The Considerable Challenge of Setting Goals

Bruce Klafter
September 8, 2011
Inside most companies it may seem at times that we are virtually awash in goals, targets, objectives, incentives and other means of spurring us to action. Like many things in life, "too much of a good thing" can be counterproductive, but there is no question carefully formulated goals are critical to environmental, health and safety (EHS), and sustainability programs. As the great philosopher Yogi Berra once stated: "If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else."

On October 19 at the NAEM Forum, we are going to explore a number of questions related to goal setting, but principally the "how" of it.

What makes setting an enterprise wide sustainability goal a tricky proposition? Here are some of the factors I believe come into play:
  1. A good deal of data is required and in many cases our data is missing, incomplete or lagging;
  2. Benchmarks are important, but can be misleading because no two companies are situated in exactly the same place;
  3. Multi-year goals are usually advisable, but the longer the duration of the challenge, the greater the uncertainty that creeps in. How many of us accounted for a global recession in 2009?
  4. Top-level participation is essential, but a certain amount of background is necessary and time and attention are hard to come by;
  5. How ambitious does your company wish to be, i.e. how far should the goals be stretched or how much risk of failure will be tolerated?
  6. How do the goals relate to overall company strategy or do you have the right people in the room to set the goals?
  7. What will it cost to attain the goals (a near certain question from your friendly CFO)?
Please add your questions to the mix and we will answer them all at the Forum (at least that's my goal!)

Bruce Klafter is Managing Director for Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) at Applied Materials, Inc., where he also heads Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability. He will be speaking during the "Sustainability: Defining your Program, Setting the right Goals" session as part of NAEM's EHS Management Forum on Oct. 19-20 in Tucson.


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About the Author

Bruce Klafter
Bruce Klafter is Vice President of Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility at Flextronics International, where he provides leadership and strategic guidance for the company's global operations. Prior to assuming this role, Mr. Klafter directed Applied Material's EHS and sustainability programs and began his career as a distinguished environmental and natural resources lawyer.

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