Goals are a natural part of work

You can’t score without a goal.  But, compared to other high performance environments (like sports), typical work environments don’t provide enough clarity or focus.  This ambiguity causes people to conserve effort and/or waste energy on the wrong things, leading to lower engagement and lower performance.

 

GOAL! (from wikimedia commons)

Psychologists have discovered much about how our brain handles goals.  One of the defining traits of the human species is our ability to choose what we will do and how we will do it… that is, to create goals.  Goals are central to grit, which leads to greater happiness, which in turn is a source of high performance.

Goals are simply a way to clarify expectations and keep track of agreements about your work, and can help answer these critical performance questions:

  • Am I doing the right work?
  • Is the work I’m doing good enough?

You should use goals to discuss the potential of your work and the progress you are making (or not) towards them.  In their best form, goals are not administrative or bureaucratic processes.  Rather, they are vehicles that help you carry work forward.  An individual or a leader may initiate a goal, but in either case, both people should be invited into the discussion.  In fact, goals can serve as a “boundary object” to engage several people with different perspectives as your advisors, creating the basis for a continual 360 degree dialog.

You can increase transparency and efficiency in your organization by sharing goals, and you might gather them together for a “roll-up” to create a big picture of how everyone is working together.  But keep them lightweight and flexible, as they are most useful in the form of a natural conversation about what you are doing and how you are doing it.

Don’t let goal processes and templates (like SMART goals) overcome the natural simplicity of goals.  They can be written on post-its, scribbled on a napkin, or entered into a web service like Rypple.  The key is that you think about and discuss what’s important in your work and capture it in a very simple statement that has meaning to you.

Key questions for generating goals:

  • What is needed by the business/client?
  • What am I prepared (ready and able) to do?
  • What will I need to accomplish this work properly?
  • Who is impacted by this work and what are their needs?
  • How will I know it is complete?

Goals make it easier to gather feedback:

Think of goals as a “prototype” of the future you can use to gather feedback.  You can ask three kinds of questions about a goal to help you deliver high quality work that others value:

1. Focus- use one or more goals to ask your boss, client, and colleagues if they think you are working on the right things.  Compare them to expectations set out for you by company level mission/vision statements and job level requirements like a job description.

2. Advice- use a goal to ask others for input on how they would approach the task.  When you do this before you act, you make it easier for others to give their full opinion about the “right way” to do something.

2. Critique- use a goal to ask others their opinion on your results.  It’s easier to get feedback if you show what you were hoping to accomplish (with a goal), as it allows people to focus their opinions on the gaps between your intent and the actual results.

For more on this topic see my post Set homerun goals.

 

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Set homerun goals

This is not about setting big hairy audacious goals, which are great for inspiring groups over the long haul. This is about working with a natural efficiency in your brain when it comes to having too much to do and not knowing which things to get done.  In every day life, smaller goals are more useful as a way to keep you motivated and on track with the most important things.  A BHAG in this post would be to win the World Series, while an effective short-term goal would be to hit a lot of homeruns along the way.

Most of us have too many demands on our energy, time, and commitment.  This is great because when you are well networked you are more likely to accomplish more things.  But setting goals against every demand can be overwhelming.  You have important things to do at work, and more to do on the home front, and aspirations for your career and health, and of course you’d like to contribute to society, and well, you get the picture.

By the time you list a separate goal in each area, there’s no time to get everything done, and you end up doing nothing but react to things as they come your way.  There is a way out of this mess: Psychologists believe that we are more likely to accomplish a goal that satisfies several (if not all) key demands at one time.

For pure efficiency and survival, we are naturally attracted to activities that satisfy multiple goals.  That is, we’d rather do things that “kill two birds with one stone.”  So the best goals are ones that satisfy many needs.

Homerun king Babe Ruth

Now, let’s get back to the baseball analogy as a reminder to set better goals.  There’s nothing wrong with a base hit… it puts a runner on base and if you get additional hits, that runner could advance to score.  But it’s much more efficient to hit a long ball and get several bases in one hit, and best to knock it out of the park.  In one swing, you clear the bases and get multiple points.

Four types of goals:

  1. Do what needs to be done for the business/customer.
  2. Do something that helps me learn and grow.
  3. Do something that improves our way of doing work.
  4. Do something that’s good for your family, society or the planet.

Take the time to consciously build connections across the many demands you are trying to satisfy in your life.  When you do something at work (a single), look for ways to tie that work to your professional development (a double). Better yet, look for ways to improve the way you do that work while you’re doing it (a triple).

And best of all, be clear about how that work will be good for your family or make a positive difference in the world (a home run!).  When you explicitly attach all of those outcomes to your actions, your brain is more likely to keep it at the top of your consciousness and in the busy part of your thinking.

Which means you’re more likely to get it done.

For more on setting effective goals see my post Goals are a natural part of work.

 

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