Today’s organizations are subject to change at an unprecedented pace. Externally, change is driven by many factors organizations can’t control, such as technology, competitors, and other market forces. Internally, change is driven by innovation, growth, employee demographics, and other dynamics. The ability to define clear goals helps cut through this complexity.
By Gary Harpst
Change requires effective and timely adjustments in priorities – and priorities that people can adjust to. Good goals will clarify what is to be done, when, and by whom. Organizations that do not have a system for defining, agreeing on, communicating, and managing goals are at a severe disadvantage to those that have this capability.
Goal Setting Skills are Essential for Everyone in the Organization
The ability to define what needs to be done and then manage getting it done is a skill every team member should have – not just top leadership. The scope and time horizons of each individual’s responsibility will vary by job level, but the necessity to adjust priorities to circumstances and to separate the important from the urgent is everybody’s everyday job. Proper goal setting is a uniquely human trait for envisioning a desired future and agreeing to work toward that future.
We wish goal setting were as easy as starting at the top and then breaking goals down in succeeding levels. That is part of the story. But in all organizations, much of the work is cross-functional. In fact, most things that customers value are a result of cross-functional collaboration. The ability to define goals using a common language and approach dramatically reduces the friction involved in building collaboration, not only within a department but especially among large cross-functional projects, committees, or process teams. In addition, it helps bridge the communication gaps that occur vertically in an organization.
Goal Setting a Prerequisite for Collaborative Teamwork
Rapidly-changing organizations require collaborative teams that understand what needs to be accomplished and what kind of innovating thinking it will take to get the work done.
Almost all work in an organization gets done by groups of people. If you are working alone, you may get by with fuzzy definitions of what you are trying to do. But with a group, it is impossible for people to work together effectively without a shared understanding of what the group is trying to accomplish.
Effective teamwork is enhanced by much shared (social) interaction in the forming and executing goals. This not only makes the group more efficient, it leverages the differences of the team and provides peer accountability and motivation that can only occur when doing things “together.” Good goals are essential to this process.
- Clarify the Goal-Setting Process – Get agreement and train everyone on how goals are defined and managed, including the overall process for strategic plans, department, and individual and cross-functional plans.
- Simplicity Vs. Goals Gone Wild – Don’t set too many goals. One error we frequently notice is that teams and individuals create too many goals. We recommend boiling down your project list (for example) to the “vital few” goals, which we define as your top-three goals.
- Frequent Review and Revision – Review and revise plans frequently. Research confirms that organizations with the discipline to review and revise plans more regularly (e.g., quarterly or monthly) outperform organizations that only review their plans annually.
- Grow Plan Building Skills – Invest in equipping everyone with the ability to know how to define goals and plans. This is a necessary organization-wide skill for getting everyone on the same page.
- Grow Plan Execution Skills – Invest in equipping everyone with the ability to know how to manage goals and plans once these have been created. Plans are never “right”; their greatest value is shared understanding. The process of working the plan is what maintains that shared understanding.
OKRs – Objectives and Key Results
“OKR” is a term that originally described a specific approach to defining a goal. Coined at Intel years ago, it encourages the discipline of separating a qualitative statement of objective, such as “Great Launch of our Product Line X,” from a clear statement of “key results” for that objective, for example, “1,000 new customers within 90 days of launch” or “X social media hits by xx/XX/XX.” Whether you use the term OKRs, or some other term, such as goals, objectives, outcomes, or KPIs, in the end, clarity and alignment requires a clear indication of the results of any goal.
Goals help ensure people are connected to the purpose of your organization. Guaranteeing successful goal setting and execution requires that organizations have a system that enables them to clearly define and agree on its goals, as well as effectively communicate and manage goals.
Gary Harpst is an author, business strategist and coach, and founder and CEO of Six Disciplines. He is recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on business management, leadership, and strategy execution. Harpst is also a successful entrepreneur having co-founded and served as CEO of Solomon Software – now Microsoft Dynamics.