How to Set Organizational Goals: Less Is More

Article | Culture

by | Oct 24, 2017

Effective business leaders boost employee engagement by setting fewer organizational goals and focusing on the key result.

Ever wonder why phone numbers are structured in chunks separated by dashes? It’s because the human brain remembers groups of three or four at best. Any more and we can lose our way a bit. That’s why attempting to memorize a string of numbers inevitably results in forgetting one or two, but remembering a few groups of numbers is far more manageable. The same concept applies to organizational goals.

Goal setting is one of the more challenging tasks that leaders face. There are short- and long-term goals, plus overall business objectives to consider in addition to individual team and employee goals. They must be relevant and timely to motivate employees to actually reach them, but they also can’t be so fine-tuned that team members feel micromanaged. It’s a tricky balance to strike.

While keeping employees engaged and motivated in achieving those goals can be complicated in practice, the key to success is simplicity. Whether you call them goals, objectives or priorities, you should define each by a deliverable outcome. We like to call these measurable and achievable targets key results.

Essentially, that means associating every goal, objective or priority with one key result to focus on achieving. It’s a goal setting theory that’s simple but effective.

Keep it clear and under control

When employees feel as if they’re working day in and day out with little knowledge of the organization’s greater goals, the results are on the not-so-favorable side. Feelings of frustration, defeat and disengagement begin to affect their performance. It’s as if these employees have already resigned but they just haven’t told anyone yet.

When it comes to organizational goal setting, leaders can forge a clearer path forward for employees by defining key results. Here’s how:

Establish realistic expectations

Define two to five specific, actionable and measurable key results for each employee as well as collaborative targets for teams. Provide realistic expectations for when these key results should be met, and include thoughtful explanations for why each key result is important to the organization at large.

When employees feel that their contributions help to actively push the company in the right direction, they’ll be more motivated to complete the tasks at hand with efficiency and enthusiasm. Rather than acting as robots completing their individual assignments each day, your employees will better understand their place in the bigger picture.

Set SMART goals

Along with defining key results for each goal, make sure you’re setting objectives with high potential to succeed. You can use the SMART acronym as a guide when setting organization goals and objectives:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

With these elements in mind, the idea is to set goals that are clear and defined but also can realistically be achieved with available resources. Identified metrics also help managers and employees track progress over the designated time allowed to achieve the key result.

Track employee progress

With measurable goals in place, you can easily track employee and team progress toward reaching those key results. Sharing the numbers with your employees is a great way to establish transparency and facilitate a healthy flow of feedback. Plan regular meetings with employees to discuss their progress, giving them an opportunity to seek advice on what they’re doing well and where they need to improve to keep moving forward at the right pace.

When employees can clearly see that they are making headway, those key results become more attainable – which in turn boosts employee engagement and improves overall morale.

Avoid micromanaging territory

While tracking progress is important, make sure you’re not micromanaging your employees. People work at different paces and shouldn’t be held to rigid, numbers-driven standards of productivity.

Micromanaging can actually increase employee dissatisfaction at work and make them feel as if they’ll never be good enough in the role. The Forbes Coaches Council advised leaders to adopt the 95-95 rule: Accept 95 percent of perfect performance 95 percent of the time, and you’ll micromanage 95 percent less often.

Create joint accountability to boost employee engagement

When management presents too many disparate key results for employees to focus on reaching, workers tend to stay in their lanes and center their attention on only the targets that they have the most influence over. However, only reaching individual goals isn’t always helpful for the company as a whole – which might not be a fact that employees realize. That’s why it’s important to approach goal setting with joint accountability in mind.

Joint accountability is the idea that every single person in a company is responsible for how the company fares. In order for this approach to work, companies need to break down silos, open up channels of communication and establish a clearly defined, shared company objective. If everyone in the company – from the janitor to the CEO – feels invested in the company’s mission and key results, employee engagement and productivity begins to skyrocket. Maintaining joint accountability means that valuable engagement and productivity will be there to stay.

At Partners In Leadership, our goal is to help you achieve accountability in the workplace through strategic planning, executive coaching and Lead Culture™ consulting. We’ll help you define those key results so you can see the outcomes you want and employees can gain the satisfaction they need.

Partners In Leadership

Partners In Leadership