5 key principles for effective goal-setting

Lachy Gray, 3 min read
Custom illustration of Lachy wearing a coach uniform

We all strive to be better. 

Whether we want to read more books this year than last, run a faster kilometre, or close more sales per quarter, we all get a sense of accomplishment from improving ourselves. A popular way of measuring these improvements is through goal-setting: identifying the measurement we want to improve, how much we want to improve, then working towards that result. 

In the workplace, goal-setting is a great way of engaging staff, measuring performance, and celebrating wins. When we set goals for our teams, we are giving them guidance in their work, setting expectations, and challenging them. However, while ambitious goals are easy to set, they are not so easy to follow. The daily grind gets in the way, and it can be easy to lose sight of these goals, forget the deadlines, or put the goal on the back burner. 

There is an art to goal-setting, and it can’t be all enormous targets and impossible objectives. If goals are too ambitious, teams are less likely to meet them, which may have the adverse effect of demoralising them and their accomplishments.

That’s why it’s important to have SMART objectives: goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Goals should be challenging and result in an improvement, but also be achievable.

As a remote company, at Yarno we’re intentional with our goal-setting. We’ve picked out the best bits of previous goal-setting frameworks we’ve used (including SMART goals, and OKRs), and are trialling a new combination of the best bits and balanced scorecards.

In the absence of an office, having goals helps us to align as a team, and gives everyone a purpose from their work-from-home set up. Always having something to work towards - a clear goal - guides our day-to-day work. I find having 3-5 objectives at a time is ideal - it keeps us focused, and doesn’t complicate the process of achieving them. 

So how do we keep people accountable? Regular check-ins with managers is a great way of staying on top of goals. It’s important to gauge how a staff member is feeling - are their goals overwhelming? Are they too easy? You can tie this into performance discussions, or have separate check-ins, but having a casual 30 minute goal check in keeps these goals front of mind, and helps to iron out any kinks that may be standing in the way of achieving something.

If you’re only reviewing goals once a year, it’s difficult to keep those goals in sight throughout the year. At the start of the year, it’s easy to rattle off a list of goals you want to achieve. But what happens when you have so many goals that you don’t even know where to start? Having just a few realistic and measurable goals is a much more achievable way to approach goal-setting.

We all have our preferred methods of goal-setting, so I’m not going to go through them one-by-one. I will, however, go over 5 key principles that I believe - regardless of the framework - need to be met in order to maximise the effectiveness of setting goals.

  1. The goal needs to matter. The filter I use here is if we achieve it we’re cheering – and if we don’t achieve it we’re hurting. If we see a lack of progress against it, it’s a flag to investigate, find out what’s going on and fix it. ASAP! What’s the point of setting a goal if we don’t have a vested interest in seeing it achieved?

  2. Goals should cascade in meaning. Goals set in isolation are doomed to fail, especially if they depend on input from other teams, or other teams hitting their goals. At Yarno, we think about how what we’re doing this week contributes to our team goals, which themselves contribute to Yarno’s goals for 2022.

  3. The goal needs to be measurable. Setting goals is easy, tracking them can be difficult. When we set objectives, we need to make sure they are measurable so we can see progress. Think, ‘how can I identify progress, and how will this impact the company’s overall objectives?’. How can you see you’re working towards your goal unless you have tangible evidence?

  4. Progress needs to be visible. I’ve discovered that showing progress, or lack of, is a strong motivator in achieving objectives, especially if you make this visible to the wider team. It encourages accountability. Think about it: if we set a personal goal that we keep to ourselves, we have the freedom to ignore it without anyone holding us accountable. There’s no repercussions. If we set a personal goal that’s public, and my teammates can see progress against it, we're motivated to get stuff done and move the needle forward (and also more likely to ask for help where we need it!).

  5. Reviews goals regularly. If you have a goal to be achieved by the end of the year, try checking in quarterly and see if you notice any improvement. What did we say we’d do? What did we actually do? What went wrong? What have we learned? Ask these questions within your teams, share the results and then use them to inform the next round of goal setting. It’s an interactive cycle that never ends. 

Following these principles are a great way to set goals that will actually be accomplished. There’s no point in setting goals that are unattainable. Increasing sales by 400% in one quarter? If it’s not realistic then it becomes a powerful demotivator, the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve! 

Conclusion

Goals give us direction, meaning and purpose. They’re a great way to motivate and inspire our teams. We can use them to measure performance and can be used to celebrate wins and achievement. These are all great things to have embedded into company culture. 

All Blacks great Sean Fitzpatrick says, ‘success is modest improvement, consistently done’. Breaking down accomplishments into smaller, achievable goals is the key to seeing improvement at scale. When we take small steps, it can be amazing how much we grow without even realising it!

Lachy Gray

Lachy Gray

Lachy's our Managing Director. He's our resident rationalist and ideas man. He also reads way too many books for our liking.

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