Last week’s blog, The Essential Role of Structure -- and Why We Hate It, focused on structure as a necessary tool for meaningful, sustainable change. A common structure used in business to drive change is the SMART (Specific, Measurable Attainable, Realistically-high, Time-bound) Goal, though most leaders don’t think of goal-setting in that way. Instead, goal setting is an event and a means to a very specific end.
People are actually very natural goal setters. We learn the behavior as kids, doing everything from learning to use the toilet, to riding a bike, to learning to read. Schools are founded on goals, though in academia we don’t usually call them that. Instead, we have assignments, projects, homework and rubrics. Like projects and assignments in school, goals are used primarily as a way to organize work and get things done; they are a way to focus resources and effort on things that matter most. The goal is the target, the end result; hitting the target equals success.
Performance is commonly evaluated based on goal progress and completion. There is usually a little room for error or variance based on good behavior and solid, visible effort. But results are what we focus on and talk about most. In doing so, we are leaving money on the table.
The purpose of goals is growth — not just of results, but also of character. Goals invite what is inside of you to come out — and in what emerges, there are likely to be gaps to fill. These could be knowledge or skills, but could also be more about character development or behavioral habits.
Most organizations do not get the full ROI on their goal-setting activities because they do not value the results people get on the inside. That is, if as an employee you experienced personal growth as a result of pursuing a goal, well, that’s just a nice by-product. Resumes and CVs focus on results. Those other character building things — those are called “soft skills”. They’re harder to talk about, harder to prove, harder to forecast.
In fact, many leaders lack the ability to coach people through internal obstacles — like values-conflicts, confidence killers, ego-related fears, or other triggers that stop them from performing at their best. Those things are seen as character flaws, rather than opportunities for growth — and may even show up on performance reviews as negatives. Employees learn that they are not rewarded for character building; they are rewarded for results.
About a year ago, I worked with a sales person, Joe, who was not performing well. In this case, he was getting the “end-result” desired in terms of sales dollars, but not doing more than the minimum requirement for calls, documentation, or other basic sales activities. When I met with Joe, I learned that Joe had always had a lot of autonomy in prior roles and he had not developed those good, solid habits you might expect in a seasoned sales professional.
Joe’s managers had always focused on the end-goal, the sales dollar goal as the main thing, so there was never a lot of focus on the character part of the job — other than to be a nice guy and a good team member. As far as he was concerned, he was doing his job his way — and it had always worked out fine before; the end result would carry him through.
We all know people like this. There is the manager who rarely follows through on anything he promises to anyone outside of his department, who blames others for his shortcomings, but keeps getting recognized and promoted because he meets sales numbers. There is the machinist whose work area is a disaster and who refuses to participate in any continuous improvement activities, but is excused from making change and a raise every year because his work is of impeccable quality. There is the executive who preaches the company values at every all-company meeting, but throws them out the window behind closed doors when they are inconvenient, especially if they interfere with achieving a desired result.
These employees were highly rewarded for results, for achieving goals, for the WHAT they were able to achieve, but with little or no real focus or consideration for the HOW. But the WHAT is temporary, fleeting. Today’s results mean very little tomorrow. But the HOW is long lasting and wide-reaching. When it comes to character, how you do anything is how you do everything.
Over time, the gaps in the HOW take their toll on an organization. They hinder employee engagement, trust in leadership, and eventually, the ability of an organization to grow. Not paying attention to the HOW costs you now (not getting your full ROI out of using goal setting as a structure for change) and later (those cultural, systemic problems that suck your energy).
It’s like building a new house and leaving known cracks in the foundation. When it’s all built you can say the house is done, might even be on time and budget — but how long will it hold up?
If you’re ready to make the goal setting process really work for you, contact us. We can help you take a tool you’re already using to the next level. If goal-setting is not a part of your daily work, we can help you get started on the right track.