Does this sound familiar to you? If so, you might be experiencing some difficulties with goals management. Luckily, there’s a simple solution you can adapt to solve each of the problems associated with failed goals. It’s called Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), and it’s the goals management system companies like Google have been using to set, track, and achieve clear, measurable goals for years. If you’re not sure about yours, see an example of goals.
Here, we’ll describe some of the common reasons companies fail to achieve their goals, and how effective goals management can be used to solve each.
1. There’s no way to align employee contributions with company goals
Your company goals will always stem from your strategy, so it’s important that teams are directly aligned with their organizational strategy. But just how many employees can even identify their company strategy? According to a Forbes report, only a mere 29% of employees truly get it. Harvard Business Review research is even more alarming. They suggest that 95% of employees are unaware of, or do not understand, their company strategy.
If the majority of your teams don’t understand your strategy, how can you expect them to know what’s most important to the company?
Having a goals management framework in a place like OKRs helps to ensure that top-company priorities are not only identified but communicated throughout every level of the organization. Then, each team, department, and individual contributor can build their own Objectives to support those company priorities. As a result, employees’ efforts at all levels will always be directly aligned with the company goals, and ultimately, your overarching strategy.
2. Employees may understand goals, but not how to achieve them
Here’s another problem many organizations face. At the beginning of each quarter, managers and their teams collaborate to determine goals for each employee. Thus, the employee knows precisely what’s expected of them. The problem lies in the fact that they don’t know how to achieve it.
This is where SMART goals come in. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. When you follow this formula for setting goals, you’ll naturally enforce specificity. Which makes it easier for employees to identify where they should focus their efforts to effectively achieve outcomes.
Additionally, organizations are increasingly using OKRs to inform the “how” behind goals. This approach is effective because while the Objective explains what must be achieved, the Key Result, a measurable, smaller step, informs the “how.” In other words, an OKR would state:
I will accomplish (Objective) as measured by (Key Results 1, 2, and 3).
By breaking larger goals up into clear, measurable steps, you’ll give employees the ability to clearly identify not just the Objective itself, but also how to achieve it.
3. Employees & managers lack follow-through
Setting clear, measurable goals is only the foundation for achieving results. In order to truly drive performance, you must ensure managers are holding teams accountable for their goals on a weekly basis. Otherwise, teams will become sidetracked with tasks and won’t achieve real results. By the end of the quarter, the goals you set three months ago will be nowhere near completion.
Following through with goal progress is ultimately a responsibility of your managers. Each week, they should be holding brief one-on-one check-ins with their direct reports to discuss progress. Managers should ask what’s been completed in terms of goal progress since the previous week. Whether there are any impending obstacles that teams need assistance with. And whether there’s anything else they can provide to help their direct reports achieve their goals on time.
The power of using this method to regularly review goals is evident. Bersin by Deloitte research confirms that companies in which employees regularly review their goals are 3.5x more likely to score in the top 25% of business outcomes.
Thus, managers should be ensuring progress is being made every single week on each employee’s goals, which brings us to our next point.
4. There’s no way for managers to track progress
Simply verifying that goal progress is being made isn’t enough. For follow-through to truly become effective, managers must be able to quantify progress. Again, this is where having clear, measurable goals becomes useful.
With quarterly OKRs, for instance, teams can be expected to complete 10% of their Objectives for each week. This even leaves a 2-3 week grace period at the beginning of every quarter for teams to get accustomed to their goals. Plus, since everyone has clear, measurable goals in place, managers will know how to quantify what 10% of any given Objective looks like. Or, for added convenience, they can even use a tool like OKR software to help track goal progress throughout the quarter.
Once managers are actively keeping track of progress, they can proactively step with some extra guidance if any goals become at-risk. Regularly tracking progress is the powerful secret behind not just setting, but actually achieving, your company goals.
5. Managers don’t achieve clarity or reinforce expectations
Most companies use a quarterly cycle for goals. There’s a lot that can happen over the course of three months, however. It’s therefore critical that managers are meeting with their teams regularly to reinforce expectations and achieve clarity if any goals need to be tweaked or put on hold.
In his 2016 Goal Summit Speech, MIT Sloan School of Management Senior Lecturer Don Sull described the importance of setting goals with clarity, especially for companies in volatile markets. Using clarity to set ambitious goals, in specific, will lead to better performance, according to Sull.
Sometimes, employees have a clear idea of what’s expected of them when goals are first established. But as priorities shift or changes emerge throughout the quarter, they may need some added clarity to help them stay focused. OKRs are agile enough to keep up with changing business needs, and the SMART criteria with which they’re written enables managers to regularly review expectations with their teams on a regular basis.
The first step in overcoming failed goals is understanding where your goals management processes are falling short. For many companies, the problems aren’t limited to a single issue described in the list above. In fact, when goals aren’t aligned or set using clear, measurable terms, it’s likely for organizations to experience a multitude of complications.
By enforcing clear, measurable goal setting and consistent tracking of goal progress, you can accelerate your company’s results and make it simpler for employees to perform well on an individual level at the same time. With effective goals management, better performance and results are achieved at all levels.
About the author:
Zorian Rotenberg is CEO of Atiim Inc. (i.e. A-team), a SaaS company that makes sales and marketing teams more productive. Previously he was VP of Sales & Marketing at InsightSquared and has been a speaker at many industry conferences, including the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals (AA-ISP). He has also contributed to WSJ Accelerators Blog, Top Sales World Magazine, and the Salesforce.com Blog, among others. He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.