The Importance of Meaningfully Aligning Individual and Team Goals

Lack of communication surrounding company strategy is a key factor for workers leaving a role. Even beyond employee retention, aligning individual and team goals brings a wealth of benefits.

Picture the scene: it’s Monday morning, and your team has gathered to align on what needs to be done in the week ahead to continue pushing your project forward.

There’s a range of seniority represented, with colleagues from different departments around the table. Scanning the room, you realize that a number of your colleagues seem less than enthused about the tasks being discussed.

Fair enough, it’s Monday. But you get the feeling their lack of motivation runs somewhat deeper than post-weekend fatigue.

For you, launching the company’s most innovative new product to date, or securing a truly career-changing client, is a genuinely exciting prospect. So, why isn’t it incentivizing them?

The thing is, when you’re privy to management or Director level intel — financial forecasting, five year ambitions, etc. — it’s motivating to know how each incremental win could amount to a much bigger scale-up for the business. However, for those in entry, junior or even mid-level positions, this sense of strategic progression isn’t always clear.

And yet, as Amabile and Kramer tell us in their book, The Progress Principle,

knowing that you are making incremental progress can “ignite joy” at work — it’s that influential!

Being able to align the business’ objectives, with the individual goals of your team, and visa versa, not only increases morale and motivation, but can lead to greater commercial success.

Your human capital is your biggest expense, and your most valuable asset. As Bill Gates said, "The inventory, the value of your company, walks out the door every evening”.

Engaging in collaborative goal setting – helping your employees set, and achieve against, meaningful goals that are aligned with the larger objectives of the team – is how you get them to come back, energized, every morning.

Understanding goals and objectives

Say your business vision is to become the highest-grossing provider within your industry, or to be your customers’ go-to service for a specific need. This ambition, whilst great for sustainable success, may be too lofty for many of your employees to truly connect with.

It may be a multi-year strategy, requiring several ambitious milestones to be passed, on its journey to completion. And whilst this all looks great typed up as a business plan, us humans have a tricky tendency to focus more on things that will pay off for us in the here and now.

"People want guidance, not rhetoric; they need to know what the plan of action is and how it will be implemented.”

The good news: it’s possible to overcome this present focus bias, as it’s referred to in Behavioral Economics, by creating a framework in which individuals can dynamically set and work towards near-term individual goals that feed into the larger goals of their team.

A better understanding of goals and the most effective ways in which to utilize them will help you more effectively work towards the future you desire, and encourage others to do the same.

In general usage words ‘goal’ and ‘objective’ are often used interchangeably, however, within performance management, a distinction has been drawn between the two. Although it can vary, the difference between the two is generally regarded as such:

A goal is a clear, single-minded statement of an outcome - an ambition - to be reached within a certain timeframe. For instance, “We will redesign the company’s website, so it’s more user-friendly, by the end of next quarter.”

An objective is an action you’ll need to take, in order to achieve that goal. To redesign a website, you may need to redistribute some marketing spend towards your digital capabilities, or find the right web designer, or do some User Experience research to truly define what “more user-friendly” means in that context.

You can see the use of this nomenclature in action in one of the most common goal-setting frameworks in modern business: OKRs. This paradigm involves setting Objectives which are then measured by Key Results.

In our view, however, this is all largely semantic. What's important is the way in which goals are used. It’s for this very reason that we built the goals module in Duuoo to be so inherently flexible - so that no matter what they’re called, the end user can utilize the framework that makes the most sense for their team, and most importantly, set and track their goals easily and in real-time.

Regardless of what you do decide to call them, goals should be S.M.A.R.T: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timely. As such, they help counter the ever-challenging present focus bias.

Only once you’ve a clear idea of where you’re heading, can you map out the necessary steps to get there. And setting S.M.A.R.T. goals can help keep employees engaged and motivated; they can more readily visualize their involvement, on a step-by-step basis.

Bring individual and team goals together to empower employees

Now let’s reimagine that Monday morning meeting. If each employee, within every team in the business, has a clear vision of what they — personally — need to do, to help deliver the company vision, you’ve got a better chance of a captive audience. They can easily comprehend, and get excited about, the valuable role they play.

