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Miles to Go: Seven Ways to Put Goal Making into Practice

Why it’s not too late to set goals for 2016

Goal setting – at any time of year – is critical and should continuously be a high priority. Goals help companies measure how successfully the business is delivering relative to its strategy by directing attention to key metrics. Setting specific and challenging goals at the top is imperative since goals cascade from the executives who run companies down from one layer of the organization to the next. The motivational impact of goals increases efficiency and helps managers and employees maintain focus throughout the year. In A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance, Edwin Locke and Gary Latham found that, in 90% of studies, “when setting goals for performing a task, specific and challenging goals lead to higher performance than easy goals, ‘do your best’ goals, or no goals.”

Goals provide a measure of organizational discipline and persistence which keeps people focused and energized. They also provide a “compass” for the current strategy, which can help prevent you from spending valuable time on less important initiatives! When goals are successfully achieved, you feel a sense of self-satisfaction and pride, and as the age-old adage goes, “success breeds success”.

A path to achievement

An important aspect of goal attainment is receiving feedback along the way because it helps executives calibrate how they are performing against their goals and tends to encourage better performance. Whether you are helping your team to drive their goals or it is your own personal goals, ensure that you establish a check-in process where ongoing feedback can be provided to determine whether or not adjustments are needed along the way.
Deadlines are also critical for achieving goals. Goals that include a deadline or a specific timeframe are more effective because it helps to maintain focus and prioritization. This also provides executives with a roadmap so that they can effectively manage the expectations of others. In the absence of a clear timeframe, many goals will remain “works in progress”.

  1. Sit with your direct supervisor and understand in granular terms what the “gold star” for your role is this year. You may need to force the discussion to ensure you get clarity and alignment. Ensure that you ask your supervisor about their goals and what success looks like through their own lens – then work this discussion back into your role and your goals for the year. Ensure that you follow up the in-person meeting with a note that clearly anchors your discussion and lays out your mission for the year to ensure that you did not misinterpret anything. You can then use this as a vehicle for every check-in discussion throughout the year to show progress and get support or assistance along the way (macro and micro alignment).
  2. Ensure that you do not over-commit. The “gold star” needs to be achievable—and your impact and ability to execute will be diluted if the goal list is too long.
  3. Assess your situation based on the needs of your role and expectations of your direct supervisor. You need to fundamentally understand what your situation is: turn-around, take something good and make it better, or a staff / functional role. You then need to assess your team against what you need to get done and understand where your strengths and weaknesses are. Not everyone can continue to evolve with the needs of the business / function, and you need to ensure you are on top of your assessments of your team and understand their capacity to execute. If they are not up to it—you will likely not be up to it either!
  4. Ensure that you bring key stakeholders along with you so that you have alignment with the individuals who will help you to achieve your goals. It is a rare executive situation in which you can control all outcomes, so ensuring that you line up your goals with those of your stakeholders is an important step to being able to deliver.
  5. Develop a strategic narrative for your business or function that is simple and easily absorbed. Ensure your entire team absorbs this and can easily communicate it down into the organization.
  6. Give yourself permission to say “no” to ensure that you are ruthlessly focused and prioritized around the objectives. (Keep in mind that unexpected things will happen throughout the year and you will need to be agile in your response to them.)
  7. Ensure that you have a modern engagement with your direct supervisor even if your company is not yet modern. If you still are doing yearly performance reviews, then you will need to ensure that you take it upon yourself to increase your cadence with your direct supervisor to have higher touch and regular “check-ins” with them so that you stay micro-aligned throughout the year. Remember that you have the capability to drive a modern interaction even if your company or direct supervisor is not yet there.