How to Set Your Business Goals for Innovation and Growth | The Big Bang Partnership

How to Set Your Business Goals for Innovation and Growth

Your Step-by-Step Guide for Setting Business Goals for 2020

Time to reflect and plan

There’s always a lot of hype about New Year’s Resolutions, which seem to have fallen into disrepute over recent years. That said, of course January 2020 is the beginning of a new decade and calendar year. Plus the calendar year is used as the fiscal year by about 65% of publicly traded companies in the United States and for a majority of large businesses in the UK. The New Year to me naturally seems to be a really good time to reflect on achievements and lessons learned from the year before, and make plans for the year ahead.

Dr Jo North; Idea Time; Creative Facilitation
Photo: Not my best side, but this is one of my favourite photos of the year. It’s an audience selfie at the Innovation Live! event I facilitated in December for Port of Tyne and PD Ports.

Some studies show that up to 80% of us fail to achieve our New Year’s Resolution. New trends have emerged which include choosing a word for the year instead, creating a bucket list, making a list of things to look forward to and monthly 30-day challenges.

But don’t let the negativity and reporting on resolutions stop you from setting your professional and business goals for 2020. Here are some reasons why:

  • Goal setting for business works. Having a clear, compelling goal drives your focus toward actionable behaviour.
  • Making visible progress towards your goals is motivational. It creates a virtuous circle of positive action.
  • Working towards stretching goals makes you learn and adapt.
  • Achieving goals builds your self-confidence, makes you feel great and gives you something to celebrate.

For some reason, I also think many of us also feel more committed to our business goals than we do to goals in our personal life. Business goals to me feel more formal and less optional than some – but not all – of my personal goals.

Effective goal-setting

Not all goal-setting is equally effective. Knowing how to set the right goals – and how to best achieve them – takes time, practice, and a little bit of insight and support. My Idea Time programme, which I have just published as a Kindle book on Amazon, has been helping entrepreneurs, leaders, managers and facilitators to successfully achieve their big, ambitious business goals since 2016. If you’d like to hear from just a few of the people who have used my Idea Time programme to take their business to the next level, tune in to my earlier podcast episodes. For example:

  • Andrew Palmer, from the Gravitas Matrix, left his corporate career to set up his own successful consultancy.
  • Andy Firth, director of digital marketing agency Ascensor, significantly expanded his company and moved to brand new, bigger and better located premises in the last quarter of 2019.
  • Anthony Main has grown his company, The Distance, and strengthened its position as one of the UK’s leading app development agencies.

Dr Jo North; Idea Time; Creative Facilitation

I want to share some of my tips and techniques with you for effective goal-setting. If you don’t set goals that are meaningful and motivational to you, then you’re setting yourself up to fail from the beginning.

A bit of behavioural science

Based on studies by Icek Azjen and others, to follow through and act on an intention, we need to firmly believe these three things:

  1. That we are capable of achieving our goals. And even if we haven’t worked out how we are going to achieve them, we need to have the self-belief to know that what ever happens we have what it takes to work it out and make our goals happen. This particular form of self-belief is called self-efficacy.
  2. That what we are planning to do has a place in our social environment. That is to say, that the people who matter most to us are accepting, and preferably supportive, of what we want to go for and achieve.
  3. That the final outcomes will be worth all the effort we will need to invest in attaining our goals.

Dr Jo North; Idea Time; Creative Facilitation

To give an example of my own, I successfully completed my PhD at the University of York in 2016. It took me over six years studying part-time as well as working more than full-time in my job. Some of the aspects were really challenging for me, not just the time management and sustaining interest and motivation over a long period, but also the need to learn new skills such as academic writing and advanced statistical modelling techniques. I set myself the goal of achieving my PhD in the first place because I strongly believed that I would:

  1. Be successful and learn whatever I needed to learn on the way.
  2. Maintain the support and encouragement of my family and friends, and the staff at the University of York.
  3. Gain very worthwhile knowledge, plus an esteemed qualification at the end that I would have for the rest of my life.

These three things are inter-related and influence each other.

