By Eva Normell, Partner at Purple Ivy AB

Why is goal setting so difficult? What can we do to make it work better?

Experts define goal setting as the act of selecting a target or objective you wish to achieve. In my experience, goals can be a powerful managerial tool for companies or groups – if they are used in the right way.

Goals must however be set and communicated with care. Poorly set and communicated goals can end up being useless or worse – they can negatively impact overall performance by causing a lot of stress among employees.

I have seen a lot of companies struggle with their goal processes over the years, usually because they have one or more of these problems:

  • unclear goals
  • the same goals as always
  • goals that are difficult or even impossible to remember
  • goals that don’t mean anything to the employees.

I believe that all employees (or the vast majority of them, in any case) want to do a good job. They also want someone to notice that they are doing a good job and give them positive feedback for it. However, without a common view of what the goals are it is not unusual for a company’s employees to work hard in areas that do not correspond to the goals. Sometimes their efforts don’t even fit in with the general direction that management is aiming for. The result is frustration on all sides and low morale.

In my opinion, goals should be used to set the direction and unify the efforts in a company. They should create a framework for communication, clarify the need for cooperation and establish a sense of responsibility.

If you want to succeed with a strategic ambition, then you cannot continue working as you always have done. You will need to change certain aspects of your business, such as what you do, how you do it, processes, attitude and/or culture. Change is difficult for most people, and to make it happen, you must be clear about the common ambition and when you expect to see results. You must engage the employees who will enact the necessary changes.

My first tip to improve goal setting is to clearly separate your strategic improvement goal(s) from your general business measurements. It’s crucial to recognize that normal daily business will consume most of the time and effort of all your employees. This is what your general business measurements track, which is great. But goals aimed at driving change are something else entirely. These goals must focus sharply on what specific changes need to be made, and progress must be measured carefully, separately from your usual business measurements.

My second tip is that once you have separated your improvement goal(s) from your general business measurements, you need to make sure to give the improvement goal(s) enough focus. Focus means recognizing that it isn’t possible to do everything at the same time. Instead, pick one (or just a few) improvement areas at a time and de-prioritize the rest for a while.

Make sure that you don’t underestimate the importance of where you put your focus. You will need to direct a great deal of attention and interest toward your improvement goal to make it happen. Work that is done according to your long-established processes will continue as usual, without the need for much attention from management. The improvement goal, on the other hand, is “outside the box”, which means it will require follow up, feedback and celebration to make it happen.

Good luck with your goal setting!

Foto: Martin Normell