Tis the season for Goal Setting

Functional Goal Setting

  13241720_m Oh the wonders of the holiday season!  With family traveling or coming into town from all corners of the globe, the rush of commerce, trying to keep up with personal commitments (and navigate through the storm of holiday treats and alcohol that sap our energy), cold or bad weather in many parts of the world, and business deadlines to meet, now is the perfect time to have that annual goal setting meeting right? Really?

I’ve always wondered why annual goal setting meetings have to take place at what is perhaps the worst time of the year. In many instances it is a far stretch for business leaders to tell their employees that they care about and understand them while asking them to take a step back at this time of year, disengage, and take time to plan out their next year of business life. I base this premise on 30+ years of goal setting meeting observation.

What typically happens during these meetings is that the 20% of your employees who accomplish 80% of the work will come in prepared to move forward into the next year at about an 80% level.  They in turn (and you), will become frustrated with the 80% of the group that doesn’t come in prepared and is just looking at this meeting as a total waste of time in exchange for free food and heartburn.  And typically this leads to mediocre results and a corporate culture that subtly says: “Nothing ever really changes around here.”

As a small business consultant I find it easy to see that business owners face many challenges in their daily efforts to make their business a reflection of their vision:

1)      Not enough time to get everything done.

2)      A limited ability to find the right employees.

3)      Lagging sales and marginal profitability.

4)      No resources to train or improve their situation.

5)      No viable way to learn new things or keep up with better financed competition.

By taking existing resources and capitalizing on time and talent, every business owner may be able to alleviate, if not altogether eliminate these challenges. So let’s take a look at one small step in the process:  How to run a successful goal setting meeting.

Whether you feel you HAVE to have it at years’ end, or you can work it into a different quarter of the year, here are some basic steps to follow to make it a more profitable and enjoyable use of everyone’s time:

1)       Understand the reasons behind the goal setting process. The purpose behind setting goals is to improve.  But who is determining what improvement is?  Can the group buy into the measures of success?  How do they benefit?  Do they get more money?  More time off?  More prestige?  More responsibility?  Can they grow as an individual?  Can their family benefit?  Can they learn more, feel better about themselves through this process?  Can they feed their passion? Whatever the outcomes, the reasons for going through the process have to be clearly understood and speak to the inner motivations of everyone in the group.

2)      Solve real problems – keep the fluff to a minimum. While there is definitely a space for the philosophy behind setting goals and the why of the process, the rubber hits the road in the taking of action.  So each goal needs to be accompanied not only by a set of objectives and progress related measurements, but they also need to be accompanied by a realistic view of the problems that will impede progress and that will come about at a successful attainment of an objective or goal.  Strict adherence to folk sayings and meaningless slogans will give you exactly nothing.

3)      Keep company vision and mission at the forefront . This is the reason for setting goals in the first place.  Every meeting should keep the customer and the business vision and mission as the reason for getting together in the first place.  Those are the ultimate goals.  Every goal set should have the spirit of these values imbued in them.

4)      Keep it casual and low key. This is not the setting to pump up egos or put down poor performance.  This is a roll up your sleeves, dig in the mud meeting.  This is a working meeting, a chance to get your hands dirty and make a real difference.  Don’t stand on ceremony and run the meeting as if it were a family get-together.  Make people comfortable so they feel able to think in different patterns and in a different ‘place’ than their workstation.

5)      Do your homework before hand (don’t waste time). Have all your facts and figures ready – you’ll look better and by not wasting time or dwelling on what you don’t have, you’ll have more credibility and change the perception that the entire meeting is a waste of time.

6)      Set attainable deadlines. If the goal is unrealistic, it won’t get done.  Teach, don’t preach, how to break the goal down and get things done in a reasonable amount of time, then make a commitment to let your people do it.

7)      Value the human side of the equation. The old saying “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” is simply true.  Every goal one of your employees set should have a solid foundation in company AND personal benefit.  Show empathy and make an effort to stand in your employees shoes.  This will not only help nurture your valuable employees and resources, but it will show you very quickly whether or not each person is a fit for your company over the next year.

8)      Keep it positive. Goals based on fear or negativity won’t last any longer than the negative emotion.  As a manager, owner or executive, your job is to maximize the talents and abilities of your employees.  While discipline sometimes is involved in this, it is far more common that training, teaching, and support are needed.

9)      Ask “How can I use my business goals to enhance my personal life?” Turning business goals into personal gain and commitments keeps passion alive.  Doing this makes the goals and the business a personal endeavor for each employee.

10)   Do it differently – actually make a commitment to make the goals count. Don’t ever leave this meeting without a next step.  You must change behavior to change results.  Coach, teach, train and lead to a change of behavior.  Recognize and reward the positive changes.  Commit to each step and when your employees see that their efforts actually do change company culture and profitability, they will be far more apt to participate on a meaningful level and not waste your time or theirs.