Goal Alignment: The Missing Link in Leadership Effectiveness

by John Pearson

Peter Drucker shared a story that I will never forget at a retreat gathering of thirty ministry CEOs. This father of modern management was consulting with a Fortune 500 company CEO. At the end of the morning meeting, he asked the CEO, “This afternoon, as you know, I’m meeting with your vice president of marketing. What key result must he achieve by the end of this year?” The CEO answered, “That’s easy. My VP’s key result for this year must be ABC.”1

That afternoon, Drucker met with the VP of marketing and began, “This morning, as you know, I met with your CEO and asked him what key result you must achieve this year.” The VP immediately responded, “That’s a no-brainer. We’ve agreed that the key result for marketing must be XYZ!”

Drucker wasn’t surprised and those of us in the room all laughed, somewhat nervously, because we’ve all been there. We walk out of meetings and retreats convinced that the assignments and end results are crystal clear. The target on the wall is “ABC,” but somehow, a vice president hears “XYZ.”

In this article, we’ll look at the difference between activity-driven work vs. results-driven ministry—and why goal alignment is so important. St. Augustine said, “One prays for miracles but works for results.” So what results does God want your ministry or mission to achieve?

The Theology of Activity vs. Results
When I consult with mission boards and their staff members, I often ask them to assess their “results” culture on a continuum between activity-driven and results-driven (see Exercises 1 & 2 below).

It is no surprise that whether an organization is at 3 or 7 in the first exercise, that everyone wants to move to the right over the next twelve to twenty-four months. Who would intentionally pick activity-driven over results-driven? But the key word here is “intentionally.” And that’s the challenge: how intentional are we in focusing on results and then aligning each team member’s goals with those desired results?

Goals for goals’ sake are a terrible waste of time. Goals that align with God-honoring results have kingdom impact. So there’s a theology at play here that is both subtle and profound.

Activity-driven ministries often do many good and noble things. They thrive in an environment of “if you see a need, fill it.” Staff members find support from the leadership, the board, and/or donors to keep those activities going year after year. Anecdotes and high passion from the activity champions, maybe even the spiritual giftedness of key team members, are often fuel enough to keep the activities going and resourced. Good activity is not a bad thing.

Results-driven ministries, by contrast, always begin with probing questions. There are two key questions that relate to goal alignment.


Question #1: What Results?
Drucker would ask churches, nonprofits, and mission agencies, “What results do you want to achieve?” He writes,


The results of social sector organizations are always measured outside the organization in changed lives and changed conditions—in people’s behavior, circumstances, health, hope, and above all, in their competence and capacity. To further the mission, each nonprofit needs to determine what should be appraised and judged, then concentrate resources for results (2008, 51).

Preach it, Peter! He’s talking our gospel language. Drucker was a Christ-follower and during the last few decades of his ninety-five years, he especially enjoyed helping ministry and church leaders assess their results—asking them what could and should be measured.

At that ministry leaders’ mountain retreat, Drucker convinced us that results have power—especially when he explained the difference between outside results and inside results. For example, if a hospital focuses on keeping the nurses happy (inside results), but neglects the care of patients (outside results), the patients will all die and the hospital will go out of business. When an organization focuses predominantly on inside results (administration, maintenance, policies, and procedures), rather than on outside results (mission, customers, sales, donors, recipients), it is on the path to failure.

Activity-driven organizations often succumb to the inside results. The inside is always screaming for attention. Solving internal problems, even with a quick fix, is often very satisfying. The team applauds. Everyone’s happier. Much more difficult is the discipline of addressing the opportunities “out there” that will deliver results—the very results for which the organization was established. It’s a daily discipline: the Great Commission or the Great Committee?

Question #2: Owners or Stewards?
R. Scott Rodin (2010) prophetically articulates another critical question: “Are you an owner or a steward?” Let me be bold here. In my experience of leading, observing, and supporting ministries, missions, and missionaries for more than forty years, activity-driven organizations, at their roots, are populated by owners who are unable to differentiate between God’s plans and their plans. They are hard-of-hearing at best, and delusional at worst. Here’s what they declare (and then how they act):

•  This is God’s plan (but really, my plan).
•  This is God’s passion (but really, my passion).
•  This is God’s program (but really, my program).
•  This is God’s priority (but really, my priority).

According to Rodin (and our Bibles), many leaders succumb to the lure of ownership. Owners are protective of their turfs and heap glory on themselves. Owners are in perpetual sin against a holy God. None of us would admit to tilting toward “ownership,” but it’s a very slippery and tempting slope.

