This article is designed to cover some of the history, best practice and general considerations that you should take when setting goals.
The Carbon360 team think individual goal setting is a great part of your overall performance management structure, and this article is designed to give you all the information you need about how to do it right.
As we have covered a lot of information in this post, we have divided it into two parts. You can read part 1 here.
Part 2 is designed to give you some information on the history and purpose of goal setting, and to show you why, when not implemented properly it can go wrong.
Obviously, we also want to show you how to avoid those pitfalls and how to set meaningful goals that really drive improvement.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact the Carbon360 team.
Some criticism of goal setting
SMART goal setting
How to avoid the pitfalls of goal setting – setting, tracking and aligning goals
Some criticisms of goal setting
There are four main pitfalls of setting goals if sensible consideration is not given to the process. These are the main concerns addressed by critics of goal setting, and there are organisations where such mistakes have been made, and where bad goal setting has indeed, been detrimental to the business.
But that is not to say that these mistakes could not have been avoided by more careful planning of the goals that were being set - but we will come to that later.
One common mistake is lack of clarity concerning the process that will lead to the goals being achieved. Bad goal setting can lead to employees ignoring sound business practice. Setting goals without a sensible approach to achieving their aims can lead employees to avoid sensible business behaviours that they would ordinarily follow, simply in blind pursuit of achieving the goal or target. In a similar fashion, if goals are not set that are achievable through best practice, employees can risk the reputation of the business purely to achieve the target they have been set. For example, if a sales target is set too high, employees may act either irresponsibly, or in an unethical manner to ensure the target is met.
If sales people are unprofessionally pushy, or the work employees produce is rushed and thoughtless, or results are fabricated simply in order to reach a quota, then obviously the goal set has been ill considered, and the communication between staff and management is lacking.
In addition to these more tangible problems, some argue that goal setting is widely over-prescribed, and that not all companies benefit from the process. However, even critics of the process generally believe that if managed in the right way, and applied to the right organisation, goal setting can indeed be beneficial.
Maurice Schweitzer, co-author of 'Goals Gone Wild - the systematic effects of over-prescribing goal setting' Believes that;
“Both managers and scholars have grown complacent in their endorsement of goal setting, often neglecting the harmful effects”. He says that “Managers who set overly ambitious targets can cause eventual problems”.
However, Schweitzer does say that there are places where goal setting is wholly appropriate, but that like anything to do with performance management, it requires thought and an adherence to best practice. He identifies a series of reasons why goal setting may not work, and cites goals being too specific and leading to a narrow focus as causing obvious problems. In addition, an inappropriate time frame can lead to too much focus on short term goal achievement which means longer term problems may be ignored or simply not addressed. Additionally, overly ambitious targets may lead to risky practices or unethical behaviours.
So how can you avoid these pitfalls, and in what situations does goal setting improve the productivity and motivation of your workforce?
Well that’s the great thing about setting goals and targets. The way you implement goal setting is flexible, and can (and should) vary, not only from business to business, but from individual to individual. You should think carefully before beginning the process, and as ever, performance best practice dictates that whatever way you go about setting goals, communication is key.
SMART goal setting
SMART goals are part of a set of performance management objectives called KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) which aim to make goals applicable and individual, while adhering to a set of best practice pointers.
The acronym is very well known in human resources and stands for;
Specific: Goals must state specifically what they employee needs to achieve.
Measurable: You need to keep track of the goals set, so you know when each goal has been achieved.
Achievable: Although goals should be challenging, they also need to be realistic - Is the employee really capable of achieving the objectives set?
Relevant: Make sure the goals you set are relevant to the person or team. Again, communication and on-going progress reporting is necessary to make sure the goal set remains relevant, and that you are able to change or amend it if the situation changes.
Time-bound: It is important to set dates and time frames in which to complete goals and objectives. These time frames can be flexible, and if on discussion there is a good reason to change the timescale, you can and should do so. However, completion dates must be set, and communication kept constant.
By adhering to these rules you can avoid the problems that are commonly encountered by goals that fail or cause problems in business. These guidelines also mean that you have the flexibility to plan individual goals that suit both the company aims and visions, and individual targets.
With a team of employees working towards achieving a set of goals that are aligned to your company vision, continuous improvement is attainable, and that improvement will pervade the entire company.
How to avoid the pitfalls of Goal Setting – setting, tracking and aligning goals.
Put simply, making sure your employees understand your company objectives means that they can work towards them.
Setting goals and targets that are aligned with company aims and visions means that each employee is working towards something concrete – a focused point which will contribute to the realisation of individual and company wide objectives and targets.
However, unless there is on-going communication between staff and management this cannot be the case. It is not uncommon for managers to be under the false impression that staff are working in a way that benefits the company, and it is not uncommon for staff to simply turn up and do the job they think they are supposed to be doing, without really giving the company as a whole any thought.
Without great communication, employees can lack an understanding of, let alone a desire to contribute to, the overall aims of the company. Employees become disengaged, and that means they aren't working as well as they could for your company.
For most companies, staff are the most expensive and most valuable asset. If you can ensure your staff are genuinely engaged and clear about both what your company is trying to achieve, and in what way they are contributing to that achievement, then you are making the very most out of that asset.
It is often thought that money is the best motivator, but studies have shown that simply having a better understanding of your role and it's importance, as well as management you can trust is a great motivator for staff.
The CIPD Employee Outlook Report found that;
“It is in employer’s interests to be interested in the well-being of their staff – not just because they have a duty of care towards them, but because of the link between well-being and employee engagement”.
By listening to the aspirations and issues of your staff, they are more likely to trust you, and to believe in the organisation.
Similarly, if they know what they are contributing to the company, and feel that they are important to its success, they are much more likely to be engaged at work, and therefore work harder.
And that is why good goal setting is such a powerful tool.
Goal Setting - Getting it Right (Part 2)
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