Do you already use goals with your team but think you could be getting more out of them? Thinking of getting started but don’t know how?
We’ve got you covered.
When used well, goals can be a fantastic way to track your team’s progress and help them achieve their career aspirations.
When used badly, they feel like a chore. They become out of date, irrelevant things which get dragged up in meetings as a tick in an HR box.
We prefer the first way.
Kommon helps you set meaningful goals with your team members and keep them updated with comments, milestones and feedback so you can track their progress and showcase their achievements.
This article will take you through all you need to know. We’ll cover:
Let’s get started.
Your team members are probably working for your company because they see their own professional aspirations matching the organisation’s mission and activities.
Everyone’s happy when your team members are doing work which your company values, and which also develops their skills and career. For goals to stay relevant and helpful, they should reflect this balance.
To know what goals to set, you therefore need to know two things:
The number one mistake new managers make in setting goals is to try and do it without a clear understanding of these two points.
Details on Point 1 will typically come from speaking to your own boss. Without knowing what your boss defines as success for your team it is impossible to structure underlying goals for your own team members. So be sure to get clarity on this.
Some companies may have very clear OKR-type processes which cascade objectives down through leadership levels to provide this information. In other cases, it may just be a case of talking to your boss to find out what they think is important for the coming months/fiscal year/etc. Either way, it’s invaluable.
Point 2 comes from speaking to your team members about their personal ambitions. This can be a tricky conversation so we actually wrote a whole article on how to make sure these career conversations aren’t forced and awkward.
You may have team members who know exactly where they want to be in 5 years’ time, in which case, great. You may have others who only have a vague idea, but know the skills they want to develop, the people they want to meet, and the types of work they want to do. It’s all valuable information as you try and draw up a set of goals which aligns with how they want their career to progress.
With these two sets of information, you’re now in a position to plan some goals. There will typically be a combination of both these elements. Some goals will be more ‘company-orientated’ - e.g. ‘achieve this sales target by this date’, ‘ship this feature by this date’. Some will be more ‘individual orientated’ - e.g. ‘cmplete training in this discipline’. But taken as a group they should represent a body of work which the organisation and the individual will both value.
Good news! By asking this question, you’ve already assumed the most important part - ‘with my team’.
Your team members will only feel invested in their goals if they play a part in setting them.
Spoiler: coming up with a list of tasks someone needs to work on and telling them to get on with it is not a recipe for success. Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised…
Secondly, if this is a new part of your relationship with the team member - either because you’re a new manager, or they’re new to your team - you may need to spend some time discussing why setting goals is valuable in the first place.
Some people may not be familiar with the process. Or worse, they may have had bad experiences with other managers, and become quite cynical about the whole thing.
In which case, before getting started on the goals themselves, it’s worth talking about why you’re having the conversation in the first place - that you want to put together a plan which will support their career aspirations through doing valuable work, to ensure they progress.
Links to Performance Management
Depending on your company’s performance management processes, it’s possible that the goals you set, or at least some of them, will be linked to performance management processes such that their fulfillment affects promotions and compensation. If this is the case, it’s important to be transparent with your team about that link and how it works so they can set and approach goals with that in mind.
For companies with more formal OKR-type systems, this will be very clear. For other companies it may be more blurry and you may need to talk to your boss or HR to make sure you understand the process and can answer any questions from your team member.
Ok, by this point, you should:
Now you’re ready to set some goals.
It’s at this point that we are going to throw in some jargon, because the SMART framework for setting goals is actually pretty useful.
To be effective, the goals you set should be:
For example, imagine you’re working in an organisation’s marketing team. Setting someone a goal of ‘Improve our overall marketing and branding’ is incredibly unhelpful. Whilst it may be relevant, it’s not specific, measurable or time-bound which also makes it hard to achieve.
In contrast, ‘launch the new company website by 1 May after approval by the board’ is specific (the website), measurable (launch it, after board approval), achievable, relevant and time-bound (1 May). You can also put in more granular milestones with dates to measure progress, such as ‘Finalise designs’, ‘Finalise Copy’, ‘Present to Board’ etc. The goal should set your team member up for success.
We wouldn’t worry too much about this question. If you work out what success would look like over the relevant time period for the individual and the company, and then plan the corresponding goals, you’ll probably get there. (Although the answer is definitely not zero, and probably at least three).
Your biggest problem could be setting too many goals. Stay focussed on the areas that are most critical for your team members’ success at the company. Each goal will probably take longer than you think, and you don’t want to be left with a load of smaller goals to worry about which just don’t get done.
As Cristos Goodrow, VP of Engineering at Google, reflected on past goals practices at YouTube:
“A team would open a Google doc and start typing in objectives, and they’d wind up with thirty or forty for ten people, and less than half would actually get done."
Don’t do this. You can always set more later if you get everything done!
