The critical question when setting great goals


The critical question when setting great goals


The easiest thing in the world to do is to set a lousy goal.  You’ve probably done it before, and if you manage people you’ve almost definitely seen it happen.

What makes for a lousy goal?  Ambiguity and generalities.  See if any of these “goals” sound familiar:

  • Increase sales
  • Reduce returns
  • Improve on-time production

The potential list goes on and on and on.  And the common theme is that it’s impossible to tell just by looking at the goal exactly what you’re going to get when the goal is due.  If you’re managing a sales team Is the “increased sales” goal met if sales go up by $0.01?  That’s an increase, but chances are you were looking for something more substantial.  When there’s a misalignment over what success actually looks like then there’s a much higher probability that someone is going to be disappointed.

The best boss I ever worked for used to ask a simple question when we were setting goals…he’d ask (often multiple times) “what does success look like?”.  And when you think about it, that’s the essence of any great goal – clarity and alignment about what everyone can expect to see when the goal has been “met”.  The only way that clarity occurs is if people are crystal clear about specifically what must happen for the goal to be “done”.  When everyone is on exactly the same page about what to expect you eliminate the possibility of a misunderstanding..

Let’s go back to our example of “increase sales”.  If you asked the question “what does success look like?” you might first get an answer like “our revenues are higher by the end of the quarter.”  The questions then become “how much higher”, and “from which product lines” and anything else you need to know so there is absolutely no misunderstanding about what you expect to see at the end of the period.

When you’re setting goals, flash forward to the deadline.  Try to envision as specifically as you possibly can what you expect to see if the goal is accomplished.  That vision is what success actually looks like.  When you and your teams set your goals this way, you’ll have fewer bad surprises and more celebrations.

Jeff Whittle

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