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The Secret to Setting Goals that Work

It’s goal-setting season again, when companies start the year with great intentions, setting up those key foundations for success. As the year evolves, though, goals often waiver, get neglected, and fall out of relevance. So how do we align those HR processes with the reality of how people actually work, and what will best help the organization?

The downside of fixed goals

We all know the sad truth: often goals have become dated by the end of Q1. After all that thought and effort and negotiation, new priorities emerge, unforeseen events arise, and new and better ideas present themselves. Employees join cross-functional and matrix teams and suddenly the goals that are most relevant to organizational success and employee performance aren't captured or accounted for in the traditional performance review which is based on the original “stagnant” goals. 

Many HR platforms restrict goals to being line manager based and cascaded. They are top-down, with little or no collaboration. Even if employees are involved in setting their goals, once the goals and targets are set, they are static and immutable. That may simplify the system requirements, but it’s not reflective of the fluid and complex business environment in which most people live. 

Often, project managers with no direct people responsibility need to assign and get updated on goals. Because they may not be recognized as a manager in HR systems, they revert to other tools to track their goal achievement and before you know it, our HR systems have become irrelevant. 

Worse still, our employee arrives at their review, having spent a busy year working on multiple projects and delivering exceptional performance, only to find that their manager does not really understand what they did for the organization throughout the year. As a result, their efforts end up not being recognized as part of their performance for the year, potentially impacting their compensation as well as their sense of being appreciated and valued.

Keeping sight of the big picture “why”

With fixed goals, the “why” behind the original goals can get lost. An employee can be forced to choose between the actions that will achieve their goal and earn their bonus versus the actions that will most help the company. The big picture goals may remain the same but the best way to get there has likely changed, without any mechanism to go back and change goals without breaking the whole performance management process.

Also lost is the concept of a learning organization. If tactical goals are fixed, is there any incentive to try new things, learn from mistakes, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and do things differently?

As they say, the only thing that is constant is change. Living in an illusion of non-change is not a formula for success. So how do we design goals that will allow us, as an organization and as individuals, to keep sight of the big picture and adapt accordingly as circumstances change?

It’s time to embrace agile goals

For these reasons and many more, it’s time we embraced the concept of agile goals across the organization.

The concept of agile goals originated with the Agile philosophy of software development and project management, yet agile goals can be used in any area of an organization. Agile goals prioritize and guide a business process in an adaptive, iterative, and flexible manner. 

Agile goals help teams focus on delivering value to customers and stakeholders through regular retrospectives, feedback loops, and continuous improvement. They are also used to align team objectives with business objectives and to promote collaboration and teamwork within the organization.

What do agile goals look like?

An agile approach prioritizes flexibility, collaboration, and customer focus. Agile goals are often defined according to the SMART framework (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based), but what makes them agile is the degree to which they reflect Agile values by being:

  1. Customer-focused: Agile goals prioritize delivering value to the customer and are centered around their needs and expectations. (These can be internal or external customers.)
  2. Adaptive: Agile goals are set to be flexible and able to change as the project progresses, in response to new information and feedback.
  3. Collaborative: Agile goals encourage teamwork and collaboration between team members and stakeholders to achieve a shared objective.
  4. Incremental: Agile goals are set in small, incremental steps, rather than as a large, one-time deliverable, to allow for flexible and adaptable progress.

Create an adaptive organization

Agile goals can be assigned by anyone in your organization. Employees can update and collate feedback on these goals and the goals can be iterative and evolving in nature. The line manager can have access and full visibility to all the goals the employee has worked on. The employee can be recognized for a job well done (or otherwise). The project manager can assess and update employee achievements in this regard and the line manager stays well informed of the employee’s progress.

Making this a seamless way of working is important if we really are going to ensure our goals frameworks remain relevant throughout the year. Otherwise, we are faced with a world of irrelevant goals that people stopped caring about in Q1. With agile goals, we can have an organization that adapts and learns, and delivers on its mission.

If you’d like to discover more about how to support an agile, adaptive, high-performance culture, contact beqom today.

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