By communicating this “line of sight”, you’re helping your people find purpose in what they do at work; a 21st century motivator, according to Daniel Pink.

And this is about more than an actionable to-do list. If you can empower your employees to set their own individual goals, and find a way for them to work towards them within the context of a broader business strategy, then you’re putting them on the path to excellence.

So, what does this look like in practice?

To start, your HR and performance management approach — through 1-on-1s and other review meetings — should be as dynamic as the business world you operate in. Frequent check-ins enable real-time progress monitoring; rely on only annual reviewing, and you’ll miss opportunities to develop your staff through tasks which grow their skillset, as well as the company’s core capabilities.

If you have an employee who wants to improve their public speaking, how can the business help them achieve this? Perhaps holding a conference or knowledge-sharing event, in which they could take a small speaking slot, could attract new clients and help you achieve your ambition of growing your customer base by 25%? It’s a tick against their personal goal, as well as being strategically beneficial to the business.

Collaborative goal setting adds value at all levels.

Invest in your employees — truly understanding what they want from their professional development — and they’ll be more loyal, committed and motivated as part of your workforce.

Job dissatisfaction costs the US a staggering $450-550 billion in lost productivity every year. And lack of career advancement or promotional opportunities is a major factor when leaving a job; in a recent study by Gallup, it was the most cited reason for an employee moving on.

High employee turnover rates can be crippling for SMEs, and in larger corporations can amount to millions of dollars. But turnover can be minimized with increased job satisfaction. And in an economic atmosphere where, according to a 2017 report, less than half (44%) of workers are happy in their current role, that could mean considerable cost saving and productivity increase for any business.

Is employee retention a cause for concern in your business? Meaningful goal alignment may be the answer.

A workforce that knows where it’s headed, pushes your business forward

Transparency is increasingly important in company culture. SHRM’s 2015 Job Satisfaction and Engagement survey identified “Management’s communication of organization’s goals and strategies” as a key factor in job satisfaction and engagement.

As Howard Schultz, of Starbucks, said:

"People want guidance, not rhetoric; they need to know what the plan of action is and how it will be implemented.”

It’s not enough to present your business strategy once a year, in a company-wide meeting, then circulate it as an aide memoir to sit, unopened, in email inboxes office-wide.

Instead, spend time with each employee, in regular meetings, to pair their individual goals with team goals. That way, you’ll encourage team members to keep the company strategy front of mind; armed with a clear understanding of how they fit into the big picture, they’re enabled to spot development opportunities — both for individual growth and business success — for themselves.

To get the ball rolling though, you — as managers and leaders — need to model the right behavior, by encouraging effective team and individual goal setting.

Goals setting tips and tricks

Consider the aim: establishing a better process for aligning individual and team goals. What objectives do you need to set in place to get there? Remember, each objective should be S.M.A.R.T.

You could:

  • Agree to schedule monthly meetings with each team member, to review their individual progress against their personal goals, and discuss opportunities for them to feed into the wider corporate ambition.

  • Be even more time-bound than that; don’t store up your feedback in wait of monthly meetings. Give continuous, constructive feedback. Real-time reviewing helps employees at all levels of the business to manage their incremental progress, versus their own goals, and in the context of company strategy. Monitor every opportunity you have to give real-time feedback, and whether you remembered to or not, until it becomes second nature.

  • Invest in a modern performance management software, to build a process for setting and aligning goals during 1-on-1s and regular check-ins. A digital solution for this also gives managers the ability to link their individual team members' goals to the larger team goals, and for both managers and team members to track progress and update goals in real-time, in one shared and centralized location.

No matter your company size, no one is just a cog in the machine

What would you like Monday morning to look like in your workplace?

If your employees could do with being more motivated and inspired, perhaps there’s work to be done in aligning their individual goals with that of the team and company.Whether you’re an SME or a multinational conglomerate, every one of your employees should understand the value of their individual contribution.

If they don’t: you risk losing productivity, profit, and personnel. If they do: you’re a workforce to be reckoned with.

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