If you're a business leader, you learned in Leadership 101 that goal setting is the most powerful motivational tool in a leader’s toolkit. But, as the business world evolves, you need to evolve with it and make sure your goal setting skills are up-to-date.
In the past, top-down leadership was a way of life, and the leader always set the goals. Today, leadership is more of a partnership than a superior-subordinate relationship. Hence, effective goal setting is a collaborative effort. If you set goals without involving your employees, people will feel left out of the process, and you won't get the passion and buy-in you need.
On the flip-side, there are some organizations that leave the goal setting completely up to the employees. While this reversal may be comfortable for the employees, it results in people working on separate projects not aligned with the organization’s overall goals. Or, employee’s may only focus on existing skills. As a result, the organization and the employee fail to grow.
To achieve the best results, and greatest satisfaction, leaders, and direct reports should work together to set goals aligned with the organization’s objectives. And, some degree of challenge should be offered to employees.
In the classic "The New One Minute Manager," leaders learn how they can achieve results and satisfaction with today’s One Minute Goal Setting.
Instead of setting goals for your direct reports, listen to their input and work side-by-side with them to develop clear, specific goals. Make sure you both understand what the direct report’s responsibilities are and what they'll be accountable for. In many organizations, when you ask people what they do and then ask their boss, you often get two different answers. Clear communication can prevent this misfit.
Don’t set too many goals. People with too many goals can lose track of what’s important and spend time on the easiest goals, not the high priority goals. Keep in mind the 80/20 rule which stipulates that 80% of your most important results should come from 20% of your set goals. Therefore, you should set goals on only that 20% that targets key areas of responsibility which amounts to three to five goals.
Write it Down
After you and your direct report agree on the most important goals, have the direct report write down each goal, what specifically needs to be done and the deadline. Keep it simple at one or paragraphs so the goal can be read and reviewed in about a minute.
One benefit of having concise, well-defined goals is that in follow-up conversations you can focus on tasks, not the person. It helps prevent demoralizing conversations where you’re giving feedback such as, “You're not performing well.” Instead, you can discuss the fact that a specific goal was not accomplished. Together, you and your subordinate can discuss what you can both do to complete the project.
Make sure your direct report looks at their goals daily, so they stay focused on what’s important. If they're spending time on activities unrelated to their goals, encourage them to adjust what they’re doing and refocus. Be sure to check back with your direct report at regular intervals to see how their goals are progressing and acknowledge their progress.
Working collaboratively on goals has the added benefit of improving the relationship between you and your direct report. People become more passionate and engaged when they feel their boss is invested in their success. And don’t be surprised if you become more passionate and engaged as well.
One Minute Goal Setting Review
- Plan the goals together and describe them briefly and clearly. Show people what good performance looks like
- Have people write out each of their goals including deadlines
- Ask subordinates to review their most important goals each day, which should take only a few minutes
- Encourage people to take a minute to look at what they’re working on and if it matches their key goals
- If a direct report is not in-synch with key goals, encourage them to re-think their daily activity
Ken Blanchard is the cofounder The Ken Blanchard Companies, an international management training and consulting firm. In addition to starting his own business, he also teaches students in the Master of Science in Executive Leadership Program at the University of San Diego.