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Goal-Setting For Grownups

When I was young, I wanted to be a pop star. I lusted after fame, glamor, and attention, and could easily imagine myself up on stage in the place of all the great ‘90s female pop stars. But as I grew up, I realized that worldwide fame and stardom were probably not in the cards for me. I still think it would be great fun to be a famous pop star or film actress, but I’ve long ago set goals for myself that are more within my reach.

The recently released 2016 budget has many people talking about the government’s goals, and how they should be established and reached. Jitinder Kohli, Director in Deloitte Consulting’s public sector practice, spoke with Chris Dorobek, host of the podcast DorobekINSIDER, to share his knowledge about government goal setting in light of the 2016 budget.

What’s an appropriate goal for government? Is it better to shoot for the stars, or to be more realistic?

According to Kohli, it’s good for the government to state its desires outright in terms of goal setting. One government goal that’s gotten a great deal of attention is ending veteran homelessness. Many critics say that’s never going to happen – there’s no way to ensure that no veteran will ever be homeless ever again. But the absoluteness of the goal has galvanized the government to tackle the problem in a more aggressive way.

“Sometimes these goals are clearly so ambitious that they’re unachievable. But, they sometimes lead you to get real, real focused,” said Kohli. “People realize they won’t get [veteran homelessness] down to 100%, but maybe they can get to 90%. And that is such a big number in terms of its impact, and it’s so much better than just little increments and improvements, which is so often the case. So I’m personally a fan of those goals.

According to Kohli, it can also be a good idea for funding to be conducted on an all-or-nothing basis, also known as a ‘pay for success’ approach. Delivering ultimatums to government agencies can be useful because it focuses their efforts to reach the goal in a much more intense way.

“Pay for success has been a much stronger movement around saying what are the outcomes we actually want to achieve. Maybe we should only pay when those outcomes have been achieved. It’s a much more stark way of focusing energy on public services, and making sure public money is only used for public services that are genuinely effective,” Kohli said.

Kohli also argues for the importance of cross-agency goals. Veteran homelessness has seen enormous improvements because it wasn’t just the Department of Veterans’ Affairs that made it a priority. The initiative brought together the efforts of the VA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and even the Department of Defense.

The last of Kohli’s pointers for successful goals is constantly using data for evaluation, or the “money ball approach,” as Kohli referred to it. Data collected needs to show three broad things: “where we are, why we’re here, and what we are going to do about it,” he explained. Only with cold, hard data on the status quo can the government get a picture of how initiatives are progressing.

With these pointers in mind, maybe it’s a good idea for us all to set lofty goals. Because, as the (incredibly corny) saying goes, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

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