Define Improvement Priorities and Goals

By Barry Sweeny, 2010

Our task here has two steps:

  1. Define Improvement Priorities
  2. Define Improvement Goals

1. Define Improvement Priorities

If your program is like most, you will be “blessed’ with several possible improvement “opportunities”. There are always more good things to do than time and resources to do them. Therefore, the challenge is to be clear about, across all the possibilities, where you need to focus your time, efforts, people and other resources for improvement.

Discuss if all of these identified needs can be addressed effectively, or if a few should be selected as the priorities. I recommend no more than 4 goals, and 1-2 is even better as that increases the focus for scarce time and resources.

Questions like these become important in the decision:

  1. Which activities are most needed right away?
  2. Which activities will produce the biggest positive effect?
  3. Which activities may be the easiest to do first?
  4. Which activities should be done early, because other later steps will depend on them?
  5. Which activities do we know enough about how to do them, and which will need more research and planning time?

It is the answers to all of these questions which will guide you as you do the prioritizing needed to do your next step.

NEXT, list all the possible areas for improvement. Make this a chart with three columns:

  1. Column 1 is the topics for possible improvement;
  2. Column 2 has an “X” marked next to the topics which the group feels need to be a priority.
  3. Column 3 is where you write (only next to PRIORITY items in column 2) the ORDER of the priority for each priority item. In other words, Column 3 tells what the highest to the lowest priorities are.

Save that chart for explaining your priorities to others, and for reference during next year’s prioritizing process.

Lastly, rewrite the third column from the previous chart as a separate document titled “Improvement Priorities for (Year)”. Use this chart when it’s time to develop an Action Plan for what you can do in the time you have (do the top priorities first) and when you seek a budget for the improvement activities.

13. Write Improvement Goals


Previously, we defined the difference between a goal and a target as follows;

A GOAL is longer=term, perhaps 2-4 years away. Writing these was the task in the previous step. LINK TO GOALS

A TARGET is like an objective. It is an annual step to try and finish or reach which will deliver progress toward the goal. Targets are the level of an indicator that will “indicate” you are successful enough to be satisfied. Targets define the level of implementation or achievement you want to reach – how much is good enough.

Writing these is the task for this page.

The place to focus your thinking is on the “indicators” and on “targets” for improvement.

Identify which of the indicators (measures) are to be used to monitor improvement for each priority improvement target.

Indicators are specific measures of achievement, or of accomplishment of something of significance. Focus on indicators because they are concrete and measures of progress which we will accept. Examples of indicators (or measures) are:

  • An assessment of leadership competencies. That measure is a meaningful indicator of degree of competence.
  • A rubric with several qualities that describe levels of performance.
  • A written test of mathematics knowledge.

Targets are important because you want to be able eventually to demonstrate that you have improved your program, and that your program has provided mentoring that accomplished or at least is delivering progress toward achieving your program’s goals.

In other words, you’d like to be able to say something like this  –

“Those proteges who were mentored this year showed an 18% average increase on the scale of employee performance. This performance improvement exceeded the program’s  15% per year expectation for protege improvement by 3% for one year, and that suggests that all our proteges will exceed the program goal of 90% of new employees receiving level two certification within 3 years.  The proteges’ score was 58% greater progress than showed by the non mentored new employees.”

In that example:

  • The GOAL = “90% of mentored new hires will receive level 2 certificates in 3 years.”
  • The indicator or measure was the “scale of employee performance”.
  • The target was “the program’s  15% a year expectation for protege improvement”.

Another way of saying this would be, “Proteges exceeded by 3% the annual target (15%) for professional growth, as measured by the scale of employee performance, and seem poised to all meet the program goal of 90% of proteges receiving level 2 certificates within 3 years.”

If all these terms are confusing and seeing an example would help, visit the Action Plan example, then come back here


It is important that, as you write down decisions, that you use descriptive titles and clear cross references to ensure that the earlier appropriate data comparisons, written conclusions, and final priorities for improvement are all clearly linked to each other and that your evaluation team’s logic can be accessed by others at a later time, even if none of that team are available.

The concept for this is the “chain of causes and effects” we have mentioned before. You need to be clear how data patterns that you find, lead you to conclusions about what is important, which lead you to priorities for focus on improvement options, to priorities for spending time and resources.

Data Pattern > Conclusion about the Meaning > Priotities for Improvements > Budget

This is critical because that logical sequence or flow of decisions may need to be explained to and easily understood by:

  • decision makers who must support your request for resources and by;
  • other people whose time and efforts will be needed to achieve the desired changes and goals.

They were not there with you in seeking m data patterns, interpreting the pattens for meaning, or reaching conclusions. That means they may also not be “with you” in terms of supporting your recommendations and support requests for improvement activities. The clarity of the chain of causes and effects is the tool for helping these others see the problems and solutions through your eyes, and for building consensus about what everyone must do together to make meaningful improvements happen.