You may have heard this term, or ‘objectives and key results (OKRs)’. OKRs are a very specific goal-setting framework which we’re not going to get into here. But at a basic level, the two key components are the ‘Objective’ - the high level goal - and the ‘Key Results’ - specific measures used to track progress towards that goal.
You might also think of key results as milestones, which break down large goals into more achievable chunks (see the website launch example above).
We mention them here because regardless of whether you’re using a formal OKRs framework, breaking down large goals into milestones/key results is a really useful way to keep the goal relevant, and make it more digestible for your team members.
It also makes it more motivating to work on. Research has shown that people feel they have good days at work when they make progress. Setting milestones on goals is a way for team members to keep feeling like they’re making progress, rather than saving that all up for one moment when they complete the overarching goal, which could take months.
One of the most common complaints about goals is that organisations and people develop so fast that what’s written on paper quickly becomes irrelevant. Everyone’s busy, updating goals doesn’t feel like the most pressing item on the agenda, and before you know it 3 months have gone by and no-one’s looked at them.
There’s a few things you can do to make sure goals not only stay relevant, but remain a great resource for developing your team and showcasing their progress.
Goals are often left to become irrelevant because they were poorly set in the first place, no-one was invested in them, and appropriate milestones weren’t in place to measure progress.
As your team members pass their goals and achieve their milestones, keep notes about how they did it. Think about what strengths they showed, and what areas they should continue to focus on. You could even gather feedback from others they’ve worked with.
These notes will become particularly important if you want to put someone forward for promotion and you need to provide evidence for why you think they’re ready for it.
Kommon makes it easy for both you and your team member to leave comments right on the goal timeline, so you can both record achievements as they happen. You can also gather feedback from anyone and it will be automatically tagged to the goal timeline.
If you’ve set helpful goals, their themes will come up pretty naturally in the 1:1s you have with your team member. However, if you haven’t discussed them in a while, you can always make a more deliberate effort to talk about them in your next meeting.
Kommon makes it easy to add a team members’ goal as an agenda item to a 1:1.
That’s not to say that discussing someone’s goal should be a formal part of every meeting. We’ve seen this advice given before, and then the discussion just becomes forced. Let you 1:1s flow as normal, but just keep it in the back of your mind that you should be discussing goals at least every month or so.
If all that fails, and it often does with busy managers, then you might just need a reminder to check-in on your team’s goals and how they’re doing. Consider putting something in your calendar on a monthly basis to review goals, or whatever works for you.
If you’re using Kommon, we’ll nudge you every so often if your team members’ goals haven’t been updated in a while, just to help you stay on track.
Even with all this, it’s likely that in a growing business, some goals will still become dated - either as an individual or the company evolves. In this case, don’t be shy about creating new goals, altering old ones, or deleting them to create a framework which will best guide your team members’ work (albeit with consideration for performance processes).
Stretch goals are exactly what you think they are. They’re ambitious goals which require a ‘stretch’ by the team member beyond their existing capacity to achieve. They’re designed to push people outside of their comfort zones to solve difficult and valuable problems for their companies.
Doesn’t that sound great, and bold, and positive? Well, yes, in some circumstances. Some research suggests 70% of employee learning occurs working towards stretch goals, and in a recent set of tweets we analysed, stretch opportunities were the number one thing team members wanted from their managers.
To a certain extent, all goals you set should be ‘stretchy’ - the team member should have to grow professionally in order to achieve them. But a true ‘stretch’ goal is often radically outside expected performance, and here there’s a balance to be struck and expectations to manage.
If you set wildly ambitious stretch goals, there has to be acknowledgement that the team member might fail, and an understanding of what that means for appraising their performance. Not all organisations are set up to embrace failure. How would failing at all your goals (even with impressive underlying results) be received in your company culture?
For these reasons, often some managers choose to set stretch goals alongside more realistic goals, which still challenge the employee but are more achievable. For example, setting a sales goal of $1 million for the financial year but a stretch target of $1.5 million. The employee knows they will have done well to achieve the first one, but the incentive is there to reach even higher. It may be a device you choose to employ.
Some companies speak in terms of ‘company’ goals - i.e. targets the company wants you to hit, like sales figures - and ‘personal’ or ‘professional development’ goals i.e. those focussed more on the individual, like undertaking training. We’ve heard conversations about encouraging people to have more ‘personal goals’.
To us, this is an artificial distinction, which suggests that team members’ work isn’t generally supportive of their own professional development. We’d generally advise against speaking in these terms.
If you’ve taken care to understand your company’s needs and your team member’s aspirations, you should be able to come up with a set of goals and milestones that both parties will value, without making a distinction about which goal is more focussed on which side.
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We’ve compiled a list of questions you can ask your managers and team members to identify the challenges they face, and help you pick the right solutions.