Dr Jo North; Idea Time; Creative Facilitation
Photo: Me on PhD Graduation Day at the University of York with Mum and her husband Peter (right) my husband John (back left) and my daughter Amaya (front left).

You need to truly believe that your goals are worthwhile

My starting point for this article, though, is the third point – i.e. you must truly believe that the final outcomes will be worth every ounce of effort that you will need to put in. You need to make sure that your goals either inspire and motivate you, or provide a genuine, purposeful benefit to you (and preferably both). And for the record, I think this is where a lot of New Year’s Resolutions fall down – all too often people set themselves goals that they don’t really believe in or feel inspired by.

My Big Ambitious Business Goals from 2019

The Big Ambitious Business Goals that I set myself in 2019, on top of my ‘day job’ of running my business and delivering for my clients, were:

  • To continue the trajectory of business growth and client satisfaction.
  • To record and launch my first season of podcasts.
  • To publish my Idea Time – Create Eureka Moments for Business Success
  • To start writing my second book – The Creative Facilitation Handbook – which will be out in a few months’ time.
  • To create and launch my Idea Time Membership, which I am in the process of rebranding as the Idea Time Academy.
  • To increase the profile of my thought-leadership, courses and resources for creative facilitators and innovators.

Have a look at my Idea Time book on the Amazon store

Dr Jo North; Idea Time; Creative Facilitation

Shoot for the moon…

I’m proud and pleased to say that I have achieved all of these. Some details will carry over into the first couple of months of 2020. For instance, I’ve published my Idea Time book on Kindle, but the print versions are to follow as more work is needed on layouts and graphics than I had realised. I released six podcasts in December 2019, but have more lined up for 2020 to get a regular, weekly rhythm going. I only added my goal of writing The Creative Facilitation Handbook as recently as last October, and I’m pleased with how it’s coming along on top of everything else.

One thing I know for sure is that, had I not set these business goals and written them down, I wouldn’t have created the time and space to make anywhere near as much progress as I have. It’s that old saying in action: “Shoot for the moon and you’ll land amongst the stars.”

“If only I had the time…”

The key step towards using your time, thinking and energy at work as productively as you can is to be very clear about your goals and what you want to achieve. While this may seem obvious, so many of us can easily succumb to the day-to day pressures and demands of business. You may not spend as much time as you would like on the things that will make the most difference overall, sometimes due to factors that you genuinely can’t influence. The problem is that, before you know it, weeks, months, or years can pass by – and then you look up, you wonder where the time went, and reflect on how much more you could have achieved if you ‘only had the time’.

Dr Jo North; Idea Time; Creative Facilitation
Photo: Not the best photo I’ve ever taken, but this is the Corpus or Grasshopper Clock in Cambridge, UK, first unveiled by Stephen Hawking. The grasshopper at the top eats up the seconds as they pass.

Some goal-setting tools and techniques from my Idea Time book

The tools and techniques that I share with you in the Idea Time book aim to help deal with the issue of time in three ways:

  1. They help you raise your focus temporarily from the day-to-day.
  2. They encourage your mind to see things from fresh perspectives and use different parts of your brain to break your usual thinking patterns and routines. This is an important ingredient in business creativity and innovation.
  3. They don’t take long to do – but you can spend longer on them if you’d like to or keep coming back to them to extend your thinking.

Some challenges have a straightforward solution: To achieve X we simply need to do Y.

Dr Jo North; Idea Time; Creative Facilitation
Photo: One of the big, ambitious goals delegates worked on this year was improving hydration of vulnerable people in the north east of England to prevent illness and even death at Northumbrian Water Innovation Festival, with the NHS.

But most leadership and management opportunities and issues are not so clear-cut. We could be presented with a range of options, none of which are ideal, or it could be that something around us is changing in a way that we haven’t experienced before. In the fast world of work, we often have to make decisions and take action with foggy or incomplete information in situations where doing nothing is definitely not an option! Navigating through and delivering against these successfully, is of course what we, as managers and leaders, are there to do, so the more effective we can become at it, and the greater our competence and understanding of what we intuitively process as professionals every single day at work, can add real value to personal leadership, and therefore team performance.

