Goal Setting Needs to Be a Partnership

Managers and their direct reports are equally responsible for goal setting. Yet many organizations make it a one-person project. That leads to problems according to John Hester, a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies®. In organizations where managers set goals without employee involvement, employees feel left out of the process. As a result, managers don't get the buy-in they need. The employee has no fire or passion to achieve the goals. In some cases, resentment sets in.

In other companies, managers leave goal setting to their employees. While this may be comfortable to employees, it can lead to misalignment with overall organization goals, or can create targets that are focused more on existing skills that don’t create any growth or stretch.

For goal setting to work best, managers and employees need to work together to set goals that are aligned with organizational objectives, offer the right amount of challenge, and create buy-in from both parties.

Taking Individual Responsibility

An organization's culture and norms play an important role in how individual managers and direct reports approach goal setting, but this doesn't mean that managers and individual employees should settle for the status quo if it is not meeting their needs. In all cases, managers and direct reports have the ability to go above and beyond and ensure that in any work relationship, clear goals are established up front.

Hester reminds managers and direct reports alike that ultimately, you are responsible for your own career and for getting your needs met. In Hester's opinion, you don't want to make your career success completely dependent on the goal-setting skills of your manager. That's too reactive—and too dependent of an approach.

Instead, Hester recommends that managers and employees take individual responsibility for setting clear goals each year. As he explains, "If I am an employee and I am not having the performance planning discussion that I should be having at the beginning of the year than I am going to initiate it. This will probably mean sitting down with my manager and saying, 'I want talk with you about the key goals you want me to achieve this year. Here are some of my ideas, what do you think?' As a direct report you have a responsibility to make sure that you are successful, effective, developing, and that you are doing what you can to be fully engaged."

Special Advice for Managers

For managers looking to make the process easier for the people on their team, Hester recommends focusing on three key areas.

Approach goal-setting as a partnership. Recognize that performance planning is not something that you should do alone. This is something to be done in partnership with your team member. It's a collaborative process. So the manager needs to know what the employee's key areas of responsibility are, what is expected in the role, and what they want to see in terms of performance. The key is to have that discussion with the employee.

Make sure the goal is SMART (or SMMART). Anytime you set a goal, objective, or an assignment, you need to make sure that it meets the simple SMART criteria (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound). As Hester explains, "So many times when I asked employees how they receive their assignments they usually tell me it's a casual hallway conversation or a quick email. And that's it. There's no discussion about specific targets, timelines, or measurement."

Hester also believe that there should be a second "M" in the SMART acronym to account for employee Motivation. "This means the manager needs to additionally ask, 'What is it about this goal that is motivating? What difference does it make in the organization, or to the team, or to the individual employee?' So managers need to make sure that motivation is a part of the discussion and that they consider and inquire about an employee's attitude toward the assignment."

Diagnose competence and commitment levels. Finally, managers need to consider an employee's individual competence and commitment level for a task. As Hester explains, "This is one of the basics of the Situational Leadership® II Model. For example, it's a common mistake to assume that because a person is a veteran employee, they are experienced at any new task that might be set before them. This is often incorrect. It's important that a manager find out about experience with a specific task and then partner with the employee to determine what they need in terms of direction and support to be successful with this particular assignment."

Common Mistakes in Goal Setting

While good goal setting leads to increased performance, Hester also cautions against some common pitfalls to avoid.

  1. Goals are not realistic. Stretch goals are great, but if they are out of reach they become demotivating and can even cause some employees to engage in unethical behavior to achieve them. In addition to making sure the goal is Attainable, goals should be monitored and adjusted as needed during the year.
  2. Setting too many goals. When employees have too many goals they can easily lose track of what is important and spend time on the ones they "want" to do or that are easier to accomplish whether or not they are the highest priority.
  3. Setting goals and then walking away. Goal setting is the beginning of the process, not an end in itself. Once goals are set, managers need to meet regularly to provide support and direction to help employees achieve their goals.
  4. Setting a "how" goal instead of a "what" goal. Goals should indicate "what" is to be accomplished—the end in mind—not "how" it should be accomplished.

Benefits of Goal Setting if Managers Are Successful

Managers who take the time to spend the extra effort up front will recognize significant benefits down the road. Clear goals lead to clearer expectations, better performance-focused conversations, and ultimately, higher levels of performance across the organization.

Accountability is also easier with well-defined tasks. This is because follow-up conversations can focus on specific tasks instead of the person. As Hester explains, "This is very helpful and it keeps the manager out of conversations where they are saying something general like, 'You're not performing well.' Instead, managers can point to the fact that an employee is not performing on this one goal, and can talk about what they can both do to make better progress."

An extra side benefit is that working together on goals improves the relationship between managers and their direct reports. "That always pays dividends," says Hester. "When people feel that their manager is truly invested in their success and they see their manager as a coach and partner helping them to succeed, their level of engagement and passion increases. It's a clear, focused path that helps people perform at their best."


Would you like to learn more about setting your people up for success? Then join us for a free webinar!

Performance Planning: 5 ways to set your people up for success

Wednesday, January 23, 2013
9:00–10:00 a.m. Pacific, 12:00–1:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00–6:00 p.m. UK & GMT

All good performance starts with clear goals. Clarifying goals involves making sure that people understand two things: first, what they are being asked to do—their areas of accountability—and second, what good performance looks like—the performance standards by which they will be evaluated.

Yet few managers invest the time necessary to connect the dots between an individual's work and the overall goals of the team or department. As a result, countless hours of effort are spent reviewing tasks and redoing work.

In this webinar, performance expert and Senior Consulting Partner John Hester will show you how to avoid the common managerial pitfalls that drain team performance, create accountability issues, and lead to stress and rework throughout the year.

You’ll learn how to:

  • Set clear goals for each of your employees. This is the foundation that has to be in place. Clear goals create performance expectations. They also set the stage for future discussions about progress, autonomy, and necessary resources.
  • Become more aware of your goal-setting habits. Have you optimized the challenge inherent in each person's goals or tasks, or have you fallen into the habit of overusing and under-challenging your best people? Many managers develop lazy goal setting habits that don't really challenge their best people.
  • Connect the dots. Everyone needs to know that their work is meaningful with clear alignment between what they do and what the organization is trying to accomplish. If you can't point to a key departmental objective and how an employee's work is impacting it, you do not have the alignment that should be in place.
  • Build in some variety. A well defined job includes some routine, and some challenging, tasks. If a job is structured properly, some tasks will be very achievable with present skills while others will be more of a stretch that cannot be accomplished with an employee's current skill set and resources. This mix is an essential component of a satisfying job that also encourages career growth.
  • Properly diagnose development level. For tasks where an employee is self sufficient, autonomy is deserved and should be established. For tasks that are beyond an employee's current skill level and immediate resources, an agreement for direction and support is needed. Determining an employee's development level is the key managerial skill

Don't miss this opportunity to learn how to set your people up for success. Using a combination of proven performance management techniques combined with the latest advancements in motivation research, you'll discover how to get everyone on your team moving in the same direction, with clear, engaging priorities.

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