Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

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.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.