What is a BHAG?

A BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) is simply a stretching, challenging and yet achievable goal that you can achieve with focus and by thinking differently. It is a statement – or question – that concisely communicates what you want to achieve by tackling your messy problem.

So, in Idea Time you will be focusing on something ‘messy’! Your own work may be similar to the examples below, or completely different, it doesn’t matter either way. As long as the answer isn’t obvious or clear-cut, it’s a ‘messy’ or ‘wicked’ problem.

A BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) is simply a stretching, challenging and yet achievable goal that you can achieve with focus and by thinking differently. Click To Tweet

Examples of messy or wicked problems

  • My team’s performance looks like it should be great on paper, but for some reason we aren’t delivering in the way that I had hoped.
  • The market is changing and our sales have dropped off. We need to start a new growth curve.
  • I want to change the direction of my business but am not sure what I want to do and how to make the change.
  • How do I develop the capability within my team to pursue the new opportunities that are coming up?

Throughout the Idea Time chapters, you will be using the resources and techniques to help you progress towards a BHAG that is important to you. Ideally, achieving your BHAG will make a material difference to you and/or your business.

Nerdy facts

The BHAG term is actually a legit, technical term! The concept was first presented back in 1994 by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. In the book, a BHAG is intended to significantly disrupt the organisation, market or industry.

‘A true BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines’

Collins and Porras 1996

Over the last 20+ years the term BHAG has evolved to also include much more modest, but still stretching goals. Anything in your ‘too difficult’ or ‘needs more thinking time’ pile counts as a BHAG.

‘Wicked’ is not a trendy new term. It was used in social planning as far back as the late 1960’s and early 70’s by writers and researchers such as Rittel and Churchman. We use it more or less in the same way today in the context of business innovation and creative problem solving.

Some famous BHAG examples that you might have come across before include:

  • JFK: ‘Land a man on the moon by the end of this decade and return him safely.’
  • Amazon: ‘Every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.’
  • Google: ‘Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’
  • Microsoft: ‘A computer on every desk and in every home.’
  • Twitter: To become the ‘pulse of the planet.’

Idea Time – Goal Setting

Your first step now is to begin to define your BHAG and map out what it looks like. Allow at least 10 minutes for this activity. You may wish to spend longer on it, or perhaps revisit it after and few days – all of which is great. A lot can be achieved in 10 minutes, so give it a go and see how you get on.

Step 1

Spend just a few minutes completing the following statement as many times as you can with real items relating to your work context. Focus on things that you can control or directly influence, rather than on big issues in the wider world.

‘Wouldn’t it be fantastic if….?’

Step 2

Now it’s time to think about what you’d like to achieve, using the SOAR approach. SOAR is a tool from the field of positive psychology.1 The letters stand for: Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results.

SOAR is strengths-based, consistent with an approach known as ‘Appreciative Inquiry’. This focuses on achieving successful change management by identifying what is working well and then doing more of it, because people (and therefore organisations) will grow in whichever direction people focus their attention.

Dr Jo North; Idea Time; Creative Facilitation
1 For more about the origins and details of the SOAR technique, read The Thin Book of SOAR: Building Strengths-Based Strategy, by Stavros & Hinrichs.
SOAR is strengths-based, consistent with an approach known as ‘Appreciative Inquiry’. SOAR is an alternative to the more common SWOT analysis tool (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). Click To Tweet

SOAR is an alternative to the more common SWOT analysis tool (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). The weaknesses and threats in SWOT are reframed as opportunities in the SOAR approach.

When conducting a SOAR analysis, the basic questions you need to answer are:

  1. What are my/our greatest strengths?
  2. What are my/our best opportunities
  3. What is my/our preferred future, or aspirations?
  4. What are the measurable results that will tell me/us, I’ve/we’ve achieved the vision of the future?

SOAR is about…

  • Action
  • Strengths
  • Becoming our best
  • Innovation
  • Planning
  • Results
  • Achieving the good versus avoiding error


Use these prompts to help you with your own SOAR analysis for your BHAG.


