Setting goals is a key practice. Although there are many different types of goals, (see here for an introduction on setting SMART goals to benefit your team) it is key to have something to aim for. It is well-documented that goals should be challenging but still attainable, and realistic, whilst pushing people towards success. But what is it that drives some people to such success; why do some people’s New Year’s resolutions to hit the gym see them transform themselves into fitness fanatics, and others fizzle out with a cancelled membership and a post-Christmas binge come January 31st? Setting realistic, achievable goals is an essential step to success, as are the motivations behind setting them in the first place.
In a workplace setting, research establishes that setting strong goals boosts performance by motivating people to increase their effort, inducing stronger task focus and showing decreases in on-job leisure. Nowadays, many companies acknowledge this importance of setting clear goals and it is likely that your employees have goals to work towards, whether as individuals or as a team. However, a vast majority of companies could improve upon implementing a system which allows them to set, track and review their progress. It is vital as a manager to be aware of ways in which you can increase motivation, task engagement, and productivity among team members, and setting and tracking useful goals is a sure-fire way to do this. Read on to find out how to implement goals which will get the best out of your team and create a productive and successful working environment.
Whether you set them or not, have goals in place
Prospect theory outlines how goal setting can influence workers’ behavior and the ways in which they approach tasks. ‘The theory suggests that a lack of success, for example failing to accomplish a goal, ‘hurts’ people more than successes benefit them positively by making them feel good. For example, if your team is set a target which they fail to reach by the end of the quarter, the negative feelings experienced would outweigh the positive ones they would gain from succeeding, thus pushing them to work harder on the next target set to avoid the same outcome. Employees are prepared to exert more effort in order to achieve goals to prevent the feelings of dissatisfaction that come from failing.
So there’s no question that setting goals is important in the workplace. But then comes into question, how much responsibility should lie with you as a manager to set them? Whilst there are obvious positive outcomes from assigning team members' goals, it has also proven beneficial for people to assign their own. Research by J. Goerg, Professor of Economics at Florida State, indicates that self-assigned goals increase the likelihood of workers excelling, and decrease the chance of below average work being produced. What is thought to be most important of all though is commitment: high reaching goals lead to superior performance only when people are committed to them, seemingly regardless of who assigns them.
It's not all about the money… Engaging modern employees through goal setting
Surprising as it may seem, it has been widely suggested that financial rewards like bonuses are not actually hugely helpful when it comes to a wide variety of tasks. In fact, one study actually found that workers with goals were faster at completing tasks whether or not money was a factor.
Modern workers are actually more motivated by goals themselves than financial rewards or punishments. In the Ted Talk below, Dan Pink discusses the importance of autonomy when it comes to goal-based motivation. With companies such as Google and Microsoft adapting to a more modern approach of giving workers more control over their schedules, assignments, and responsibilities (and it proving to be incredibly effective), this is clearly the way forward to engaging employees over the more traditional ‘if you reach goals you gain a financial reward’ approach. Having employees set their own goals, time frames and working hours in which to complete them has actually proven highly effective in boosting productivity, worker engagement, and motivation, and decreasing turnover. There are many success stories from companies taking this approach, including that of Google, and their incentive to allow employees to use 20% of their time to work towards any project of their own choosing; allowing them to set their own goals and time frames. Many current projects that Google continues to work on were created during this assigned time: there is no question that, if employees are working towards productive inspiring goals, they will have the motivation to go above and beyond to achieve them.
Seemingly, what is important to the modern employee is to have goals which they are committed to and actively want to work towards. Research suggests that when specific goals have been set, for superior performance to surface, commitment to those goals is the most important factor. Your team must not only want to achieve their goals but genuinely care about them. Giving employees control over their goals and allowing them leeway over how and when to complete them proves effective. People need to be working towards something they feel is important, rewarding, or aligns with their personal values, especially with a large percentage of workforces now being made up of millennials, who generally, as outlined in Deloitte’s survey, found here, have high regard for their personal values in the workplace. When it comes to more complex and time-consuming goals, (as most are likely to be in your working environment) research shows us that financial rewards sometimes actually damage performance more than anything. People need more to push them towards completing goals when they are in any way complex; they need an intrinsic drive to motivate them. Help your team set personalized goals which they will find rewarding to complete and will give them a sense of both job and personal satisfaction.
Goals & Workplace co-operation
Despite the benefits, it has been suggested that certain types of goal setting can have a negative impact on working environments. One study indicates that setting goals for individuals may reduce co-operation amongst people. As a manager, you play a key role in helping employees to connect their personal goals to team and company-wide ones, by setting strong individual and team goals which clearly indicate how each team member will contribute to the company's success.
It is clear that goal-setting is beneficial in a variety of ways, for both you and your team. It is of key importance to implement goals in the workplace; whether in setting them for your team, or allowing them to construct their own goals that will motivate and push them towards individual, group and company-wide achievements. Having a clear focus in the form of a goal not only helps keep people on track but actually motivates them even more than factors such as financial gain. Transparency is also a key factor: not only is it beneficial for you as a manager to be aware of your team’s goals and progress, but it is also highly important for team members to be aware of others’ activity, making for an open channel of communication and support amongst co-workers as both individual and team goals are worked towards. Google achieves this by using OKRs (Objectives and key results) to ensure that co-workers not only have established goals but are also made aware of other team members’ goals and progression: transparency goes a long way in terms of keeping teams on track and engaged with their progress.
Of course, factors such as the size of your team and working environment will have an impact on what works in terms of how you approach goal-setting as a whole, but it is indisputable that setting goals is an important practice to enforce in the workplace and will gain results. Combine it with regular feedback on employees’ progress towards reaching those goals, and you have a recipe for a productive, motivated and high-achieving team.
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Photo by Jeffrey Betts