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The Problem With Your Goal-Setting Strategy— And How to Fix It

Jason Diamond Arnold

January 23, 2020

Effective goal-setting methodologies are often used by organizations to bridge the gap between strategy and execution, while offering teams and individuals meaning and purpose in their work. Goal-setting is also a cornerstone for building effective leadership within organizations while pursuing strategic business results.

But finding a method for goal-setting that addresses critical organizational needs that also align with the needs of teams and individuals can be a significant challenge. Effective goal-setting is a two-way street that can result in collateral damage if not managed carefully within an organization.

Many organizations still use traditional goal-setting methods, but it’s becoming obvious that the traditional methods aren’t as powerful in the modern workforce. Traditional goal-setting methods are largely managed through top-down corporate hierarchy, where goals are set at an executive level, then cascaded down throughout the organization, and eventually landing at the feet of individual contributors. However, this approach to organizational goal-setting is often slow to adapt to strategic pivots caused by rapid change in the market, and can easily get derailed if the goals are too distant or ambitious to be effectively executed.

The Inspire approach to #SMARTgoals evolves the goal structure through advanced research. @InspireSoftware offers advice on how to make your goals more valuable, meaningful, and consistent: Tweet This!

Here are a few problems associated with common methods used in goal-setting, and how to adapt them to the modern workplace:

The Problem With SMART Goals

Traditionally, SMART goals are a simple way to help people nail down the basic fundamentals of an effective goal. The acronym helps structure a written goal that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. However, breakthroughs in motivational science reveal a flaw in this approach. In our work with the leadership and engagement experts at Inspire, we’ve found that the traditional approach to SMART goals doesn’t always support the outcomes that leaders aim to optimize through the pursuit of goals. At the outset, it’s not always possible to predict what’s realistic or how long it will take.

The Inspire Approach

The Inspire approach to SMART goals evolves the goal structure through advanced research in engagement trends and motivational science to make goals more valuable, consistent, and meaningful to individuals. To ensure a more effective pursuit of goals, Inspire uses the following structure for creating SMART goals:

    • Specific: Nail down the exact key results you aim to achieve with your goals. “Increase traffic” doesn’t give you something tangible to strive for. “Increase traffic by 15% by the end of Q2” provides a specific and measurable result with little room for misunderstanding, and an identifiable end-goal to hit.
    • Motivating: It’s important to address the psychological needs and safety of team members when setting goals. Goals that don’t foster a choice, don’t create a sense of connectedness to the team or the organization, or don’t align to the core competencies in the individuals pursuing them can often generate disengaged or an unhealthy motivational outlook towards critical needs of the company. Developing goals where individuals can feel a sense of autonomy or ownership of their progress will greatly improve their chances of reaching the desired outcomes for the employee, while producing meaningful results for the organization.
    • Attainable: Similar to achievable, it’s critical to set goals that are within reach, but still challenging. Achievability isn’t enough to create an engaging goal that pushes employees and teams to grow. Setting goals beyond an individual or team’s skill set — or ones that are effortlessly surpassed — risks losing motivation and engagement around the tasks needed to complete the goal. Finding that middle ground is critical for successful goal-setting.
    • Relevant: Goals need to be relevant to the individual pursuing them, while also aligned to the strategy of the company. If a performance goal doesn’t directly relate to an individual's skill set or role, they may be set up for failure, and the objective may be compromised. On the other hand, you don’t want individuals pursuing goals that are not relevant to the near or long term strategy of the company. Goals that are relevant to the role of an individual and align to the needs of the company is important to consider before setting out to pursue an objective.
    • Trackable: Where traditional SMART goals ask for goals that are time bound, it’s more valuable to make goals that are trackable. Have checkpoints to determine whether the person or team is on track to meet their milestones and achieve their goal. Have conversations as to where roadblocks or obstacles are met, and monitor who is contributing and how. This ensures a better understanding of how goals are progressing, and how they align with the overall business strategy
When setting #SMARTgoals for your organization, remember that it’s not just about one person’s goal, it’s about how it fits into the larger objective. @InspireSoftware has tips for how to make your goals more valuable to your team: Tweet This!

The Problem with Year-Long Goals

While it’s important to set long-term goals, particularly from an organizational perspective, goals that have a completion date too far in the future can be counterproductive in the short-term — especially in today’s tech-driven world. It’s difficult to predict how the environment will change throughout the year, so setting shorter goals within a longer timeline can help keep your goals agile, flexible, and allows managers to regroup, reassess, and accommodate changing needs in real-time. You don’t want to set a December goal in January but realize in April that you don’t have the right manpower to make it to the end, or even worse, that the objective you set out to achieve is no longer viable or relevant to the urgent needs of the company. Planning goals in easily digestible chunks helps you see challenges and make adjustments before it’s too late to pivot to a better solution.

The Inspire Approach

With transparency and collaboration, long term corporate strategy can be accomplished in manageable short-term seasons. Contributors can see how and where their role fits into the larger objective, who else is working with them, the resources they have available, and can get an idea for the resources they’ll need throughout these iterations of the overall strategy. Inspire’s Goal Agility, for example, allows contributors to leave comments, provide status updates, inform others of their roadblocks, and address engagement issues throughout the pursuit of individual and team goals. Anyone working on or towards a goal can see, at a glance, who’s contributing, how, where they can work together, and what levels of the organization are a part of this goal. The result is better communication, collaboration, and better relationships at work. This kind of transparency makes it easier to pursue long-term business strategy, because everyone is moving in a common direction throughout the organization. It’s not just about one person’s goal, it’s about how it fits into the larger strategic objective.

The Problem with Behavior-Based Goals

Often when managing individuals, it can be tempting to correct behaviors or habits to fit culture or organizational standards — or perhaps because we believe everyone should be doing something a certain way. But it’s crucial to remember that everyone works differently, and to delineate which behavioral traits are ones that actually hinder productivity. As mentioned above, keep your goal-setting to things that are relevant. If someone is tardy in the mornings but otherwise reliable and productive, maybe it’s better to adapt their schedule rather than trying to force them into a behavior that doesn’t make them any more productive or effective at their job. Additionally, trying to change an individual’s behavior can come across as micromanaging and demoralizing, particularly if it has no bearing on their work ethic or results. Placing too much stress on how and when employees do something can have cataclysmic effects on workers’ psyches.

The Inspire Approach

Through continuous conversations, behavioral discussions can happen in real-time. Rather than setting up a specified goal for correcting behavior, which can feel like micromanaging, leaders can address habits and behavior during timely one-to-one discussions. By opening a dialogue, the employee doesn’t feel like they’re being formally reprimanded or put a behavioral plan, but rather, discussing work style in a productive conversation. It allows for the manager to bring up concerns, while providing the employee the opportunity to address why they use certain behaviors or habits. The result may still be correction in the end, but it may also provide a better mutual understanding and stronger bonds between managers and individuals.

Redirecting your goal-setting strategy to suit the modern workplace is an effective way to ensure your goals stay on track with larger business objectives while also remaining relevant and motivating to teams and individuals. We’d love to tell you more about the ways Inspire Software can transform the way you set goals and track their progress on your way to great business results.