  • What advantages do you have?
  • What do you do better than anyone else?
  • What unique resources do you have access to?
  • What do others in your industry see as your strengths?
  • What factors are helping you succeed?


  • Where are the good opportunities facing you? What partnerships might you develop?
  • What new growth opportunities might you pursue? What are the interesting trends you are aware of? E.g. social, technological, economic, political.


  • Start off with your ‘wouldn’t it be fantastic if…?’ items from Step 1.
  • How will you build on and expand your strengths? What improvements do you want to see?
  • Where will you be in 3 to 5 years?
  • What accomplishments will you have achieved? How do you want others to perceive you?
  • What new things do you want to consider?


  • What difference will you make?
  • What does success look like?
  • What measures of success will be most important?

Complete your own SOAR analysis for your BHAG here.

Dr Jo North; Idea Time; Creative Facilitation

Step 3

Look at your SOAR analysis in the round.

Select the items that would make the most material difference to your individual, team, or business performance, and that have the potential to become a motivational BHAG for this programme. You might have a couple or more of connected statements that you want to combine into a single BHAG. If so, that is completely fine.

Write down your selected statement.

Step 4

Go online to and print out your free BHAG poster.

Have some fun with your BHAG poster – use colour, doodles, and you can cut and stick on it too – even go for a bit of glitter if you fancy! It is your BHAG poster, for you to create as you wish.

Dr Jo North; Idea Time; Creative Facilitation
Photo: BHAG poster
  • If you like, make the figure in the bottom left corner look a bit like you, your team or business, for fun, and to personalise the page.
  • Write your BHAG in the top right-hand corner, being as specific as you can.
  • Add in your strengths and the tools that you have that will help you to achieve your BHAG.
  • Note down any hurdles that you think might pop up.
  • Capture any questions that are in your mind about attaining your BHAG.
  • Finally, include the people, opportunities, and things that will support you.

You can add these notes wherever you like on your poster. You could also create some more writing space with sticky notes. No rules, just whatever works for you.

No-one has to see your poster except you, but if you like you can take a photo and send it to me at, or post it in the Facebook group.

You can adapt your BHAG and develop your poster as you progress through the programme.

Why these activities?

  • We begin with the ‘wishing’ technique – ‘wouldn’t it be fantastic if…?’, and SOAR to open up your thinking and to frame challenges as a positive and motivational possibility.
  • The activity involves mapping your BHAG out visually so that you can see the imaginary space that sits between where you are now and where you want to be. It is this imaginary space that is the potential area for your creative muscle to fill with smart ideas and solutions. By creating a picture, your mind has a visual map of your BHAG territory – the knowns and unknowns – along with a clear target outcome.
  • By drawing and being playful, you use the right side of your brain – the parts that are most associated with creative thinking. You also generate different brain connections from working in a linear form and by doing something different from how you normally work.
Dr Jo North; Idea Time; Creative Facilitation
Photo: Creating my first 90 day plam for 2020

Well done! You’ve taken the important first steps towards setting your BHAG for 2020! I’d love to hear from you about what your goals are, and how this process worked for you.

Take action

I am an ideas person. I love the buzz and energy that innovation and creativity generate. And I’m also about taking action, trying things, learning and making progress. That’s why I’ve written Idea Time; to share my passion and help me achieve my own Big, Hairy Audacious Goal of helping as many entrepreneurs, leaders, consultants and their businesses to grow and realise more than they ever thought was possible.

Dr Jo North; Idea Time; Creative Facilitation
Photo: Dr. Jo North

I have written Idea Time for you, irrespective of the size of your business or the type of role that you do. It will help you to think differently about subjects such as marketing, selling, business development, procurement, creating new products or services, or just developing that idea or solving that conundrum by finding a good answer to a challenging problem or great opportunity.

Download more free resources from this website, and check out my Idea Time book and the Idea Time Academy.

If you have any questions, comments or ideas, please do get in touch via the contact us section on our website, or you can email me direct at

Wishing you a happy, healthy, prosperous and creative 2020!