Stewards, in contrast, have open hearts and hands. God is the owner. Stewards are as willing to shut down a venture as they are to launch one. Stewards are accountable both to God and to others.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 8:21, “For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.” Above all, steward leaders are obedient. Their prayers are sweet to God’s ears:

• Lord, this is your vision.
• Lord, this is your core value.
• God, this is your venture.
• God, this is your victory.

The Alignment of S.M.A.R.T. Goals with Results
With that foundation, goal alignment takes on new meaning. Setting and achieving goals is no longer just a management best practice or obligatory annual exercise for the binder on the proverbial shelf. (“Our consultant will be here Tuesday, so I need your goals by Monday.”) Instead, goal-setting for the steward leader of a results-driven ministry becomes a spiritual discernment process.

With open hands and hearts, and agendas drenched in prayer, team members who engage in this kind of planning and goal-setting routinely experience holy moments.

Was that a planning meeting or a prayer meeting? Yes.

Caution! This all sounds great when headlines shout, “God Visited Our Planning Meeting!” But it’s not that easy. Goal-setting is hard work. Creating alignment is harder—and that’s why so few organizations achieve alignment consistently.

1. I don’t recall the specifics, so we’ll call the goal “ABC.”

Barton, Ruth Haley. 2008. “Finding God’s Will Together.” Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

Drucker, Peter. 2008. The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask about Your Organization. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.

Rodin, R. Scott. 2010. The Steward Leader: Transforming People, Organizations and Communities. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Academic.

 . . . . . . . .


Here are five steps for helping your ministry, department, or small team get everyone onto the same page.

1. Ask God. As Henry Blackaby says, “Find out what God is doing and then join Him.” (For insight and inspiration on spiritual discernment, see Barton [2008].)

2. Listen for alignment. Don’t descend from the mountain and proclaim your inspired goals for the team. Instead, create goals in community. Hear from God, your boss or board chair, colleagues, and direct reports. Plan on at least three rounds of drafts. Be transparent. Invite critique. This is when you begin to get alignment with your mission, vision, core values, and B.H.A.G. (Big Holy Audacious Goal).

3. Integrate measurements. Leverage the in-your-face acronym: S.M.A.R.T. goals. As you listen to God and your team members about being more results-driven, invite accountability.  Do your goals meet the S.M.A.R.T. test?


4. Guide your gifts. There are three powerful “S’s” that can be leveraged to help your team focus on goals: Spiritual gifts, Strengths (as in StrengthsFinders.com), and Social Styles (drivers, analyticals, amiables, and expressives—or any of the systems like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator). Steward leaders are students of how God has wired and gifted their people. They align giftedness and strengths so goals are achieved with joy and passion.

5. Negotiate accountability. Drucker says that “if you have more than five goals, you have none.” So when the entire team has signed off on each team member’s annual goals, you must then negotiate an accountability process. Some use weekly team meetings; others prefer one-on-one sessions. Many leaders create monthly or quarterly dashboard reports or charts that track the leading indicators. Goal alignment most often breaks down here if you have not created a culture of accountability. Steward leaders thrive on mutual accountability.

These five steps are easy to remember: A.L.I.G.N. But there’s one more joy-filled step: celebrate!  When team members achieve goals, throw a party and celebrate. When you affirm your people for achieving God-honoring results, the kingdom ripple effect will be stunning.

. . . . . .


The Mission Exchange provides a series of learning initiatives for church and mission leaders. If you have the ability to talk on the phone and access the Internet at the same time, you have all the technology you need to join a webinar! Fall 2011 webinars include:

August 18: Reset Dialog Feed-Forward Report, Steve Moore, president and CEO, The Mission Exchange

August 25: Mission Strategy and Evaluation: Formulas and Faith: Submitting Metrics to the Light of Christ
Pete Holzmann, ICTA founder/executive director, Paraclete Mission Group Associate

September 8: Goal Alignment: The Missing Link in Leadership Effectiveness, John Pearson, president, John Pearson Associates, Inc.

September 15: Five Steps to Building an Effective Major Gift Fundraising Program for Your Organization
Derrick Bakker, president, Keystone Major Gift Consulting

October 6: Discipleship and Mission Training in the Majority World: A Locally Sustainable and Multiplying Approach, Galen Burkholder, executive director, with Tefera Bekere; international facilitator, Global Disciples


John Pearson, a management and board governance consultant, served twenty-five years as CEO of Christian Management Association, Willow Creek Association, and Christian Camp and Conference Association. He is the author of Mastering the Management Buckets. For more information, visit JohnPearsonAssociates.com and ManagementBuckets.com.

EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 3, pp. 360-364. Copyright  © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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