The Secrets To Setting Goals And Staying Motivated (Even During The Holidays)

Setting goals shouldn’t be a once a year thing. Here’s how to use goal science to keep up your momentum even when your motivation slumps.

The Secrets To Setting Goals And Staying Motivated (Even During The Holidays)
[Photo: Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski]

Between now and the new year, it’s easy for work to slip through the cracks. Holiday planning and festivities can quickly become distractions and important tasks can be forgotten. But Kris Duggan, CEO of the enterprise goal platform BetterWorks, says setting the right kinds of goals can keep you focused–today as well as in the immediate future.


“Setting goals used to be an annual task that was put in a drawer and dusted off at the end of the year,” he says. “Instead of using goals as an operational tool, employees would work on what they thought was best in the moment. What they wrote down didn’t really matter.”

In contrast, companies that utilize goal science create a culture of agility and propel progress, says Duggan. He shares five best practices that will take a company from chaotic to focused:

1. Goals should be connected

Instead of using a top-down approach where leaders set goals and employees execute them, Duggan suggests implementing a bottom-up method, distributing input and accountability throughout the company.

“A mere 7% of employees today fully understand their company’s business strategies and what’s expected of them,” he says. “Businesses that embrace goal science best practices can keep everyone working well together by making sure goals are not established in isolation.”

Duggan says employees feel a sense of connection when the workplace is engaging: “How do you create an engaged workforce? Offer more recognition and praise. Align people’s goals as part of the bigger picture. And let everyone come up with solutions,” he says.


2. Goals should be public

In addition to connecting goals across an organization, employees make more progress when they feel they’re part of a supported community. Duggan says this is created by making everyone’s goals public, including those of leadership.

“Research has shown if you write down your goals and publish them for others to see, your ability to achieve those goals skyrockets,” he says. “Once you have an open environment, there are less politics. Employees understand the big picture and can no longer hide. And everyone can see what everyone else is working on, eliminating the possibility of duplicated work.”

In addition to making goals public, Duggan says companies should encourage employees to cheer on or nudge each other. “Social feedback can have a big impact on achievement,” he says.

3. Goals should be adaptable

Modern goal-setting processes should be dynamic and agile, which means annual goals are a thing of the past. Instead, goals should reflect fast-paced, ever-changing global work environments, enabling workers to shift their focus when necessary, says Duggan.

“Annual goal-setting systems don’t encourage you to check in during the year,” he says. “By April, those goals often aren’t relevant anymore. At end of the year, employees spend a week writing a justification of what they did do versus what they said they were going to do.”


Instead, companies should set quarterly goals with monthly check ins. “Companies that get this and are agile and modern,” Duggan says.

4. Goals should be progress-based

The popularity of activity trackers such as FitBit prove that people thrive on measurable feedback, and getting similar feedback at work can increase productivity.

“This is particularly true of Millennials,” says Duggan. “They grew up in a world Facebook likes and Twitter followers. When they go to work, they want feedback praise, which will give them a sense of progress.”

To measure progress at work, create goals with frequent milestones, such as one every one to two weeks. Then update goals frequently so small wins are continually captured.

5. Goals should be aspirational

Every employee should aim high when setting goals because goals that cause someone to stretch promote greater achievement, says Duggan.


“Research has found that we’re happier when we set hard goals,” he says. “The goal should be difficult but not impossible. And when we get close or achieve it, the key is to pause and reflect on the success.”

Duggan says employees should be encouraged to set ambitious goals that will drive maximum performance–but with a caveat: “Because goals should be somewhat difficult to achieve, goal setting and tracking should not be directly tied to compensation,” he says.

“If your performance is reviewed on your goals, you’ll tend to set conservative goals. Instead, encourage people to think big and let them go at it.”