Designing for Outcomes: Announcing Goals


I’m proud to announce our newest feature: goals. With goals, Switchboard is now the only engagement platform that helps institutions set and track engagement goals across teams. This feature has been five years in the making. I want to share why it is one of the most important and industry-changing benefits we offer.

After hundreds conversations with leaders in and outside of education, we’ve discovered defining outcomes is mission critical for any institution investing in community engagement. The product you adopt will take your students and alumni on a journey. They'll only come along if there's a clear destination in sight. 

The life coach and entrepreneur Tony Robbins said, “Setting goals is the first step to turning the invisible into the visible.” I’d add to that the idea that “progress has little to do with speed, but much to do with direction.” Schools must make their engagement goals visible, and those goals should drive advancement for both community members and the institution.

For this reason when speaking with schools looking to purchase engagement software I always ask, “So you adopt a platform. What is your picture of success a year from now?” The responses to this question never cease to surprise me. The answers run the spectrum from, “That’s a great question. We haven’t discussed that yet,” to quantitative responses such as, “We want to see 10% alumni adoption in the first year,” to a more qualitative outlook such as, “We’d like to hear that our community is using it and making valuable connections,” to concrete explanations like, “We’d like to see alumni hire 100 recent graduates.”

(If your answer is, “We don’t know our goals,” then every minute spent on the phone with vendors is time and money down the drain. Our engagement coaches would be glad to help you define them!)

If multiple teams are sitting in on the call, there might be a spectrum of goals. The career services team is looking to recruit more alumni mentors to offer advice, jobs, and professional connections. Meanwhile the alumni affairs office is hoping to drive more connectivity between students and alumni so they can meet their personal and professional needs. Marketing and external relations might wish to see a certain number of success stories reported from the community that they can use for the alumni magazine or blog. Rarely are these goals written down in one place. There’s no strategy for aligning teams’ notions of success or using software to enable and measure that progress and achievement.

Enter Switchboard’s new goals feature. Goals allow teams to input qualitative and quantitative metrics for success so Switchboard will automatically measure your progress.

  • Want to adopt 1000 users in the first year? Make it a goal.

  • Want those 1000 users to create 500 connections? Make it a goal.

  • Want to specifically engage a certain cohort, say the class of 2017? Make it a goal.

  • Want to make sure those who post are receiving at least a 50% response rate? Make it a goal.

Switchboard goals

Along the way, we recognized that there are some goals that cannot be measured by software alone. Perhaps your goal is to mention Switchboard in the next alumni e-newsletter, or make sure graduating seniors know of the platform before they leave campus, or tie in your annual fund giving goals so those numbers are top of mind. You can also add these custom goals, to keep the entire team on track.

Create New Goal

The results are game changing: Goals are clearly articulated, teams are aligned, success is measured, and our account management team at Switchboard remains in lock step with our partners at every stage, helping them move the ball down the field towards a defined (ahem) goal.  

Here are some examples of how our forward-thinking partners are using goals:

  • At Kenyon, they’re aiming for at least 50% of current students to join the platform.

  • At Pitzer, they’re aiming for an additional 200 signups.

  • Santa Clara University is knocking it out of the park with goals around adoption, participation, and post response rate.

  • At Reed, they set a goal for a 50% post response rate and far exceeded it with 78%.

As anyone who has ever set a goal and fallen short knows, goals are hard and sometimes painful because they reveal difficult truths. One truth often seems to be: To get to your destination, you’re going to have to work a bit harder.  

Response rate goal

In the process of developing this feature we've learned two things. First, goals are not a silver bullet, and not every one is met. But by defining and measuring them, our engagement experts can now coach our partners to refine and iterate to achieve their specific desired outcomes. We then take what we learn back to our development team to improve the product.

First-year adoption

Second: Adoption is, in the grand scheme of an engagement platform, the least important goal to measure. Sure, it is easy to measure because it is “legible,” because it is visible. But it does not capture whether the platform added value to your community or your institution. What’s most important is, as Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen describes it, that the job to be done has been accomplished—that the needs of students and alumni have been met.

Interested in learning more about goals and getting a sneak peek? Click here for a tour and to schedule a time with our a member of the engagement team.

Please join us for a webinar on Tuesday, September 12 or Tuesday, September 19 at 11 AM ET to learn more.