Goal-setting

Goal “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” – Albert Einstein

I like the quote attributed to Einstein as it highlights for me one of the two difficulties with “Goals” that I have seen clients fall foul of. The other difficulty is that of action planning. But first, a few comments on goal-setting.

In the traditional world of Performance Management, many managers focus on SMART goals when they are looking at the year ahead. While there are undeniable benefits in having goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound, there is also an overarching constraint imposed if the goals are rigidly tied to this formula. In particular the short-term focus on goals that have only a twelve-month horizon. Where is the long term vision? What desired long-term change is being overlooked? Maybe it’s time to include some goals that are “non- smart”.

Non-smart goals
Task-oriented goals are the easiest ones to fit into the SMART goal framework. Now, if you happen to be in a business where many managers are naturally task-focused there is a very comfortable fit between the manager’s style and task-oriented goals. But there is an unfortunate casualty, people. People goals are rarely so task-focused. The upshot of this is an environment where little attention is paid to important people factors like motivation and engagement. These people factors have real bottom-line impact but are often overlooked in goal setting because they don’t fit as easily within the SMART goal framework.
For that reason I propose that managers should have, in addition to the task-based goals, a “Non-smart” goal that is people focused. I suggest the following criteria for this goal.

  • It should have a People focus
  • Rather than be Specific, the goal should be based on continuous improvement.
  • Instead of being Measurable, the manager should be able, at year end, to provide evidence of what they have achieved
  • The goal should still be achievable and realistic
  • Rather than being time-bound in the traditional sense that the goal is achieved and is “completed”, the goal should be a stage upon which further stages can be build upon in subsequent years. The goal continues.

Action plans – the missing link
Translating goals into results can be a challenge. For some managers, goal-setting is an exercise that is rooted in the performance management process. Goals are set at the beginning of the year, reviewed mid-year and given a final review at year-end. The periods between reviews can be taken up by the busy day-to-day activities, leaving the reviews as mere reminders of what has been forgotten in the urgency. This happens when there is no link between the annual goals and the weekly activities.

Working with a coach, or peer, as part of goal-setting is a very practical way of improving goal achievement and performance. The first question that a coach might ask a manager about a goal is “why is this important”? This usually results in the manager internalising the goal or, in some cases, deciding that there are other more important goals to be achieved. The main thing for the manager is to really take ownership of their goals before moving onto action planning. If the manager doesn’t own the goal then there is little chance of her achieving it.

Goals are only achieved though actions. Time has to be set aside each week to review the week that has passed and to identify important actions for the week ahead. The actions may be small but, cumulatively, chart out steady progress. The question the manager must ask herself is “what single action can I take this week that would have the greatest impact on achieving this goal”. This reflection can bring focus and intent to the pursuit of any goal.

The three step process below is simple if followed.

  1. Review Goals weekly and focus on their importance
  2. Identify key actions for the week ahead
  3. Schedule these actions in the diary

Again, working with a coach or peer can help a manager with action planning and review.

Remember, the longest journey begins with a single step.

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