7 Keys To Keep Your Goals From Failing

It's January.  A New Year.For many companies, this means the annual rite of setting performance goals is in full swing.  Sadly, some leaders are much better at setting goals than others.Over the past month, I worked with a midsize manufacturing organization to help them improve their goal setting process.   In my initial interviews, I discovered they do set goals. But that's about all they do.Here's how Tom, the manager of operations, described their current goal setting "process":It's all real informal.  Usually the teams say "we have to get this done by this".   There's not a a lot of metrics used, and not a whole lot of follow up afterwards. In the busy-ness of the day to day, most of the goals get lost.  We don't follow through. They never get discussed again.  And then we do the whole thing again next year.If Tom sounds familiar, that's because his experience is not unique.  Many companies engage in some version of a goal setting show, without any significant benefit.  Consider that:

  • Two thirds of senior managers can’t name their firms’ top priorities.
  • 51% of top team members say they have a clear sense of how major initiatives and priorities fit together.
  • 30% of those directly reporting to senior executives clearly understand the connections between corporate priorities.
  • 16% of front-line employees clearly understand the connections between corporate priorities.

Tom's company treats goal-setting like a one-and-done event.  They operate as though just declaring a goal will them achieve it. Nothing could be further from the truth.Goal setting is a process, and involves more than just stating your objective.  In fact, there are seven key elements to that successful goal setters use to turn their goals into reality.

7 Keys Of Successful Goal Setting

  1. Facilitate Employee Ownership

John Kotter, considered the world's preeminent authority on change, once wrote,The central issue is never strategy, structure, culture, or systems. The core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people.Goals don't achieve themselves.  People achieve goals.  Since employees are essential to realizing goals, wouldn't it make sense to get their commitment on working towards them?It's important to have the team be the primary stakeholders. After all, they are doing the work.  To that end, you need to create alignment between what they want and what you want.  Great leaders know that the best visions are shared visions.  If you skip this and try to force-feed your goals on your team, you may get a level of compliance, but you won't get real commitment.

2. Set Goals In The "Zone"

There's a sweet spot of goal achievement.  The most motivating goals are stretch goals.  These are goals in the zone of achievable challenge.  That is, not so easy as to be humdrum, and not so hard as to be impossible.  When teams are challenged in the zone, they rise up and perform at a higher level.

3. Set Goals With Meaning

I once worked with a privately held company, where the founder was the CEO.  One year, the CEO  set a revenue goal for the company and told his employees "we need to hit this target so that I can retire".Hmm.  I better work hard so the CEO can stop working. Would that have motivated you to perform?Many companies make increasing profits the sole focus of their efforts.  Obviously, your organization needs to be profitable.  But what other kind of goals can you set?  How can your goals connect with people's desires to grow, to be more empowered, or to contribute to a greater purpose?  If your goals fail to inspire, your employees will have difficulty sustaining their efforts for the long term.

4. Create Focus and Clarity

You can set goals, but if there's no clear measurement of what success really will look like, how can people really give their all?There's a reason why SMART goals are so popular.  Having goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound force you to refine and clarify what you think you mean.

5. Discuss Goals Early and Often

As with Tom's company, you can't just set a goal and forget about it.   Work involves collaboration.  So does goal setting.It's important to build in checkpoints to discuss goals along the way.  These can be one-on-ones, team meetings, town halls or all-company meetings.  People care about what they spend time doing.  If you regularly talk about your goals (and the progress you're making), you send a clear message that this "goal thing" is important.

6. Keep It Simple

If you look at the performance management systems of some companies, you wonder how managers have time to get anything else done.  Just inputting the data for one employee can take multiple hours!Goal setting can be overwhelmed by the tools that you use.  Make sure you find a method to keep it simple and useful.  If your tools are too complex, no one will use them.  Make your focus the content of your goals, not the fancy templates you spend days creating.

7. Combine Goal Setting with Coaching

As much as you'd like it to, goal setting is not going to solve all of your problems.  It is a tool--a good tool, but only one tool.  Recognize that you'll have to do other things to ensure that you achieve your results.  That said, having a robust goal setting/monitoring process creates a terrific opportunity to do more effective coaching.  Throughout your year, you'll have tangible benchmarks to coach against.Goal setting like many things, can be good or bad.  It's all in how you do it.What other tips do you have to achieve successful goals?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.