Most of us have come across goal setting in one way or another, be that at work when your boss comes over and tells you that you have to reach a certain sales target this quarter, or when we make a new year’s resolution to learn a new language.
But why do we constantly set goals? Does it even work? Can’t we just all try our best and be much happier? Turns out that setting effective and meaningful goals can have a tremendous effect, not only on your performance, but also on other aspects of your (work-)life.
Why set Goals?
Research on the topic of goal setting has been done for more than 50 years and a lot of it has been aggregated to an area called Goal Setting Theory, with countless studies and experiments on a variety of topics highlighting plenty of good reasons to get into the habit of setting goals.
- Direction & Focus: One of the main advantages of a well defined goal is that it gives the team focus and direction, both in what should be worked on and what to leave out.
- Engagement: A recent study by Gallup shows that worldwide only 13% of employees are engaged at work. When goals are used the right way they can increase engagement because employees have something to strive towards.
- Motivation: Closely related to engagement, goals can also have a positive impact on motivation – especially when a team are directly involved in the process of defining said goals and can therefore identify with it.
- Performance: The part that has been most researched the impact on performance. Multiple studies have found, that setting goals can increase quantitative output by up to 16%. The harder the targets are the more performance they can yield, but only to a certain point when they start becoming unachievable and they don’t work as a motivator anymore, a known side effect when companies start introducing so called stretch goals.
Caveats when setting Goals
This is good segue to briefly talk about some of the negative effects that can occur when goal setting is done suboptimally or too aggressively, a good thing to be aware of when you’re introducing goals into your company or team.
- Unethical Behaviour: The most commonly known problem with targets is that it can lead to unethical behaviour. This is a well researched topic, with studies showing that people with goals are four times more likely to lie about their performance, even if they’re within reach.
- Limited Learning: One of the things we highlighted earlier that well defined goals can focus your work and make sure you’re working on the right things. As with performance, this can be taken a step too far when targets are set to narrow so that all innovation, creativity and broader thinking gets lost.
- Dissatisfaction: The last negative impact goals can have that we want to talk about here is dissatisfaction, which can happen when goals are set too ambitious. This can then in turn lead to less motivation and engagement, which is the complete opposite of what we’re trying to achieve while setting goals.
How we set Goals on every Level
Here at Redbubble, we’re using a framework called Objective and Key Results (OKRs), which was made popular by Google almost a decade ago. The reason why we’re using OKRs is mainly because they give us the autonomy each team needs to operate in a way that enables full ownership of a problem while providing maintaining a strong focus. In other words, OKRs define the What and Why, not the How.
The way this works in our case is by cascading goals from the top level to the individual and involving the whole team at all stages of the process. Each team or individual is responsible to come up with the targets for a time period and then check in with the one level above to make sure that it makes sense from the higher level perspective. This creates a hierarchy of cascading goals that are meaningful because that they’re all aligned with the overall target. The other benefit we get out of it, is that the collaborative approach to goal-setting, and giving the team ownership of their destiny, increases motivation and engagement.
Some handy tips when setting and following up on Goals
This is the model that’s working for Redbubble, and as with and some of the things might or might not work in your case so please apply it with an Agile mindset and adjust it in a way to fit your use case. There are a few things however that are almost always a good idea to adapt, so lets close our discussion by looking at them in a bit more detail.
- Give your Goals a Meaning: Meaning in goals can be achieved through a multitude of things, be it that it’s tied to an inspiring company vision or something people are passionate about. Wherever meaning comes from, it’s desirable because it leads to more engagement and motivation, both in pursuit of the target and day-to-day work.
- Measure Progress & Success: Most goal framework encourage you to set targets that are measurable, so it’s important and valuable to check-in regularly. By tracking the progress you can make sure the team is on the right track and whether adjustments need to be made to the type of work you’re doing.
- Pivot when necessary: No goal is of use if it doesn’t fit the group anymore, be that due to changes in the company strategy or external influences. The important thing here is to recognise when this is happening, discuss the options and – if it’s deemed necessary – go through the goal setting process again in light of the new situation.
Your role as a Leader
- If you’re in a leadership position, the first thing you can help with is to facilitate the team involvement and make sure everybody buys into the goals that are being set.
- The second big part in your role as a leader is to make sure the goals stay relevant by following all of the points mentioned above, like ensuring it has a meaning.
- Last but not least, you need to lead by example. A goal can be the most well defined, accurate and meaningful, but if you don’t buy-in 100% and show that you care and do everything you can to meet them, your team won’t do either.
An extended version of this article will be published in the June edition of Methods & Tools.