How You Set Goals for a High Performance Culture Matters
Some leaders think they must set goals for a high performance culture that are impossible (or almost impossible) to reach in order to motivate their teams to provide maximum effort and peak performance. Other leaders believe success metrics must be set low enough so that people can consistently exceed expectations without setting themselves up to fail.
We believe that both sets of leaders are wrong.
High Performance Goals Must be “Just Right”
To set goals for a high performance culture, they must be “just right.” Our high performance culture research combined with twenty-plus years of helping clients boost their performance tells us that overly ambitious goals discourage rather than encourage greater effort. Ultra-stretch goals may work for some super-charged salespeople but, in the final analysis, they are counter-productive. The same is true when the bar is set too low.
Impossible to Reach Goals
Here is what happens step-by-step when you regularly set goals that are not achievable.
When goals are set too low, our experience is that performance is almost always “left on the table.” Sure, some may surpass their targets and exceed expectations, but they rarely perform at their peak. As stated by Michelangelo: “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”
How can you, instead, build a high performance culture where achievement, not failure, becomes the standard? When you set goals for a high performance culture, you need to be:
Both too high and too fuzzy goals are unattainable. Goals should be crystal clear, very specific and easily measured. Only then can you monitor and track progress…both activities are absolutely critical to holding your team accountable and to adjusting the numbers, as needed, to allow for unforeseen changing conditions.
Somewhere between overly easy and overly difficult goals are the reasonable, so-called stretch goals that are challenging and inspiring but also, with extra effort, realistically attainable. You want to encourage greater effort from your team by asking them to “stretch” a little further each goal setting period with fair, accurate, and relevant goals that are “just within reach” if people perform at their peak.
Select goals that, once achieved, will have a real business impact. It is important to choose just a few goals with the highest priority. By focusing workforce efforts on the goals that are most effectively aligned with your strategy, you are setting your team up to succeed.
Don’t let your targets be missed due to lack of resources. Make sure you have the money, the time, the raw materials and the talent to make your numbers. Objectives can’t be met by will and commitment alone.
The Bottom Line
We know that workplace culture accounts for 40% of the difference between high and low performing companies. And we believe it is a leader’s job to create the circumstances to consistently get the most out of their people in a way that is consistent with the organization’s core values, behaviors and strategies.
If we push too much (or even too little), we may not meet our goals. The right balance, a high performance culture, is an environment that stimulates its population to improve their performance. Clearly define and choose goals that will set your team on the performance path to success.
To learn more about the ingredients required to have healthy performance pressure, download Performance Pressure: How Much Should a Leader Push
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