Agriculture Law and Management


| Share

Role of Goals

This page describes the role of goals as "criteria by which decisions are made". Another way to think about goals and management is to ask: "among my alternatives, which one will help me achieve my goals most effectively and efficiently".


Goals are needed to make decisions

Making a decision implies choosing among alternatives.  The question becomes "which alternative should I choose".  The easy answer is "pursue the alternative that most likely will achieve your goal."

Without a goal, a decision cannot be made.  A simple example can illustrate this point.  When driving down a road and approaching an intersection, how do you know whether to go north, south, east or west?  The answer is "you will turn the direction that will take to where you want to be".  All decisions fit this simple model, you will choose the alternative that you believe will best achieve your goal.

The purpose of a goal is often stated as "to set a direction and to motivate." How about "the purpose of the goal is to motivate and provide criteria by which decisions can be made"?

Without goals, a manager cannot make a decision


Your decisions will differ from mine because our goals differ

Your goals are different than mine and thus we can arrive at different decisions even if we face exactly the same situation. Neither of our decisions are wrong just because they are different.  The difference most likely reflects that we have different goals.


What are your Goals

  • What are your personal and career goals? And for those who respond "to earn an income," I will ask "how do you intend to use your income," because the answer to that question should begin to describe your REAL goals.
    • Example. A student reluctantly stated that she wants a career as an airline attendant. She went on to indicate that she is interested in traveling. The student then revealed that she used this personal goal to identify a possible career and that career, in turn, was used to identify a course of study. This reserved student should be commended for getting the decision making process in the correct order.
  • What are your REAL goals? Own a house? Own a business? Travel? Be able to take time away from work and business?   Do not settle for simply saying "earn income".


What are some common business goals?

  • Earn a profit?
  • Increase owner equity?
  • Pay bills on time?
  • Do not assume unreasonable risk?
  • Offer workers an enjoyable career?
  • Offer workers a safe place to work?
  • Offer workers opportunity for professional and personal growth?
  • Operate the business in an honest, ethical manner?
  • Operate the business in a legal, law-abiding manner?
  • Minimize long-term adverse environmental consequences of the business operation?
  • Offer consumers a safe product?

The application of these common business goals is discussed in other sections.


What are the characteristics of a goal?

A meaningful goal is

  • specific,
  • measurable (offers a means to assess progress toward achieving the goal),
  • challenging but realistic,
  • time specific (a specific time when the goal should be achieved), and
  • addresses key result areas.

These characteristics certainly are consistent with the idea that the purpose of a goal is to motivate.  Do these characteristics also align with the idea that goals should serve as criteria for making decisions?


Example:   a family may specify a goal to set aside, in addition to its regular savings plan, an extra $20,000 into a savings account over the next three years for home remodeling. The additional $6,700 each year can be challenging, yet it is measurable, has a time limit, states a purpose, and addresses an effort that is important to the family.


Additional examples:

  • "Within five years, I want an annual income that is $2,000 times my age."
  • "I want to complete my bachelor degree by December 20XX."
  • "I want a job that allows me to spend at least 20% of my work time outside."
  • "I want to pay off my college loans within 6 years of graduating."
  • "I want a job that allows me to travel internationally at least three times each year."
  • "I want a job that allows me to be at home at least 75% of weeknights and 90% of the weekends."
  • "I want a career that allows me to be a business owner (or co-owner) by the time I reach 32 years of age."


Note that statements such as "I want to be rich", "I want a good income", and "want to be happy" are not effective goals. Refine such statements by adding details, such as "how rich do you want to be and by when", or "how much income do you want and by when", or "what do you think will make you happy:  being married, having children, traveling, owning a home, owning a boat?"  Use those desires as the basis for establishing goals, e.g., "I want to be married within five years"; "I want to own a home within three years."


Business goals might be "increase crop production by 3% annually",  "convert all field equipment to GPS by 20XX", "implement an approved GAP system to trace the production of our livestock by 20XX."


What process might be used to develop goals for a group?


Steps in Group Goal Setting

Several steps have been suggested for setting goals if the business involves more than one person.

  • First, all individuals should set and prioritize their goals.


  • Second, married couples should share their individual goals with one another to identify common goals and recognize differences. The couple then can set and prioritize their collective goals.


  • Third, the units within the family (unmarried individuals and married couples) should discuss their goals and work together to set and prioritize their collective goals.
    • Some business owners have suggested that not everyone needs to participate in this third round of setting goals as long as everyone's interests are adequately and accurately represented. This observation is made, recognizing that the discussion at this point may focus more on business goals than personal goals and that not everyone is intimately involved in the operating the farm.


  • The next suggested step is to set and prioritize business goals with non-family business partners.


  • Finally, goals can be assessed against what others, such as landowners, lenders, or investors, expect from the business.


The importance of effective communication is often mentioned as owners and their families describe their experiences in setting goals. These individuals also mention the extensive time commitment that may be necessary for a successful goal-setting process.

Owners indicate that during the process of discussing and setting goals, the conversation can be inadvertently side-tracked onto other topics. Families might rely on an unrelated person to serve as a facilitator during these discussions. Such an individual also can help the family maintain the focus of its conversation.

A question that arises is how do business owners reconcile their different goals. The individuals that ask this question have already set their own goals and shared them with their family and co-owners. It is at this point in the process that they realize there are differences that need to be resolved. One observation in answering this question is that the goals of family members and co-owners do not need to, and never will, be identical. It is not reasonable to strive to establish one set goals that fits everyone.

Yet goals cannot be so divergent that there is nothing in common. Instead, the group should strive to find commonalities among their goals and opportunities to work together to accomplish tasks that fulfill the goals of several individuals. For example, there may be an activity that fulfills a goal for several people even though they are different goals. The key to working out differences among goals appears to be communication and a willingness to cooperate.



Without goals, a person cannot make decisions; restated, goals are the criterion for making a decision.  "Among my alternatives, which one do I think will best allow me to achieve my goals."

Setting goals takes time; if a group is setting goals, the process also requires effective, open communication.

Effective goals have specific characteristics.

Business have some common type of goals.


The next topic considers decision making as a process.

Creative Commons License
Feel free to use and share this content, but please do so under the conditions of our Creative Commons license and our Rules for Use. Thanks.