Two reasons why goal setting often fails

Over the past twenty years I have had a chance to see hundreds of performance appraisal documents that had a goal setting section. An incredibly high proportion contained low quality, vague goals, such as “keep up with the good work” or “develop communication skills”. All these managers missed an opportunity to actually carry out their primary responsibilities: improve the work performance and output of their people, and help them grow.

Most managers learned about basic goal setting theory during their university studies or at corporate leadership training programs. Some even remember what the letters in the SMART acronym stand for, and try to take into account some of those attributes. As a matter of fact, it is not so difficult to be a bit more specific when setting a goal. Measurement can often just be completed/not completed when you cannot use numerical measures, and it is also rather easy to stick a deadline at the end of the sentence. This is not the tricky part. The remaining two letters very frequently prove to be the reason for goal setting and attainment failures.

In my experience, both as a leadership development professional and as an individual, we often underestimate the time a certain project requires. We tend to consider an ideal situation, which is basically never the case. Firstly, there are several other commitments, projects and regular responsibilities that use up our time that we systematically ignore when setting a deadline. Secondly, goals are very often contingent upon the input or cooperation of other people, again with a multitude of commitments and responsibilities. Very few projects get completed on time with the originally imagined scope. If you want more success with your goals, it makes sense to plan for shorter time periods with specific actions that you either control or can effectively influence, and reiterate later to proceed toward a longer term direction. 

The other issue is with the “relevant” part, i.e. the motivation or fuel to diligently work on a specific goal that we set. If people do not understand how their own goal fits into the big picture, how they personally contribute to a meaningful outcome, there will simply not be enough drive to invest sufficient amount of energy in the project or issue. If at the end of a goal setting discussion, the manager or the team member is not clear about why it makes a lot of sense to engage in that activity, if either of them cannot see how the goal will add to better business performance and/or personal growth in an important area for the individual and the company, the goal should just be deleted from the document. Otherwise, it will only bring disappointment.

If you have read the article this long, I would like to give you an extra reason behind people not achieving whatever they set out to do: lack of regular follow-up. No matter if it is a work goal or a personal development one, we should review progress at least once a month. On one hand, it is highly motivating to see that we made significant steps forward, also an excellent way to refuel. On the other hand, these pitstops allow us to recalculate our route and make alterations as necessary.

Act2Manage Application

An interactive, gamification-based, practice-oriented leadership development application that provides immediate help and enables follow-up to the most common dilemmas.

Get info and request a free trial!

More blog posts:

diversity

Why do we struggle to introduce diversity at the workplace?

Researches and discussions report how diversity increases profit, productivity, or innovation. DEI (or more fashionably DEI&B) has clearly been on the HR agenda for many years now. We don’t need to do a deep analysis to experience how challenging it is to push the DEI idea through the managers. If we still feel it necessary to attend conferences, events or to go to workshops or training dinasours, it seems suspicious that it requires quite a lot of effort. But why is this, if the concept is so common sense? What is it that managers don’t understand? Honestly, they don’t understand what HR doesn’t do either.

Read more »
ötletek temetője

Yoda mesternek üzenem: van olyan, hogy próbálni

Igen gyakran felbukkanó idézet az apró, nagy fülű, de annál bölcsebb Star Wars karaktertől, hogy “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”, miszerint vagy csináld vagy ne csináld, olyan nincs, hogy próbálod. Értem én persze az üzenetét az öregnek, fontosak az egyértelmű elhatározások, valamint a hit abban, aminek nekifogunk. De azt is gondolom ezzel együtt, hogy ha kezdeményezel, újat alkotsz vagy az élére állsz bárminek, akkor az egy büdös nagy kísérletezés lesz.

Read more »

How to improve the quality of management

Improving employee engagement is a permanent topic on almost every HR agenda. Despite that many companies implemented health programs, home office, LTIs, they still struggle to improve engagement; according to Gallup’s global research, only the 17% of the workforce is engaged. There’s no way to sugarcoat that the data represents a stinging indictment of management-as-usual.

Read more »

Stay updated!

Subscribe to our newsletter!