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How to effectively set goals

Posted on from K2 Performance Systems

It’s that time of year again, when people will be in the process of setting goals for 2012 against a background of uncertain conditions and changing contexts.

Motivation and setting goals

Goal setting has always been promoted as an optional tool to help harness motivation, rather than an out and out requirement. However, as soon as goals begin to become de-motivating, a number of key performance related issues can arise.

There are many different types of goals that can be set and getting the right blend between outcome, performance and process goals is critical in order to maximise the impact of goals upon different individuals and teams.  

Motivation around goals that are set is always compromised when goals are imposed on individuals or teams (i.e. they have little or no involvement in conceptualising the goal, in assessing its 'achievability' during the conceptualisation phase, or they don’t feel the goals are directly related to their skill set or ways of working). 

Importantly, the goals may be appropriate for the task in hand, but if they cannot be translated into a variety of complementary goals, then the goals may only appeal to those individuals whose personality just happens to fit the nature of the goal set. For those personality types who are motivated by different challenges and different types of goals, they may feel that they are constantly shoe-horned into using goals that aren’t necessarily ideal for them. At this point, the goal is doing the opposite of the one thing it is meant to do – harness motivation.

Key goal setting questions to consider

•    Why are these goals being set?

•    What are the complementary goals that we have to set in order to deliver the full goal-setting picture?

•    Who needs to be involved in gathering the information that we need in order to set the goals?

•    Who needs to be involved in actually setting the goals?

•    How are we ensuring that the goals are being designed to promote our learning and confidence along the way?

•    How frequently do we need to assess the goals and garner feedback on the progress made to date?

•    If we didn't have this goal right now, would it have a negative impact on the motivation levels of everyone around us?

•    Are we simply setting goals as a habit or are we setting absolutely all of the right goals for us now?

Effective goal setting

The great sports teams that we've worked with have taken the time to control their goals in order to make sure that their minds and bodies have the best chance of being prepared to deliver the best possible performances. That in turn will provide the best chance of getting the desired result because without effective goal setting, the team would end up focussing on the wrong thing at the wrong time, thus jeopardising performance and also minimising the chance of building long term confidence.

So, what type of goals do they set and how do these help?

The first goal that teams set focuses on breaking the end result down into manageable actions. Instead of simply having outcome goals (their KPI's), teams make a great effort to set process goals. These process goals identify the specific behavioural, attitudinal and tactical goals that the team needs to focus on day by day. The process goals are the ingredients and recipe that the team believes will provide the best chance of success. This allows the team to really focus on the things that they're 100% in control of, which builds confidence to act with conviction and makes sure everyone understands the required approach.

Too often we see these levels of goals missing in organisations. There are wild assumptions that because everyone knows the critical KPI's and delivery dates, everyone will be working effectively together to deliver the right process. However, as always, assumptions are dangerous so time needs to be taken to set the expectations out very clearly.

Learning from Olympic gold

There are different degrees of success within an overall challenge and by using the typical podium medals of gold, silver and bronze you can ensure that your team has a range of targets to aim for:

Gold goal: This is the dream result. The peak performance that could be achieved if everyone delivers 100% and if the ultimate performance is delivered. This is an aspirational goal and is driven by the question, "if we all work together as effectively as possible, what would the result be?”

Silver goal: This focuses on establishing a challenging result that everyone will take great pride in achieving. It represents an excellent performance and shows that the team has worked effectively together. The question that drives the answer to this goal is, "what level of success will give us a great deal of satisfaction to know that we've delivered an excellent team performance?"

Bronze goal: This final goal is for those who enjoy some negative motivation. The bronze goal is all about identifying the minimum standard of delivery that we'll accept from the team. If we fall below this level, the entire team knows it has been an unacceptable performance. The question that drives the identification of this goal is, "in order to walk away from this Challenge knowing we've delivered the minimum, what does the result need to look like?"

This combination of goals from Gold through to Bronze ensures that different types of motivation are catered for. It also means that a KPI that could be perceived as black and white and can be broken down into shades of grey, providing a much greater sense of control over the whole performance of the team.

Stretch goals - when reality bites

We recognise that there are some unavoidable realities and in those cases, it seems to us that it’s the job of leaders to provide helicopter cover to their teams. This ensures that those who have to deliver on the front line have goals that are motivating for them. When performers are scared of their goal rather than excited by it, there is often a reluctance to deliver what’s seen as “bad news” to managers or leaders.  

We know that some of you reading this might be thinking, “right, so we set goals and when it becomes too hard, we just lower the bar so everyone’s happy and can earn their bonuses. That doesn’t sound like high performance to me”. And you’d be right – goals that are too easy to achieve, wouldn’t be doing their job properly – that’s why we adjust them upwards if they’re achieved early.

We’re not suggesting that stretch goals, which require belief before you can see how to get there, don’t have their place. Clearly they do and some extraordinary performances have resulted from this start point. The key here is to recognise that these are stretch goals and to act accordingly, by chunking them down, by ensuring that they are generating excitement and by providing motivation, so that there are lots of feedback points along the way.

10 top tips for goals

•    Goals are performance tools to be used by you, not to control you.

•    Layer your team’s goals in order to cater for different types of motivation.

•    Make goal setting as collaborative as possible. You may not be able to collaborate on the outcome, but you can definitely encourage people to take control of the process.

•    Ensure you are passionate about getting the detail right for the process goals. Without it, ongoing motivation and end of journey learning are compromised.

•    Help people work out which goals best fit their personality. There’s no hiding from all of the goals, but different folk get different motivation from the complementary goals we’ve outlined.

•    Be prepared to have regular conversations about your goals during the journey. Being able to use targets to maximise learning in the thick of performance is a key reason for setting goals in the first place and one that is often forgotten.

•    Regularly review the questions about goal setting that we’ve outlined so that you stay fully in control of your goals.

•    Remember, goals drive behaviour, so ensuring that outcome and process goals are used together will minimise the chances of unwanted approaches being used to drive an outcome.

•    Goal setting should really be called goal reviewing. Goals are there to help you learn, so spend as much time learning from your goals as you spend setting them.

•    Reward on both process and outcome goals if you want to show that you’re serious about not only the what, but the how.

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