One of the primary functions of a manager is to help teams achieve their goals. It’s not just about helping direct reports set clear, ambitious goals (although that’s a significant part of it); more importantly, it’s also about giving teams the tools and resources they need to effectively follow with those goals.
For this reason, managers are increasingly turning towards more comprehensive, ongoing performance management strategies, combining tactics like OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) and continuous feedback loops to drive focus, clarity, alignment, and engagement among teams.
To create a goal-oriented culture and facilitate an environment in which your teams are consistently moving in the right direction, there are a few things you can do as a manager or executive:
- Start With Top-Level Goals
Everyone in the company must have an understanding of what’s most important right now. What are the organization’s top-level priorities? These are the objectives from which all departmental, team, and individual goals will be set.
If possible, incorporate metrics upon which the success of these top-level business goals can be measured. For instance, a top-level company goal might be to Grow the Business (in OKR goal setting, this would be an example of an Objective), with hitting a global sales target of $100 million as a measurement (also known as a Key Result). Companies like Google have used this goal-setting method for more than a decade to keep their teams aligned and to achieve aggressive outcomes.
Once you’ve set your top-level goals, share the goals through a platform everyone can access. Some companies use shared spreadsheets, while others use goal-setting software for enhanced visibility. Then, goals can be cascaded down throughout department and team levels, until managers ultimately set individual goals collaboratively with their direct reports. All goals will ultimately, in some way or another, support the top-level company priorities. Make sure employees’ goals are written and recorded into your goal sharing platform, too – a Dominican University study shows 70% of goals that are written down and shared with others are achieved, versus only 35% of goals that aren’t.
- Use Strengths to Set Goals
Here’s where things get a bit more complicated. In addition to setting goals that support company priorities, managers must also work with direct reports to set goals that align with their strengths. Gallup research shows employees who use their strengths in their work are 8% more productive, and 15% less likely to leave the organization. Further Gallup studies show that managers who focus on their employees’ strengths can drive engagement by up to 61%. Thus, be sure your teams are working towards both operational and aspirational goals that allow them to utilize their strengths.
- Invite Input & Shared Ideas
Managers who invite their teams to share ideas and offer input are more likely to cultivate innovation and achievement. Brainstorming sessions are essential not only to developing a healthy exchange of ideas, but also for letting your direct reports know that their input is valued by managers and fellow team members.
While meetings are one place where ideas can be exchanged, some managers are also implementing pulse surveys as a means of inviting suggestions and other forms of feedback. We’ll explore feedback in greater depth in our final point, but for now, keep in mind that there are many outlets through which ideas can be exchanged.
- Motivate Through Coaching
Your team’s performance is a direct reflection of your effectiveness as a manager, and team performance is directly influenced by your ability to motivate your people effectively. In other words, to become more effective in your role, you must become a coach who uses motivators to drive their teams towards excellence.
Make sure that you’re giving your teams the boosts they need to stay motivated. In some cases, simply re-clarifying expectations may be enough to keep employees motivated to achieve their goals. Other times, they may require a bit of assistance from you to work through challenges and obstacles. By checking in with teams weekly using the surveys described above, as well as one-on-one meetings, you’ll be able to provide ongoing coaching to keep teams moving forward, and course-correct, if needed.
One-on-one meetings are brief yet powerful weekly meetings recommended by experts such as the podcasters behind Manager Tools. In addition to giving you an outlet for clarifying expectations, one-on-ones also give teams the opportunity to share progress, so you can get insights as to where goals stand without micromanaging, which also helps you save time. Additionally, these short weekly meetings build trust among managers and their teams, and support an ongoing feedback loop, which brings us to our next point.
- Provide Timely Feedback & Recognition
The final piece of the puzzle for helping employees reach their goals is ongoing feedback. Giving timely, ongoing feedback achieves a number of benefits, including:
- Gives employees the opportunity to correct underperformance, instead of only being told what they did wrong weeks or months down the road
- Shows appreciation for both small and large wins, which organically boosts motivation
- Provides an outlet for discussing development opportunities to further enhance engagement
An important factor to bear in mind here is that feedback and recognition are not “one and done” activities. To be a part of a larger continuous management framework, feedback must be given in real-time and on a continual basis. Otherwise, you’ll risk creating an adverse effect, in which teams actually become demotivated. Consider how an employee might feel hearing about a mistake they made months ago for the first time during their annual review: most likely, they’ll feel blindsided and frustrated, since they can’t go back and change their performance in the time since then. The behavior should instead be addressed by their manager immediately after it happens, in a way that encourages improved performance instead of punishes. For instance, the manager should state the behavior, explain the impact it makes, and what can be done differently moving forward – it’s that simple.
Likewise, recognition should be given in a timely manner, too. Don’t wait until days or weeks pass by to show appreciation for an employee who has met or exceeded expectations. This will make them feel as if their efforts are going unnoticed and therefore don’t matter. Instead, show recognition in a way they respond to best (some prefer public congratulations, while others gravitate towards emails or notes) shortly after the accomplishment has been made.
Most importantly, maintain an ongoing feedback loop so that candid, frequent discussions about goals and performance can be discussed regularly.
By using the tactics listed above, you’ll create the clarity, focus, and alignment teams need to stay committed to their goals and achieve results. When practiced on an ongoing basis, these tactics will not only help your employees meet their goals but ultimately, lead your organization towards sustained accelerated performance.
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