How to Set Goals for a High Performance Culture

Set Goals for a High Performance Culture so expectations are clear

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.

  • First, when the targets are not reached, excuses are made.
  • Whatever the reason for failure—not enough resources, not enough time, stiff competition—there is a lack of accountability where it belongs…on the shoulders of the leaders who set them, the team that agreed to them (or maybe did not disagree strongly enough) and the team that failed to reach them.
  • Second, consistently missing targets sets up a situation where failure becomes the norm.
  • Either the goals are not thoughtfully chosen or the team does not do what it commits to doing. The result is a low performing team where there is no accountability and failure is not simply accepted…it is expected.

Sandbagged Goals
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:

1. Clear
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.

2. Realistic
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.

3. Choosy
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.

4. Prepared
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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I have worked with LSA Global at previous companies and welcomed the opportunity to bring them in to support my new organization. We worked closely with LSA to design a solution for our Client Partner Teams and Management Training on both coasts. LSA designed a customized solution for our business and organizational culture. LSA is a quality organization, one that I’d recommend to any company looking for a first class training and consulting partner that makes an impact.

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We have worked with LSA Global for our learning and development needs and have always had great success. They helped us recently with customized Management Workshops that we held for the second time. It was fantastic, and I would highly recommend LSA to anyone that is attempting to get immediate and impactful improvements.

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“We turned to LSA to help us custom design and deliver a leadership and management development curriculum to help drive performance. They have done an excellent job diagnosing the business situation, designing an approach that fits our culture, and delivering a first class solution.”

Sally Buchannan
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What a refreshing change from the half-baked psycho-babble you normally get from training and consulting organizations. LSA gives you the practical and results-oriented assistance you need to define and reach your goal.  They provide a results driven plan – not just a temporary fix. They are great to work with, and even more importantly, they “get it!”

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LSA Global’s consultant brought a fresh perspective to our behavioral based interviewing strategy for two key executive positions we needed to fill, and their consultant helped us develop questions that produced a much deeper understanding of candidates’ capabilities. I am confident that the two new executives joining our organization have the right skills to add significant value. Throughout the process LSA was also very responsive in dealing with short lead time requests.

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Over the years, both at 3Com and now at Redback, I’ve found LSA Global to be a valuable resource. The recent compliance program that they delivered for Redback’s executive and management team was the right solution, of the highest of quality, and customized to our business and culture. I would highly recommend LSA to any company looking for top quality solutions.

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I am very impressed with the quality of work and talent. LSA did a great job of listening to my needs and providing the exact management training program expertise I needed to get the job done.

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