Goal setting is tricky business. The right goals motivate, are meaningful, focus attention and effort, and create positive change for the organization. They also allow you to quickly identify where progress is stalled and action is required. Unfortunately, many goals fail to effectively do any of this because they are not set at the right level.
In an attempt to create “line of sight” many leaders set goals too high. They position goals against enterprise-level outcomes such as revenue, quality, customer experience, and profit. Everyone in the organization should understand how their work contributes to enterprise outcomes. However, very few people directly influence those outcomes. For everyone else there are just too many things that sit between their work and the realization of the final result. For these people “line of sight” should be created with communication and explanation, not goal setting.
So why do leaders set goals too high? Conventional wisdom suggests that if everyone is pulling for the same enterprise-wide goal, people will optimize their actions accordingly. However, in practice, I often see the opposite happen. Goals that are set too high or too far from someone’s actual responsibilities mask whether that work is actually contributing. When the enterprise goal is being met individuals congratulate themselves for doing their part. When it’s not being met individuals console themselves by assuming that they did their part and that the problem must lie somewhere else. Neither conclusion is valid. They have no way of knowing how successful their individual work actually was if they are only measuring and tracking the enterprise goal.
Goals should be aligned with the direct contribution that an individual is expected to make. Your sales people contribute to revenue in a very different way than your IT people. They should each have unique goals reflecting that. With unique goals you’ll be able to more quickly find out which efforts are working, which are not working, and which may not even be needed in the first place.
Create line of sight by carefully communicating, explaining, and reinforcing the way that your people’s work fits into the “big picture”. Set goals that allow people to see if the specific work they do is making a positive contribution to your business and to the big picture.