Developing Effective Goals for Your Team and Yourself

Setting and achieving goals is a crucial part of the manager's role.  In some ways, your team's goals are your goals, since your job as a manager is to make it possible for your team to get the intended results.  However, using the team goals as your personal performance goals is probably not sufficient for guiding your daily activities, and you may need to break the goals down to make them more useful for your employees.   And ideally, your goals should be much more focused on enabling your employees and not very much on actually producing anything.  Situations aren't often ideal, though, so it's important to know how to frame goals in the most useful way for yourself and for your team.

Team goals are just a starting point.

It's very rare that you have to start from scratch in coming up with team goals.  Much of the work continues from year to year, and special projects and initiatives are often defined at the higher levels of the organization.  You may have only limited input to what the team goals are, and your employees probably have even less input.  To get their buy-in, it's important to involve them in discussing how to carry out the goals, and what obstacles they anticipate facing.  (Your job will be to mitigate and remove those obstacles, of course.)  Team goals are very similar to project goals and can be broken down in similar ways:

  • What does success look like?
  • What are the interim milestones we will need to reach, and by what dates, in order to meet this goal?
  • What potential obstacles are there?
  • What will be needed from you as the manager in order to be successful?

While the employees might not have much say in what the team's goals are for the year, they can and should have a lot of input into how those goals are going to be achieved.  Involving them in the process gives them a sense of ownership and helps to identify potential issues while there is time to address them.

As part of this process, you may want to use another project-related tool, the RASCI model, to identify who will be carrying out each component of the goals.  Ideally, you should be responsible for as few items as possible.  Your role is to be available to jump in any time one of your team members runs into a problem with his or her projects, and you also need to be available to communicate upward and outward (to your boss and to other teams with which your team's work interacts).  You won't be able to do all of that if you're swamped with a bunch of small tasks.  People often make jokes about managers spending all their time in meetings not doing any work, but the reality is that your "work" is communicating and clearing the way for your team.  The way you get results is by ensuring that each of your employees has what he or she needs to do the work.

Management goals are not just about the work.

When talking about team goals, we're really talking about your "official" goals, things that might be in your performance management plan or even part of the company's strategic plan for the year.  However, it might also be useful to have some personal goals for yourself that are not part of any of those official documents.  What would you like to do differently as a manager so that you can more effectively lead your team?  Possible management goals could include:

  • Prepare team (or specific employee) to take on additional responsibility
  • Make a conscious effort to have a development conversation with each employee at least once per quarter
  • Leave work by 6 PM at least two days per week
  • Participate in a management training program
  • Provide specific positive feedback, not just corrections
  • Provide developmental feedback, not just positive comments
  • Create a clear set of operating principles to help onboard new employees more quickly
  • Meet with head of each department the team interfaces with to establish relationship and identify ways to streamline handoffs

These goals don't have to be shared with anyone else, and it's a good idea to focus on just one or two at a time rather than trying to improve everything.  If you are lucky enough to have some kind of upward feedback, either through a 360 or a more informal process, prioritize the area for improvement in that feedback that represents a quick win (the one with the highest impact per effort return).  

If you're not sure where to start, Marshall Goldsmith's book What Got You Here Won't Get You There is an excellent resource for identifying opportunities and (perhaps more importantly) implementing an improvement plan for yourself.

Make sure you have goals that actually guide success.

It may seem like this will lead to you and your team drowning in goals, but the idea is to make sure that everyone is focusing their efforts where they matter most.  Everyone has limited time and energy, and it is very easy to squander both in minutia.  Your team will be far more motivated if they can see a direct connection between what they do each day and what the team is held accountable for, and part of your role as their manager is to translate "organization-speak" into something more tactical and understandable.  Having clear goals, even if they're not the ones in the performance management worksheet, will help everyone on the team to be successful.

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