Strategic goal setting in uncertain times
Many organisations are revisiting their strategic goals for the coming 12 months. This time it needs to be different because we’re in the middle of a pandemic and the traditional way of goal setting is unlikely to be effective.
The traditional approach to goal setting is locked into an annual cycle, often with a top down cascade and individual KPI’s that are kept private between employees and their managers.
While we’ve seen a shift towards more agile goals and greater transparency in recent years, the truth is the old way of doing things has a lot of momentum and many employees have felt uncomfortable sharing their strategic goals transparently with other team members.
In light of the pandemic and many of us working form home, now is an ideal opportunity to revisit the way we approach strategic goal setting without the pushback we might have experienced in a pre-covid world.
1. Agile not annual
Some organisations are opting for quarterly strategic goals at the company level. We’ve seen Atlassian preparing for FY21 with “a series of four quarters” rather than planning for a full year. However, for many businesses, the high level company goals can stay on an annual cycle, but it makes a lot of sense to have team and individual goals on a quarterly cadence.
This quicker cadence provides an opportunity to more frequently review the relevance of goals in light of a rapidly changing environment and ensure teams are working towards what the business needs most.
2. Align not cascade
Remote work relies on engagement, self-motivation and trust. Asking team members to identify their own quarterly goals that align with team goals will have a significant impact and create a much more empowering approach to strategic goal setting.
This does not mean free reign to choose any work, employee goals should be negotiated or tweaked with managers to ensure maximum impact, alignment and realistic targets within the quarterly cycle.
3. Transparent not private
When team members are working remotely, it’s not possible to physically see them working. And while people have traditionally been reluctant to share their goals publicly with colleagues, this no longer works in a remote environment.
In the absence of physical proximity, teams need to work differently to build trust. Sharing strategic goals has big benefits, not only does it communicate what you’re working towards, but also improves collaboration, accountability, and the chance of more successful outcomes.
4. Recognise not remunerate
Historically, KPI’s have often been tied to remuneration or bonus payments. However, this process is being phased out rapidly as the unintended consequence of employees negotiating the lowest possible KPI’s in order to secure their bonus payment is now widely understood.
Furthermore, there is a wide body of research that shows financial incentives for knowledge work can actually hinder creative and critical thinking – the very skills required to solve complex problems.
Instead, leading organisations are encouraging employees to set ambitious strategic goals without the fear of losing remuneration. Establishing frequent feedback loops ensures team members feel valued and recognised for their achievements in-the-moment, versus waiting until the end of the year.
5. Coach not assess
Getting to the end of a year and assessing if KPI’s were achieved is awkward and often unfair. Modern leaders are switching to a coaching style relationship with team members where they check-in and ask forward looking questions. Eg. Is there anything that might prevent you from reaching your strategic goals? Is there anything I can do to help ensure your success?
Conducting a regular check-in for strategic goal progress helps keep high priorities front of mind, identifies problems early, and builds a more connected manager-employee relationship – perfect in a socially distant Covid world!