Setting Good Goals

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Goal setting is such a fundamental part of management, that we sometimes forget what it is for.  It has become embedded into formal processes that can distance us from what we are doing and turn good management practices into form-filling, box-ticking routines; devoid of any real meaning or purpose.

So let’s be explicit about what goal setting is for

We set goals for others so that they will know when they have achieved what we want.  We set goals for ourselves, for the same reason.  Goal setting is therefore about:

  • Giving a clear direction and reason for work
  • Giving an equally clear indication of when to stop
  • Being explicit about what triggers the reward – which may only need to be a thank-you
  • Setting a standard of achievement, on the route to mastery
  • Motivating people to achieve what is needed

SMART Goals

There are a lot of formulations of SMART goals – most typically:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

All of these are designed to remind users that good goals are explicit about what is expected, balance challenge with realism, are rooted in what is important, and have a time-scale attached.

What, Why, When, What if?

Good goals need to answer these four questions:

  1. What do you expect of me; precisely?  I need to know what you want in enough detail to be able to meet your expectations.
  2. Why are you asking it of me?  Without a sense of valuable purpose, I shan’t be motivated.
  3. When do you need it by?  So that I can schedule the work into my diary and assign it the right priority.
  4. What if things don’t go according to plan?  What resources can I draw upon, what help will you offer, what compromises are appropriate and what are not acceptable, what authority do I have to make decisions?

The key, however, to good goals is that they must be agreed between you, the manager, and the person for whom you are setting the goals.  The best way to get the commitment you need is to express the goals clearly, put them in writing and then to look your colleague in the eye, and ask: ‘do you accept this goal?’

When goal-setting becomes a formal process it loses its power.  Make good goal-setting an everyday routine – part of your day-to-day management of your team and of each individual.  Formal, annual or quarterly goal setting will then feel easy – it will set the strategic context for your day-to-day management.

Further Reading 

The Appraisals Pocketbook

The Motivation Pocketbook

Performance Management Pocketbook

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