provides a useful way to complete smaller tasks while ensuring that they align with a project’s overall goals. This is useful for aligning all minor tasks, and keeping a project from becoming mired in unnecessary delays by maintaining defined deadlines. PACT stands for:

  • Purpose – What is the purpose underlining the goal?
  • Actions – What steps need to be taken to ensure this goal’s completion?
  • Continuous – The consistency of actions taken to achieve a goal.
  • Tracking – Have all tasks and actions been completed on time?

The FAST system

Around 57% of companies reportedly struggle with generating a culture of innovation among employees. When working on projects, new ideas and opportunities may arise that can challenge or improve upon already established goals. The FAST system provides the flexibility and openness needed to implement rapid changes. It places goals as the centerpiece of a project and opens them to constant evaluation. FAST stands for:

  • Frequently Discussed – Goals should always be central to every discussion during the project to ensure their relevance and strategic alignment.
  • Ambitious – Bold goals will encourage employees to push their limits and move beyond the box. Employees should be constantly challenging each other.
  • Specific – Even lofty goals should be clearly defined and easily quantifiable.
  • Transparent – In order to be constantly reviewed and improved on, goals need to be transparent and visible to all team members. This also ensures alignment while working.

The CLEAR system

This system puts collaboration front and center. The CLEAR system is designed to motivate employees and encourage their creativity, making it an ideal fit for an agency environment. Its team-based nature makes its goals flexible and open to improvement. CLEAR stands for:

  • Collaboration – A team works best when all members can have their say.
  • Limited – Goals should be clearly defined in their scope and limited to agency ability. They should also be clearly prioritized.
  • Emotional – Project members should find an emotional stake in all goals and be driven to see them achieved.
  • Appreciable – Goals should be broken down into smaller steps and objectives to make them more manageable over time. Regular achievements of milestones help motivate members.
  • Refinable – A goal can be tested in the fire of process and should be further refined and adjusted as the project progresses.

Successfully implementing project goals

Effective project goals require a lot of planning to be effective. As they represent the overarching drive for an entire project, goals play no small part in dictating the outcomes. No matter the goal-setting system your agency might choose, the factors considered for a project should also apply to its goals. These include:

  • Collaboration – A project manager should frequently consult with team members at all levels throughout the entire process. It’s a good way to define goals and evaluate their effectiveness in context.
  • Transparency – Make sure that the project’s goals are known by all. What’s more, keep effective channels of communication open throughout the project to receive feedback and ensure alignment with all key players.
  • Identify problems – Nobody should undertake a venture without first knowing the risks. The agency and project manager should anticipate potential risks and pitfalls with defined goals and outline initial steps for dealing with them when and if they arise.
  • Consider workload – Overcommitment can be a big problem for agencies with limited time and resources spread across several jobs. An agency should always set goals with its current resources and schedule in mind.
  • Approve objectives – Goals should be broken down into smaller objectives, the more detailed the better. It gives steps to follow for the team and boxes to tick for the manager.

Project management software

Another important way of setting goals in an open and easily achievable way is with project management software. Indeed, 77% of high-performing projects use this software to manage their workflow. Bonsai is one such offering that presents a comprehensive cloud-based solution not only for an agency’s project management needs but for business management overall.

In the field of project goals, Bonsai comes equipped with several tools to help milestones be reached, no matter the goal-setting system. How? Here are some ways it gets the job done:

  • Keeping projects on track – Bonsai serves as an integrated project management service for agencies. It breaks projects done into various tasks in a kanban board style, enabling all team members to track the progress of various objectives. Project managers can easily assign team members to various tasks while keeping an eye on resources and deadlines.
  • Effective time management – Goals remain lofty ideas without a concrete time frame. Bonsai’s time management tools provide a visual way for agencies to track milestones and deadlines across several different platforms and optimize team efficiency.
  • Collaboration and transparency – Bonsai’s cloud-based nature is perfect for collaboration, with all project information centrally located and accessible from anywhere. Files can be shared, jobs can be discussed, and varying permissions can grant team members access to different project resources.
  • Alignment with clients – It’s important to keep clients updated on projects and their milestones. Bonsai provides timekeeping software that integrates seamlessly into client reports. What’s more, a dedicated client portal ensures that open communication and easy access to resources is possible.

Good project management software should do more than just project management. Bonsai also offers billing, thousands of document templates, and reporting software as part of its offering.

Client goals

An agency is nothing without its clients and building a relationship that lasts rests on a shared vision and mutual understanding. Goals are a fantastic way to achieve this. Many of the goal-setting systems can be applied just as easily to client relationships. Additionally, every relationship should be built on the following principles:

  • Mutual understanding of goals – Clients and agencies will have their own visions they’re pursuing. Even when they may differ, the key to a solid relationship for either party is to clearly state their goals and strive to understand the other.
  • Trust – Clients should trust agencies enough to deliver on their goals in their own way, while agencies should trust the feedback and insights of clients. This trust should also manifest in honest practices like accurate reporting and timekeeping.
  • Open communication – Clients and agencies should regularly meet and offer feedback on their relationship. Open communication is vital and channels for doing so should always be available to prevent misalignment and confusion. What’s more, projects and processes should be transparent and open to client input.

Agency goals

Beyond the projects and the daily grind, an agency should have its own reason to exist and vision to pursue. Goals are one vital part of what makes an agency tick and keeps it going, the other two parts being its identity and its underlying ethos. The first two can be subject to constant revision and reinvention, while the last should always be the beating heart of an agency.

An agency can have several goals at several levels, and these are typically hierarchical with each goal giving purpose to the one below it. When setting aims for an agency, it’s always best to start at the top:

  • Mission goal – Every agency needs an overarching reason to exist, besides profit. What ultimately drives it? A mission goal is broad and philosophical, describing the purpose of an agency and its vision for the future.
  • Strategic goal – The strategic goal backs up the lofty aspirations of the mission goal with a clearer course of action. This goal should provide a solid footing for the agency through analysis not only of itself but the industry landscape and market. As such it’ll require plenty of R&D.
  • Tactical goals – Every team or department within the agency should have working tactical goals. These take their focus from the agency’s mission and strategic goals and implement them in the context of processes and projects. They are usually short-term, with tangible results and specific timeframes.
  • Operational goals – These are ground-level goals and dictate the day-to-day running of the agency. Operational goals are short-term too, with daily, weekly, or monthly time frames. It helps teams conduct daily operations and supervisors monitor the progress of tasks. Tactical goals may be broken down into several operational goals for greater efficiency.

Just like projects, agencies should consult with all employees to better define and change these goals for a better chance of adoption and success. Research shows that businesses that consult employees about transformation are 65% more likely to succeed.

The right vision

Good goals take time to make but are always worth pursuing. An agency needs to ensure that it has a vision for itself, its relationships with clients, and the projects it works on. Knowing in which direction to take the first step is the best way to ensure that the ultimate destination is reached.

When choosing goals for your agency, take the time to use the right goal-setting system, and keep things on track with the right software and tools. Always be open to innovation and don’t be afraid to ask others or make mistakes.

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