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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Please Know Where You're Going And Why- The Skill of Goal Setting

As every manager knows, setting goals is a crucial element of your job. Through goal setting, you define business outcomes that you and your team will accomplish collectively and individually. If managed honestly and courageously, if managed effectively, the goal-setting process creates a long-term vision that motivates the whole team to accomplish challenging objectives.
A lot is being said and written about objectives, goals, targets, and specifically about ‘stretch goals’. They refer to goals that are slightly difficult but possible to reach and they are one of the contributing factors to a high performing culture. Stretch goals cause employees to think more creatively to reach those goals (so literally to stretch themselves) and to be energized and be motivated.
When setting goals for others, the manager needs to understand what possible goals this employee can achieve and feel engaged with. Engagement, wanting to go the extra mile for goals, and strongly feeling that the goals are meaningful is crucial in creating and maintaining high levels of motivation towards the goals as we have seen in the many courageous and perseverant recent uprisings. Back to business, the manager also needs to consider with what resources and support the employee can reach those goals. And remember, just as in many other areas like sports and school exams, a little bit of anxiety causes us to be put in extra effort, it generates energy and it motivates, hence the usefulness of stretch goals.
Let’s be clear about the topic: setting appropriate goals is a delicate task since you want your goals to be
-          challenging and attainable
-          customized and fair
-          aligned with the company’s purpose and with specific individuals and their aspirations and capabilities
-          non-arbitrary and flexible so as to be adjustable
-          based on the company’s purpose and goals and on the result of careful negotiation with the individual
-          Something your people will be proud of and, not to forget, of the ‘how to get there’

These are not contrasts or conflicting stakes. They are polarities that ask to be managed.

So one of the most important characteristics for goals is that they should be meaningful objectives but equally important is the consideration that setting goals is not a one-time activity  with a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude by the manager – it entails a process of tracking milestones, evaluating progress and achievement, and, more than sometimes, re-allocating resources or adjusting the goals.
By setting goals and measuring achievement towards reaching those goals you can focus on what is most important, you waste less energy on noncritical activities, and you achieve greater results. Just always make sure you celebrate when things go well and you use supportive redirection when things go wrong.
A review of research on the application of goal setting in organizations spanning more than ten years (source: Harvard Business Review) found that:
1.    Using goals does improve performance. Production is significantly higher when work is structured around goals, versus when it is not.

2.    Managers who are a goal planner, who set goals for their reports and supervise or give feedback on the outcome, generate more and better results than managers who supervise, but do not set goals, or set goals but don't provide feedback.

3.    Planning and goal setting is strongly correlated with improved performance and increased commitment by employees, but only when given encouragement and support by top management. Lack of involvement by top management is defined as a lack of personal involvement in driving the corporate goal setting process down the organization.

4.    Being specific about setting goals only increases performance for individuals who have high achievement needs.  Achieving goals is one characteristic of high performers.

5.    People that have a track record of success respond to goals with increased performance, while people who have a history of more losses than wins do not have such an increase. What you believe about yourself is what you create – the self fulfilling prophecy.

6.    If people have self confidence, maturity and a sense of control over being able to earn rewards for their efforts, they respond to stretch goals with increased performance. Those that are low on these traits do poorer with stretch goals.

7.    Feedback helps performance when its relevant, given with timing, and when directed to people who have high achievement motivation. People with low achievement goals do not show a correlation between performance and feedback.

8.    If you want to improve learning, combine it with goal setting. In order to maximize the benefits of training upon performance, don't just send people for training, tie it into specific performance goals.

9.    Participating in goal planning works better than assigned goals, but only sometimes. The larger impact upon performance is corporate goal acceptance. Whether participants get there by participating or being assigned is probably second in importance.

With all this talk about goals it is important to keep in mind that there are two types of goals. Result goals, which are statements that set out where you want to be in terms of cars assembled, clients visited, patients healed etc. And there are value goals which are statements that set out the impact you want to have on the lives of team members, customers, suppliers, and the community.

A few last reminders:
-          Let people know why the work is worthwhile.
-          Make sure the whole team shares the goal if it concerns group goals – don’t allow anyone to sidestep.
-          Help set values and help live the values every day, every minute by living them yourself.
-          Get the resources in place and on time.
-          Ensure you have the support you need both inside and outside the organization.
-          Keep your eye on the future to ward off trouble and be ready to change direction. No goal should ever be set in stone. The world changes, markets change, and organizations and their people need to change and grow, constantly.
-          It’s your job as a leader to know where the organization is going. It is the team members’ job to get you there.

It’s probably not too hard to see that the above is not just applicable to goal setting in a business context. You can think of personal development goals and of goals with your children and many of the above points are valid almost equally as in a business setting.

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