The Gift of Clarity (And Using Goals to Provide It)

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How is your week going?  If you are anything like many of the people I have spoken with this week, you are having one of the most productive weeks of the year.  Your focus is like a laser, your to-do list is pared back, and your eyes are on the prize:  to finish up the most critical items before the end of the year.  So, I have to ask you:  why is every week not more like this one?

The likely answer is that in other weeks you lack the goal clarity that is helping you focus now.  Our new research, High-Impact Performance Management: Using Goals to Focus the 21st-Century (Not a Bersin member?  Click here for the summary), which we launched yesterday, supports this hypothesis: that many employees lack the clarity they need.  Here are a few findings from the study:

  1. Though 76 percent of organizations cascade goals, only 36 percent of organizations have a standard, enterprise-wide approach, which often results in inconsistencies in approach and, potentially, the goals themselves.
  2. While more than half (51 percent) of senior leaders convene a series of meetings throughout the year to discuss goals with business leaders, only six percent of team managers /  middle managers receive their goals in the same way, which can result in inconsistent goal messaging. 
  3. Though nearly 60 percent of organizations said senior leaders revise their goals during the course of the year, only 36 percent of respondents indicated middle managers make similar revisions to align to new directions being defined by their supervisors.  This can result in the organization’s leaders thinking the company is headed in one direction, but the day-to-day actions of employees taking it in an entirely different one.

Our research finds that having that goal clarity – both at the start of the year and on a continuous basis – is a critical factor in predicting business performance.  Specifically, we found that employees with a high level of goal clarity were four times more likely to score in the top quartile of business performance.  Further, organizations that have employees revise or review their goals quarterly or more frequently were three-and-a-half times more likely to score in the top quartile of business performance.

This new research summarizes the current state of goal-setting and management, including an overview of common goal-setting practices; a review of the academic debate around goals; our analysis of the challenges of modern goal-setting and management; current trends in goal-setting and revising; and the three key principles and seven related practices that our data indicate are critical to effective goal management (see Figure 1).

Figure 1:  Three Principles and Seven Practices for Effective Goal Management

Source:  “High-Impact Performance Management: Using Goals to Focus the 21st-Century,” Stacia Sherman Garr / Bersin by Deloitte, December 2014.

I hope that if you are taking some time off in the coming weeks, that you have an opportunity to unplug and reflect.  When you come back to set your goals – and help your organization set its goals – for 2015, I suggest analyzing your organization’s current goal setting approach and asking yourself:

  1. To what extent does your organization’s goal setting process enable you and your employees to have that “end-of-year” clarity on your goals and objectives?
  2. To what extent do your organization’s systems, processes, and culture support continued clarity?
  3. What can you and your organization do differently to enable greater goal clarity, both in January and throughout the year?

If you are able to move the dial on any of these elements, you truly will have given yourself and your employees a gift – the gift of clarity.

Stacia Garr

Stacia Garr writes on trends and best practices in talent management, focusing on topics such as performance management, employee engagement, career management and workforce planning. In her blog, she likes to share what she's learned about how to make talent management programs more frequent, collaborative, engaging and effective.

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