How to successfully implement a goal setting process in your organization
A goal setting process is a tool or methodology that allows an organization to break down their mission into yearly strategies and cascade them to individual employee objectives. It helps employees to see how their efforts are contributing to the overall picture. It also gives them the freedom to move the needle by being creative and innovative by coming up with own ideas.
Over the years, I have implemented various goal setting processes in different organizations. Crafting and implementing a goal setting process can be divided into four categories (Organizational Context, Leadership, Employees, and Knowledge).Below you will find eight takeaways from these four categories that I wish I had known before implementing any kind of goal setting process.
Identify the context of the organization and leadership behaviors that matter
Let’s start at the very beginning: Every organization encompasses its unique context and particular management style—for example, some organizations focus solely on efficiency-based coordination. Keeping the organization functioning smoothly is crucial. Hence, continuous planning, smooth execution of tasks, 70-80 % top to bottom communication are driving factors.
Therefore, it's a more hierarchical organization while other organizations might be all about the hustle, challenging the status quo, finding new and innovative products and processes. Neither of them is wrong. Both would use the process strongly to give employees a systematic tool to align on resources and produce results.
Most organizations have fostered a healthy doubt about company-wide process changes, and a significant number of employees are apprehensive about the cultural impact of diluting success into numbers. Hence, employees fear that the goal setting process might put their performance in the limelight.
Before an organization decides to select a specific goal setting process, make sure the management analyzes if there is a culture fit by asking WHY they want to implement such a tool. The People and Organization, or conservatively known as the Human Resource department, can support in getting buy-in and checking which approach suits the organization better using tools like a Culture Audit or management and employee workshops. This will allow them to choose the best narrative hence giving employees a purpose.
Rome was not built in a day
Rome wasn't built in a day is an adage attesting to the need for time to create great things. If you roll out the entire goal setting process together for the whole organization, you are in danger of overwhelming the employees, and thus receive a lot of resistance. As a result, the implementation team will only be firefighting instead of correctly taking feedback and improving the process.
Once you have agreed to use a specific goal setting process for your organization, start by rolling it out to 1/3rd of your company. This subset of employees should have different attributes (Team Leads, employees, interns, different age groups etc.). Once they go through one round of the process, take feedback, and adjust where necessary. You will understand what to expect from employees when it is rolled out globally, and you can already prepare for it.
A few years back, when I introduced OKRs in an organization, an acquaintance of mine had started going to group therapy for alcoholism. He told me how difficult it was for him to talk about it because of fear of being singled out; and how group therapy had helped him with that. This made me think that maybe some of my colleagues might not be coming forward for fear of not knowing about OKRs. The next day, I sent an open invitation to some employees to register, and to my surprise, many of them registered to attend this workshop. The discussion was planned for two hours, but the group ended up staying late and working together on the challenges and their solution. I got the feedback that they left the room lighter, more engaged and with more solutions created by them.
While implementation of a goal setting process, you can share knowledge passively or actively. In the passive approach, create focus groups or focus circles which are a great way to facilitate conversations on a topic that is not always easy for all people. Because in a change process, conversations are essential. Hearts and minds have a great way of working together in a change process. Give people the facilitated platform to have a conversation and help one another.
The active approach would require the project team to share information around the process actively. Hence at LucaNet, we used different Team Leads, Team Members, and our People & Organization Managers to support the new processes' introduction. Throughout the first year, we conducted regular workshops to introduce and facilitate the unique setting and set up a knowledge base with articles and guidelines to support the learning process and specific application.
Abracadabra! Wait, nothing happened
If you are a regular gym member, you will see many people lining to sign up at the beginning of a new year. As the months pass, their motivation and focus also fade away. As the year passes and the new year comes closer, the patterns continue.
One of the biggest challenges I have seen with teams is that they have a hard time focusing on what is essential. They keep introducing new tools and frameworks, but what they are missing is the focus. A goal setting process is a framework that helps teams focus and align- but can't make them focus; it is not magic. Thus, once you have implemented the process, you will hear employees complain they have a lot to do. This mainly arises because teams and employees cannot create focus and then get overwhelmed.
If you’re in a lead position prioritize 1-2 essential strategic focuses and make it as simple to understand as possible. Make sure to use metrics/KPIs to guide your priorities.
Be aspirational and set stretched goals but do not be unrealistic.
Review quarterly by considering resources and business priorities.
Keep the Goal Setting Process and Compensation separate, but not completely separate
Implementing a goal setting process is a decision that the management takes to create a stronger focus on company-wide participation to reach business goals by reaching personal goals. Naturally, the first introduction can be received with resistance or workarounds. As a consequence, the essence of the goal setting process might get lost. While implementing goal setting processes, I often came across various situations: My colleagues would ask why they should contribute to internal projects or improvements besides their day to day tasks when they get nothing as compensation. As a result, employees would set easy to meet objectives/goals, they would want to take less risk or try new things. At times I also saw some solely focus on their dreams instead of those dependent on their outputs.
The management should use the goal setting process as one of the inputs to determine individual employee performance. While other inputs might be behavior, salary benchmarks, revenue contribution (for such teams like Sales, Consulting, or Customer Success teams), or other attributes like your company values, their individual goals should have a weightage in the performance evaluation too.
Selection of Tool
The last and most important part is the selection of a tool. This tool or a combination of the tools will allow you to manage the process. It will enable you to organize all activities that are part of your process systematically.
There are a lot of tools out there to manage your goal setting process. You won't believe it, but I also have rolled out this process globally by using an Excel file and SMART Goals using an in-house built tool. So, there are possibilities.
Look into your budget and decide. There are many free tools out there to test regardless of which system your goal setting process your organization chooses to implement in the end. Make sure to be transparent about the tool and processes you are using to manage it. Make sure to help and guide through it in the first introductory year, but also throughout the entire process. At LucaNet, our Software Development Team developed a module on the existing LucaNet software. This gave us the freedom to customize our expectations.
Walk the talk
Along with sponsoring the implementation of goal setting processes, the management is responsible for preaching and following them. They must see and understand themselves this process to communicate successfully with their employees on what they are focusing on this quarter and support the organization to reach its strategy.
As a leader, create your goals, be vocal about them and the process itself. Be the first to submit your goals and vocally talk about them and ask for support from your team.
Ask for continuous and spontaneous one on one feedback about the process but also insights about their challenges
At LucaNet, we started our goal setting process in 2020; we’re in our second year now. Our organizational context was that the management wanted to support the employees’ personal and professional development in a targeted manner, encourage their commitment, and work together towards implementing our LucaNet Mission and Vision. Hence, we named the process "LucaNet.Engage". Ever since introducing our Engage process we see the below results in numbers:
79% of employees agree that the agreed objectives are aligned with the overall corporate strategy
73% of employees have a clear understanding of how their work contributes to the overall corporate strategy
LucaNet. Engage consists of four mandatory quarterly talks (one Set-up and three Catch-ups). You can find more information in the attached PDF.
Now you already have a set base to select a fitting process and possibly avoid some stumbling blocks on the way. This being said, I know from experience that the biggest learning comes also during the implementation. It’s safe to say that processes need a regular proof check, return to the “Why” and re-evaluate if the process in place is working or needs adaptation.
Feel free to get in touch with me via LinkedIn.