This Week in HR, week one of a new year, we turn our minds to goal setting: Goal setting in the context of a new year, new social and political dynamics, new perspectives on what we want for ourselves and others around us—new everything. I started thinking about what shaped my perspective on goals and goal setting. I remembered an exchange with a friend of mine who owned a startup seismic analysis company in Houston that serviced O&G exploration companies. He complained to me that he was tired of his employees failing to meet their revenue targets – particularly the sales guys, as well as a few of the engineers. He told me that he and his business partner had laid it all out on the line, “We made it clear to employees - what we expected from each of them and the consequences for continued failure.”
They were baffled by what happened. Employee morale, which was already in the dumps, got worse, some quit, and the owners were left with an even more serious problem, they were unable to meet what was left of the demand for their services. One of the former employees badmouthed them in what was a small sector within the energy space. The company's costs increased as they were forced to increase compensation for two key employees. The problem was snowballing.
I wasn’t consulting then, but I had begun managing people and understood that managing / motivating people well is not an automatic gift native to leaders. Motivation doesn’t happen magically, sometimes it isn’t intrinsic to every employee’s personality, AND it is deeply interrelated with cultural drivers; so managing / motivating employees isn’t completely within the purview of managers anyway. Leading well is necessarily more cerebral and concerted than telling people what to do.
My friend continued disconsolately prognosticating about failed tactics to turn the company around. I couldn't take it anymore. “Why should they try hard to meet your goal? Why should they care?” I interjected. His reflexive answer was, “Because I’m paying them!” And I asked him if they had considered why they were in business in the first place—if they had ever articulated a good reason for doing business. "We want to make money." End Stop. Duh.
What I am really trying to get at is this: Expecting your employees to meet goals and produce results is natural and unambiguous, just like being in business to make money is obvious and OK. What employees will always need from leaders, though, besides clear direction, is a bigger sense of meaning and purpose for their work – the WHY. The question, Why should anyone care about what they do? is not rhetorical or cynical, it’s THE fundamental concern for companies that want to increase retention and engagement. Companies that have no other mission than making money will find their employee relations toolbox empty every time. Coming up with ancillary raisons d'être gives you something to work with. Having a vision for where you want to take your company will give you material to inspire your employees with the same passion you have.
Setting goals for a new year in all or strategic business areas for the business and employees is the most exciting and important thing a business leader does. It is the opportunity to move forward into a new year with purpose and clear direction.
Articulate at least three guiding goals for your business or a vision that is more complex than making more money in 2021. Every goal should have some fundamental root in your mission and your values.
What meaning do your goals have for you? How will you communicate them effectively to imbue meaning within your workforce? I promise this is not wasted energy; there’s ROI here.
Your vision for the year or the next few years will take hard work, but before the work can be done, you’ll need to distill the goals into actions, procedures, and policies at all levels in clear action plans, and very importantly: Training initiatives. You must provide resources for people to improve or perform new tasks. Ask employees what they need from you often.
Consider how you are going to quality-assure along the way and how you will align and re-align what’s happening across your organization with its goals at regular milestones.
What kind of feedback do you plan to give your employees along the way? Do you need a formal performance plan with structured feedback sessions? Check out the iSolved Performance Management module. And remember to stay focused on the strategic vision.
Help your employees see why your goals are good for everyone through constant communication and clarification.
If you have controversial goals, consider putting together a Guiding Coalition of stakeholders to help convert resistant employees. You gotta sell it and it helps to have others on board.
*Hint: You may already be paying for an LMS or Learning Management System, with existing training tools. You may also already be paying for a Performance Management System. In which case, consider incorporating it into your overall plans. Formal Performance Management has gotten a ton of bad rap recently. Performance Management must hold meaning for both managers and employees, or else it will be useless.