Do you have personal goals for the next year? For the next five or ten years? If so, then you know the power of goal setting. Goals focus you on a target; they give you a sense of purpose. And they create an enormous sense of satisfaction when you achieve them.
Think about what happens if you don’t set goals in your personal life: You meander through the days,
months — sometimes years. Perhaps you look at people who regularly accomplish a great deal, and wonder how they do it.
Goals are just as important in your professional life as they are in your personal life. But as a manager you face an added dimension: You’re responsible not only for setting goals for yourself but for determining your group’s agenda, and then setting both team and individual goals. Moreover, your
choice of goals directly affects your team’s performance. Pick the right goals, and you help your team excel. Pick unrealistic goals, and you may demoralize your team.
How does goal setting in business life work in practice? The most effective managers apply three
First, they prioritize goals
Second, they maximize the group’s success in reaching goals
And third, they learn from their goal-setting efforts
Let’s look at the first strategy: prioritizing goals. To apply this strategy, ask yourself, “What group
goals do I need to set to support my unit’s or company’s objectives? And what goals would most motivate my team?”
Prioritizing is an iterative process. For example, suppose upper management has mandated that your group needs to increase revenue by five percent in the next quarter. To prioritize goals in this situation, ask: “What goals do I need to define for each member of my group?” Then ask, “What steps do I and each member of my team need to take to reach the goals we’ve identified?” Next, prioritize the steps you’ve laid out by deciding which are most important.
Consider this example. Sanjay recently became the manager of a call center at a telecommunications company. Soon after he started the job, the company defined a new strategy that hinged on improving customer loyalty. To support the strategy, Sanjay set out to prioritize new goals for his team and the individual team members. He met with each direct report to identify specific goals aimed at improving customer loyalty.
For example, he asked Melinda, a call-center representative, to aim for a 30 percent increase in the number of customer problems she resolved with a single phone call. He also asked her to strive to achieve that goal within three weeks.
Sanjay then helped his team identify the steps they needed to take to reach their goals. In Melinda’s case, those steps included becoming more familiar with company products — a top-priority — and
attending a workshop on handling customer calls efficiently.
In addition to prioritizing goals for your group, you also need to apply the second goal-setting strategy:
maximizing your group’s success in reaching goals. Begin by establishing a sense of ownership.
When people feel that they “own” their goals, they become more motivated to overcome the inevitable
barriers that arise as they’re striving to achieve them. How to cultivate a sense of ownership? Involve employees in defining the goals, and explain why the goals are important to the organization. To further maximize success in reaching goals, set achievable but challenging goals. Also, be sure that individuals have the needed skills, resources, and processes to meet their goals.
Unfortunately, Sanjay discovered firsthand what happens when you don’t maximize a team’s success
in reaching goals. After defining goals for his group, he was dismayed to see that some of his direct reports didn’t seem to be taking their goals seriously. He thought back on how he had prioritized their goals — and suddenly realized some mistakes he had made.
For one thing, he hadn’t involved his employees in defining goals. Instead, he had dictated the goals to them. He also didn’t explain why the goals were important. For instance, he could have explained to Melinda that if she resolved more customer problems with a single phone call, she would help improve customer satisfaction. That would in turn increase customer loyalty, thus supporting the company’s new strategy.
Finally, Sanjay realized that some of the goals he had set were unrealistic. For example, a 30 percent increase in customer problems handled with one call — over the course of just three weeks — would
be overly ambitious for anyone. Thus this goal would likely demoralize rather than motivate Melinda. By identifying mistakes he had made while prioritizing goals for his group, Sanjay had begun applying the third goal-setting strategy: learning from your goal-setting efforts. Another way to
apply this strategy is to evaluate how you and your group have handled goals that you set in the past. Did your employees achieve the goals too easily? If so, try making future goals more challenging. Did anyone miss a goal? If so, why? Was it unrealistic? Did the person lack the skills or resources needed to meet the goal? By fine-tuning his goal-setting approach through such observations, Sanjay inspired his employees to meet — and even exceed — more of their goals.
Goal setting is vital in your professional and personal life but can be especially challenging in the workplace. To meet those challenges, be sure to employ the three goal-setting strategies: First, prioritize goals. Second, maximize your group’s success in reaching goals. And third, learn from your goal-setting efforts. These strategies take time, but pay big dividends — in the form of a motivated,
highly productive team.