Recently, I worked with an organization that has been utilizing a goal setting process to improve its overall performance. Although the organization provided a quality product in an efficient manner, the leadership team recognized that continuous improvement could make the difference between survival and flourishing in an increasingly connected world. Goal setting was selected as a core component of their performance effort to:
- further support the organizational strategic objectives;
- clarify roles and responsibilities;
- enhance linkages between organizational, departmental, and individual goals; and
- create more opportunities for collaboration and engagement.
Last year in working with them, we selected a typical method of goals setting. Their adopted process involved the supervisor and employee meeting and jointly developing SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-targeted) goals that linked to strategic objectives, matched the level of the employee, impacted desired outcomes, and produced mutual benefits. Quarterly, the employee and supervisor would meet and discuss progress notated in an automated diary tool. As an employee realizes his or her goals, new goals can be jointly developed. If there is a lack of progress, revisions can be made better accounting for barriers. At the end of the year, overall results can be analyzed and rewards can be allocated.
After overcoming the natural bias against changing something that is not obviously broken, the next biggest concern pertained to fear of the unknown. The unknown involved adopting a new process, creating more administrative work, and dealing with how the change will affect workflow. After training employees on the new process, practicalities became more of an issue.
My visit with this week focused on how well the goal setting process influenced day-to-day behavior. Employees and supervisors alike understood the process and desire outcomes, but wanted to understand the micro impact of the tool. So, how does the goal setting process impact us at the individual level?
A great analogy comes from a common concern: eating in a more healthy fashion. If you are like me, I worry about what I eat, but still love those less than healthy treats. More than once, I have thought it would be nice to have little pop-up window that appears above food to warn me that I am about to consume something less than desirable. Something like that great ad campaign from a few years ago where a picture of a dessert was shown coupled with the amount of time on a treadmill required to use the calories. That tasty doughnut lost some of its appeal when you considered it could take 45 minutes on the treadmill.
Most of us have probably seen the smartphone applications intended to help with our eating habits. They use a log approach to record what we eat throughout the day. At the end of the day, an overall analysis sums up how we did and where we could improve. Although the application fails to warn us about eating that large hamburger at lunch, by documenting we tend to thing twice. The act of documenting is key since it conditions us to be mindful or more aware.
Goal setting will not guarantee that our work unit reaches its goals or always makes the right decision, but it will increase our focus and awareness and being aware is the first step to improving performance.