Setting targets and using goals

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Interesting conversation with a team recently about setting targets and using goals.

We concluded that a business sets targets. Sometimes they set targets that are out of reach. Sometimes they set targets that are too easy to reach.

Sometimes, but it’s the exception rather than the norm, they get it just right.

Target setting is an exercise in educated guesswork, not a precise science.

Targets are set without knowing exactly what might happen as we progress through the year, how the conditions will change, whether you will be blessed by tailwinds, or burdened by headwinds. They’re set without full knowledge of what might happen to people in their lives, how they might develop, or what unexpected opportunities might arise.

As we move through the year we find out about the reality and sometimes the targets that were set at the start of the year become too easy to reach and sometimes too far out of reach. In other words, the target can cease to serve its purpose – it stops motivating people to make their best effort.

Which is where leaders using goals comes in.

Good leaders of performance use goals as a motivational tool. The purpose of a goal is to organise energies and encourage best effort – which therefore increases the likelihood of people performing well. Yes, by all means set a target at the start of a year (or any other time period), and then use goals to motivate people during the year.

If we’re tracking behind target, what could we do more of or do better that might get us back on track? Do we need to adjust our goal?

If we’re ahead of target, how might we adjust our goals with curiosity to find out how good we can be? And therein lies the nub of it for the best leaders of performance. Their objective is not to find out whether someone can hit target. Their objective is to find out how good people can be, whatever the conditions, and see what result that achieves. And they use goals as a tool to help them do that.

So, businesses set targets. Leaders use goals as a tool to help bring the best out of their people.

If you want a high performance culture, you better be thinking about how you are using targets and goals.