Quick! What goals are you working on – right now? What about your team?
Can’t answer? You’re not alone. A study of Harvard graduates found that 87% had no specific goals in mind, beyond the general “being happy,” or “being successful,” or “doing the best with what I was given.”
Harvard graduates, for Pete’ sake!
Effective leaders rally people around a compelling vision of a future they’d like to manifest. As important as this is, it’s not enough. Visions galvanize people around what they want, but do little to clarify how they’re going to get there.
That’s why goals are so important. They are milestones on the path to the vision. They translate inspiration into perspiration. As the Japanese proverb puts it, “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.”
The Harvard research revealed a critical finding about goals. Those graduates with written goals (only 3% of the sample) outperformed the other 97% on every scale imaginable.
Now, there’s goals and there’s goals. Many of us have annual performance targets, sometimes running well over a couple of pages. (Surprisingly, to me, is how many don’t even have these!) What I’m talking about is the 3-4 goals that matter most – those that fall in line with the 80/20 rule (eighty percent of what’s important comes from twenty percent of what you do).
I believe strongly that every member of an organization should have 80/20 goals, and that they should meet these criteria:
1. They can be recalled instantly. People who have to refer to written documents are not sharply focused. One sentence goals, like one sentence mission statements, are the best.
2. They can be measured, tracked, and time-bound. Goals of this nature don’t have to be annual affairs – they can be created and fulfilled in whatever time is appropriate, and retired to make room for new goals.
3. They are specific, not general (“Customer service representatives will answer the phones by the second ring,” rather than “Customer service representatives will be responsive to customers.”)
4. They are a stretch, finding the sweet spot between optimistic and realistic.
5. They have a “line-of-sight” directly to the top of the organization. Every goal, for every member of the organization, should be connected to the highest aspirations of the organization.
6. They are co-created by a leader and his or her staff. (Creating goals is a terrific “coachable moment,” by the way.)
If you or your staff don’t have three or four goals you’re working on right now, invest the time as soon as possible. Create some “draft” goals for yourself, and invite each of your staff to do the same for themselves. Then, working together (one-on-one or as a team), review the goals to ensure they meet the criteria above.
After you’ve agreed on goals, consider ways to monitor progress towards each goal, ideally on a daily basis. Imagine following a sports team without being knowing their win-loss numbers, their current standing in the league, and so on. Not very engaging, right?
You might even consider a Goal Board which could be updated periodically. I watched a frustrated department store Operations Manager who was always chasing delinquent department managers (17 in all) every Tuesday for their sales report of the week before. Nagging, threatening, even praising the on-time managers didn’t seem to have any lasting effect.
Finally, with a stroke of genius, he made a simple goal board, hung in a hallway that every employee used. It had the names of the department managers down the first column, and the dates of upcoming Tuesdays in the first row. He bought two stamps: a smiley face and a frown face. Each time a manager turned in a report on time, he soon found a smiley face by his name for that date. Turn it in late, and there was a frown. That’s it – nothing was ever announced, no explanation was needed.
Within three weeks, there were NO managers turning in their reports late twice in a row, and within a couple more weeks, late reports had become a thing of the past. Goal Boards work!