An Overlooked Part of Goal Setting

An overlooked part of goal setting.

I’ve written previously about the importance of setting clear goals. Many goals are ambiguous and ultimately lead to frustration when they are not achieved. Worse still is the blame game that follows. Setting clear goals is one thing you can do to reduce the chances of this happening. There is also one other important goal setting action I haven’t talked about, until now. That is gaining the commitment of the performer.

When effective leaders make requests, they make it safe for the recipient of the request to say no. To the uninformed, this usually seems very odd. If they make a request, it is because they need to get something done. They usually resort to positional power to get a yes. The trouble is that yes isn’t something they can rely on, and often leads to frustration later when the request isn’t fulfilled.

Goal setting is like making requests

In a recent client meeting, I realized that goal setting is the same as making requests. If I set a goal which nobody commits to achieve, is it likely to get done? From my experience the answer is no. Some action will be taken and perhaps it will be partially achieved. It is unlikely the action will have the full commitment necessary to achieve the goal.

Why would someone commit to a stretch goal?

So how do we do this? Aren’t goals supposed to be a stretch? Why would someone commit to achieve a stretch goal when the outcome is uncertain or not even possible? The answer lies in what the person taking action commits to do. I am seeking their commitment to explore what it takes to achieve the goal, and report back to me if that isn’t deemed possible. From there we can review what is involved and agree steps to secure the best possible outcome.

This might mean restating the goal if it truly is unachievable. It will more often involve offering help or resources, extending the timeline, or some other change. These are not trivial, excuse laden conversations either. When both parties commit to achieve the outcome, they are lively conversations of possibility. Each person is seeking to figure out how to achieve the desired outcome.

Is this the sort of conversation you are having after you’ve set goals? If not, are you securing the commitment of the people trying to achieve the goal? If you aren’t, how is that working for you?

Comments (2)

Isn’t this part of thoughtful OKR breakdowns? If as a leader you have a clearly articulated big picture objective, you’ll often find that everyone is happy to agree that objective sounds awesome in some group meeting. What typically isn’t voiced is the quiet internal monologue they’re having where they assume it’s someone else who is going to make that objective happen. Taking the time to break the objective into key results sometimes can help people see that the objective is made up of smaller goals they are very clearly going to be responsible for. That’s where I typically hear pushback…

We’re going to win this race!!
…sounds great.

We’re going to win this race! To pull that off, we all need to do 100 squats right now!
…wait, we _all_ need to? I thought Sandy in HR had to, but I don’t see why we should over here. We’ve done squats in the past, I think we should start with a fitness plan…

The other huge tool I learned ages ago was to ask delivery questions with negative being the default. This may not be the inspirational leadership you see in sports movies, but it can get you to the truth a lot faster with some types of people:
“Are you concerned we’re NOT going to win this race?”
Now that junior resource can answer in the affirmative, without being seen as a negative influence.

Good point Franz, the nature of Key Results in the OKR framework will definitely help build commitment. Your example is right on. It is too easy to agree to a goal without truly understanding what is involved.

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