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4 Steps To Take When Your Company’s Goals Aren’t Clear

Hijack your company’s goal-setting script with these tips on making and meeting your marks.

4 Steps To Take When Your Company’s Goals Aren’t Clear
[Photo: Flickr user Thomas Leth-Olsen]

Let’s face it: Many companies’ goals-management systems stink. Not applicable to day-to-day business operations or results, these systems are outdated, once-a-quarter, or even once-a-year processes that everyone treats as an administrative check box. Even companies that create corporate goals don’t always communicate them well or help employees understand how their daily work can contribute to them. This is where employee disengagement begins.

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If you are not lucky enough to work for companies like Google or LinkedIn that have effective goals-management systems, there are ways to rise above this and make yourself more valuable in the process.

1. Discover Your Leaders’ Goals

The best CEOs create five to eight corporate goals for the company every quarter. A quarterly cadence ensures relevant, timely goals that can be measured and adjusted for the next quarter. If you do not know what these goals are, you should simply ask.

If your company and department don’t have a set of ready-made goals, then your job just got a bit harder. However, you should take the initiative to quiz your manager, department head, and other executives about what exactly their business goals are. Go all the way to the CEO if you have to, but learn what these goals are. This is critical.

2. Set Your Own Supportive Goals

Once you know the corporate and department goals, you can determine how you will contribute to them by setting your own goals. There are two types of goals you can set. The first type is a priority goal. This is a new initiative to be achieved during the quarter. At the corporate level, these are goals such as, “Generate $20 million in revenue this quarter,” “Launch new product X,” or “Complete the facilities move.” Your goals should link up to these.

The other type of goal is a sustaining goal. These focus on the normal whirlwind of operations that occur every day in a business. These are especially applicable if you are in a department that does not directly impact revenue, such as customer service or human resources. You still need a way to tie in to the corporate strategy and show your influence.

A sustaining goal could be “maintain a Net Promoter Score of 45 or better.” Your individual goal could be to research low scores to find a common complaint that you can improve. Other sustaining goals could involve personal training and development.

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3. Choose The Proper Predictive Measures

You’ve probably had a manager (or maybe you do right now) who says things such as, “Let’s go score a touchdown!” or “Let’s win!” These statements may have varying degrees of success as rallying cries, but they are downright negligible as proper instruction on goal achievement.

The reason is these types of statements don’t tell you as an individual contributor how you can help achieve the goal. For example, extending the metaphor, if you are an offensive lineman in football and the ball is on the three yard line, telling you to “score a touchdown” is not specific enough. You understand the goal, but you don’t know how to contribute to it. However, a good coach will tell you to block the defensive lineman and, for bonus points, hit the linebacker, helping your team to score. How often you successfully block the lineman and linebacker is predictive of how often the team scores.

So if you are in sales, the goal of “set 10 qualified meetings each quarter” is a valuable measurement. Doing this makes it more likely to achieve your end goal, which in this case is to hit a certain revenue number. Your responsibility is to find those predictive measures that will help you achieve your end goals.

4. Communicate Status Updates Based on Likelihood and Quality

Another key consideration that can set you apart is how you communicate goal progress. The natural inclination of most managers will be to ask: “Where are you on this goal?” The logical response is, “Oh, I’m about 80% done.” This doesn’t tell you or your manager much of anything. It does not reflect the inherent risk in the portion of work that is not complete. Unbeknownst to your manager, you may have absolutely no idea how to get the last 20% done. Or, you could be 20% done, but you know exactly how you’re going to do the last 80%.

A better system for relaying goal status is the likelihood of achieving the goal during the quarter. Likelihood is the one business performance metric that captures your confidence in attaining your goal. This information is valuable to your leaders in many ways. It also increases the chances that they will give you the resources and information you need in time to reach your goal. Over time, you become a better predictor of your work schedule, which is also useful to the entire organization.

Another useful metric is qualitative. How do you feel about the work done towards the goal? Are there areas where your manager could help you improve the output?

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You should share these metrics with your manager regularly. Once a week is ideal. Then, your manager becomes better informed about your progress and how it may impact the department and the company.

Hopefully, your management team is doing goals management right. If not, you can increase your value as an employee by setting the right goals, choosing the right measures, and regularly communicating your progress effectively. This will help you become more aligned with the company’s strategy and in tune with your progress towards the mission of the company. You’ll be more engaged in your work and become a more valuable–and valued–employee.

Joel Trammell is the author of The CEO Tightrope: How to Master the Balancing Act of a Successful CEO, and CEO of Khorus, which provides business management software for executives. He is also chair emeritus of the Austin Technology Council and managing partner of private equity firm Lone Rock Technology Group. His leadership as a CEO has resulted in successful nine-figure acquisitions by two Fortune 500 companies. Joel blogs at TheAmericanCEO.com.

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