How to Overcome Your Company’s Lame Goals Management System

goals

In the spirit of the book “Applied Empathy,” by Sub Rosa CEO Michael Ventura, this article helps CEOs and other leaders put themselves in the shoes of a regular employee striving to succeed despite an inadequate goals management system.

Let’s face it: Many goals management systems are ineffective. They’re often handled as an administrative check box using outdated, once-a-year processes. Some leaders create quarterly goals, which is ideal. However, they don’t always communicate them well, link them to business operations and results, or help employees understand how their day-to-day work can support them.

So if you work for one of these companies instead of a Google that has effective goals management systems, don’t despair: Here are four steps to hack your organization’s process and become a more valuable employee.

#1. Discover Your Leaders’ Goals

The best CEOs create five to seven corporate goals for the company every quarter. A quarterly cadence ensures relevant, timely objectives that they can measure and adjust for the next quarter. If you do not know what these goals are, you should ask.

If your company and department leaders don’t have a set of ready-made goals that they are willing to share with you, then your job just got a bit harder. However, you should take the initiative to quiz your manager, department head, and other executives about what their business objectives are. Go all the way to the CEO if you have to but learning what exactly these goals are is important.

#2. Set Your Own Supportive Goals

Once you know the corporate and department goals, you can determine how you will contribute to them by setting your own goals. There are two types of goals that you can set. The first type is a priority goal. This is a new initiative to be achieved during the quarter. At the corporate level, these are goals such as, “Generate $20 million in revenue this quarter,” “Launch new product X,” or “Complete the facilities move.” Your goals should link up to these as relevant.

The other type of goal is a sustaining goal. This focuses on the normal whirlwind of operations that occur every day in a business. A sustaining goal is especially applicable if you work in a department that does not directly impact revenue, such as customer service or human resources. You still need a way to tie in to the corporate strategy and show your influence.

A sustaining goal could be “Continuous improvement in operational excellence.” Your individual goal could be to explore and choose new systems in your area that enable you to continuously improve. Another one could be “Maintain a Net Promoter score of 45 or better.” You could research low scores to find a common customer complaint that you can improve. Personal training and development also fall under a sustaining goal.

#3. Choose the Right Metrics 

The next step is to consistently measure progress on your goals using the right metrics. A good metric has five characteristics: easily measurable, correlated to business performance, isolated to factors controlled by you or your group (e.g., the sales team shouldn’t be held fully responsible for a subpar product), and predictive of future business performance. While it’s difficult to achieve all of these, strive for as many as possible.

For example, if you are in sales, revenue is not often the best metric. The reason is that it is historical. While it is fairly simple to measure and correlated with positive business performance, it’s not predictive of future revenue.

A better metric is predicting your sales accurately each quarter, which shows your mastery of the sales process and ability to achieve revenue even as market conditions fluctuate. Another valuable metric for sales could be to “set 10 qualified meetings each quarter.” This is something you can do that makes it more likely to achieve your end goal of hitting a certain revenue number.

If you are a product manager trying to deliver a high-quality product, you could set metrics for ease of deployment, a high conversion rate from demo to purchase, fewer support calls, and a higher renewal rate. While some of these depend on the skills of other employees, they do meet several of the other criteria for good metrics.

#4. Communicate Status Updates

Another key goals management action that can set you apart is regularly communicating your progress on each one. This means going beyond vague statements such as “I’m about 65 percent done with this goal,” which doesn’t tell your manager much of anything. Be more specific by relaying metrics such as the likelihood of achieving your goal during the quarter and the quality of your work.

Likelihood is the one business performance metric that captures your confidence in attaining your goal. This information helps your manager and leaders better plan for the future and address any roadblocks. It also helps them understand the additional resources and information you may need to reach your goal on time. You start to become a better predictor of your work schedule, which is useful to the entire organization.

Another valuable metric is your perception of your work quality. By providing this information, your output becomes no longer about merely getting things done but getting the right things done at a high quality. This also guides leaders in how to better support you and resolve any issues before they become bigger problems.

Take Goals Management into the 21st Century

Ideally, your management team is doing goals management right. If not, you can take the initiative by finding out what the company and department objectives are, setting the right individual goals, choosing the right measures, and regularly communicating your progress.

This requires an element of trust on both sides, but the results are worth it. You’ll become more aligned with the company’s mission and better able to support and advance it with your work. You’ll be a more engaged, valuable, and valued employee.

This article is based on one published in Fast Company.

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