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Should We Abolish All Agency Goals?

Image via Sam72/

“Words do not label things already there. Words are like the knife of the carver; they free the idea, the thing from the general formlessness of the outside. As a man speaks, not only his language is in a state of birth, but also the very thing about what he is talking.” Inuit quote – Parabola.

Language is important – the presidential debates have made that clear. The words we choose have the power to influence others—but, more importantly, they influence how we see ourselves and our place in this world.

When is the last time you discussed goals with your supervisor? Or explained the importance of agency-wide goals to your staff? Or received a new scorecard with fresh goals from OMB? Well…what is a goal? A goal is external to you – it is something to aspire to; something to align strategy against and work towards in hopes of getting to green. What if we removed “goals” from agency vocabulary?

Let’s replace “goals” with “commitments.”

Goals vs. Commitments

Commitments are more internal. When you commit, you are at stake – and that holds greater power than “goal.” Try it. Instead of having a goal to reduce fossil fuel emissions, you are committed to do so. Your team is now committed to consolidating three more data centers by FY2014. Not only does this re-contextualize the goal in your mind, but it clearly communicates your intent to others. Keep in mind, commitments are powerful and should be created with great care. In creating group commitments:

  • Be clear and specific
  • Generate individual commitments that can be fulfilled within the group commitments
  • Monitor progress and support one another
  • Always act from a place of commitment

As you contemplate the distinction between goals and commitments, consider this quote from Scottish writer W.H. Murray:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.

So, I challenge you to shift goals to commitments this week – and see what happens. 

(Image via Sam72/

Bryan Klopack is the Executive Director of Research and Analysis for the Government Executive Media Group (GEMG). In addition to leading the organization’s research arm, The Government Business Council (, he also serves as the Program Chair for the Excellence In Government LIVE event and editor of Excellence In Government ONLINE blog, Promising Practices. Prior to joining Government Executive Media Group in 2008, Bryan worked for the non-profit The Council for Excellence in Government after completing a Public Affairs Fellowship and a brief stint working in the U.S. Senate.

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