Every organization creates goals in one form or another. Probably the most basic are annual budgets and forecasts with KPIs. Meetings to discuss forecasted results vs actuals then follow. An upgrade from this is to use a framework like Smart goals.

  • S is for Specific
  • M is for Measurable
  • A is for Achievable
  • R is for Relevance
  • T is for Time-Bound

What neither of these methods does is provide guidance on ambition. There is something magical that happens when we are faced with goals that are hard. We need to increase our focus, prolong our effort, filter our activities to only the most relevant, innovate and get help from wherever we can find it, whether that is in the form of knowledge or colleagues.

This means that goals that you expect to achieve 100% have a lot less value than those you do not. An idea that seems odd at first but to those that have used goal setting frameworks like OKR is completely normal.

It will not be a surprise to learn that fast-growth companies learned the power of ambition a long time ago. In fact Google was one of the very first companies to adopt OKRs and credit it to their x10 growth rate.

Employees need to feel safe

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Knowing this you can’t just go and dial-up all of your targets and expect performance to suddenly improve. One of the first things you learn about OKRs for example is they are used to spotlight the few goals that will have the greatest impact on team and company performance.

The next is only the right cultures are able to create ambitious goals as it needs to be safe to not hit the goal 100% with 60% to 70% achievement being common. This means effort needs to be recognized as well as learning, not just progress.

If employees feel like ambitious goals that are not achieved are going to be used in a negative way in reviews, for example, they will resist raising the bar. If they have a culture that rewards not just hitting goals but providing the context required for the goal, they will know that learning from the process of failure is what is expected.

The 100% paradox was first described in the 1999 article The Power of Goals:

  • Setting hard goals for everyone may well increase performance in the short run, but it also can create a climate of fear and risk avoidance. When you
  • demand both 100 percent commitment and 100 percent achievement, you risk getting neither.

Goals need to be discussed

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The old-school way of leadership handing down goals to teams and employees are gone or at least nearly. Empowerment, trust and agility are the new norms. This means we need to discuss goals. As a manager you need to define your goals and then everyone needs to discuss them – it is not enough to just get employee commitment.

So one of the most powerful things a company can do to help performance is to debate which goals will have the greatest impact. Inclusive goal setting will allow for employees opinions to be heard, insights gathered and the areas of highest value pinpointed.

Plans, progress and problems need to be shared

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Goals kept in silos and hidden away do not help you succeed. For example, you miss out on the benefits of greater alignment, shared ownership, accountability, and collaboration.

One of the best ways to ensure a team’s goals will be achieved is to provide transparency into problems. This will help identify the best solutions and make progress on goals more efficiently.

For example, companies should not be afraid to move in new areas when available ideas can’t improve on existing ones. If there are always new potential improvements emerging from all over the company, it becomes much easier to find and adopt them.

Or why not start a discussion that highlights both the success and failures of past innovations, new ideas and processes developed? Motivate your employees by giving them ownership in achieving their goals and creating new ones that work for the business.

If you want to achieve goals, at any level, whether 70% or 100%, you need to talk about the goal and the activities you’re doing to achieve them. Naturally problems will come up and these will need to be addressed. Wins will happen as well, these need to be shared.

ROI is a goal-setting technique developed by Jim L. Collins (author of Built to Last) in which each employee commits to an intended outcome for his or her role within the organization, including both self and other-directed goals. This can be accomplished with the goal of achieving the financial results desired by the organization within a certain time frame. This method can produce extremely high levels of commitment among employees, resulting in increased productivity and profitability for the company.

The ROI method is not a simple exercise in goal-setting. It is first and foremost a process that should be led by the top management of an organization, who will act as the role models for employees. The CEO and the other leaders must commit to their roles first and foremost, otherwise, this method will not take hold with any of their subordinates below them in the corporate structure. This is achieved by making each layer of management accountable up the ladder, using annual reviews and other opportunities.

A Mission Statement Is What You Do.

and Objectives Are What You Get.

Where to start?

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If you think there are improvements you would like to make to how you plan, set goals and run your day-to-day in order to achieve more then here are some useful places to start.

If you are not sure where to start then a SMART framework is a useful place for you to begin. It has been around for over 30 years and is a simple way of asking the right questions and getting clarity on what you want to do.

  • You can learn about OKR coaching and software at ZOKRI
  • Also learn about the impact Psychological Safety has on teams, the two go together

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