Four Things I've Learned About Goal Setting

Posted on January 3, 2012.

“In the end, you only hit what you aim at.” - Thoreau

Setting goals for your team is one of the toughest parts of the manager’s job. Not only does your team need something to aim for, but you also need a way to quantify results. After all, measuring performance is a lot easier when you have something to measure against.
As a new manager, I agonized over setting goals for my team members and tried nearly every methodology, from flying by the seat of my pants to devising a highly formulaic approach. Here are a few things that I learned the hard way.

A measurable goal is an effective goal. Being ‘better’ at something than you were the previous year is not an effective goal – how do you gauge results? Use a standard of measure, such as being faster by x time, growing by x percent, or achieving a customer satisfaction score of x to evaluate your team’s progress. It’s important that you and your team have clarity on what success looks like.

Goals can have unintended consequences. Many organizations set new customer goals for their salespeople only to see existing customer revenue plummet. Why? Because, in that scenario, cultivating sales with old customers doesn’t help salespeople achieve annual goals. When setting objectives, consider how they will motivate your team. Remember that most people generally do what they are specifically paid for, and not much else.

Too many goals paralyze people. Confronted with several targets, your team won’t know where to aim and may do nothing at all. In my experience, people can’t focus on more than three things. Frankly, less is more.

Ask your team members. Your employees are generally pretty good at knowing what they can accomplish in a given year, so when in doubt, ask them. However, be careful with those at the highest performing and lowest performing ends of the spectrum. The former will potentially set their bar too high; the latter, too low. That is when managerial prerogative should step in to adjust.

As you examine what your team needs to achieve this year, consider the ways each person needs to contribute. When they do, make sure you reward them appropriately!