Want To Accelerate Progress? Quit Setting Goals!

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Let’s Be Honest: The Planning Process Is Broken!

You know it is true. We set annual goals – all too often at the urging of our company or our manager. We know it is a fruitless exercise. A waste of time.

But we have to have goals don’t we? How would we measure our progress? How would we know if we were winning? How would we know who the top performers are? How would we set budgets?

In all honesty it is not the goals that are the issue. It’s when and how we set them.

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Frustrated Manager

Why Are We Preoccupied With The Year as a Planning Time Frame?

For as long as anyone can remember we have set annual goals. I suppose there used to be many good reasons for this, not the least of which was that the system that we operated in was pretty stable. Not much really changed over the course of a year. However, I am sure you would agree that is not the case today!

I don’t just mean in this COVID-19 Pandemic Adjusted Reality we find ourselves in. I mean: Has it been true for the last few years? I don’t think it has. Most people realize that change is accelerating – and we can only assume that it will continue to do so from this point forward.

The critical weakness of annual goals is that they are measured over – you guessed it – a year. There are too many problems with this to list them all here, but let’s just spin through the top 3:

  1. It is almost impossible to foresee the circumstances that will exist over the next 12 months. 2020 is perhaps a exaggerated example of this fact, however even in a ‘normal’ year annual goals are set and largely ignored until the following year’s planning process begins.
  2. Annual goals may inspire some people, however they lull many of us into a false sense of security that there is time to waste. That we have time to work on goals ‘later’ – after all we have a year.
  3. Annual goals are too often connected to compensation. You rolled your eyes didn’t you? Of course they have to be connected to compensation – don’t they? Well, no they don’t. Not if you even remotely believe that problems #1 and #2 are true. In addition, too often managers review an employee’s goals for the first time in a year when they are conducting their annual performance review. No wonder the annual performance review is reviled by managers and employees alike.

Great. Annual Goals Stink. So What Do We Do Now?

Many organizations have already moved away from annual budgets to 18 month rolling forecasts. They have recognized that locking employees and organizations into arbitrary 12 month financial budgets makes no sense at all. Instead they have a rolling 18 month forecast they they revisit for accuracy and adjustment every quarter.

It’s time to do the same thing for employee goals. Why can’t we set goals for the next quarter? In fact this is likely the best year EVER to try this! Does anyone anywhere really think that goals set at the end of 2019 have any relevance to what is happening now? And here’s the great thing: You don’t have to ask for permission. You don’t have to change the structure (yet) of your company’s goal setting or compensation structure. You don’t have to sell it to your employees as ‘how your bonus will be calculated’. You can just tell your employees that a lot has changed, and you want them to not only have as good as possible next quarter – you want to help them position themselves for success in 2021.

Stop Setting Annual Goals: Set Quarterly Objectives Quarterly Objectives Planning Guide & Template

Before you even think about doing this with an employee, make sure you do this exercise yourself. In that way you will understand the process better and will be able to explain it to your people – perhaps even give examples of what your objectives are.

We have provided you with a planning template here. Here are some thought starters to get you thinking about what some ‘good’ objectives would be for the next quarter:

  • Based on what we know today, what is a reasonable objective in terms of performance for the next quarter?
  • How should we measure performance? Based on the current operating reality, is it more reasonable to measure behaviors or output?
  • What skills, behaviors and/or attitudes could you develop or reinforce over the next quarter?
  • What team goals are critical to the success of the business? How could we measure the team’s progress?
  • What significant learning(s) would accelerate progress in the next quarter?

We have provided you with a planning template here.

In our next post we will share with you some additional ideas on how to break Quarterly Objectives into manageable chunks.

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Don’t Compromise and Stagnate For the Rest of 2020.

Don’t let this the last quarter of the year be a waiting game for next year. Let’s not waste this quarter. Let’s invest it in making the quarters that follow all they can be – and more!