Inventor of Goal Science Weighs In: Motivating Employees to Meet Goals in 2015

“New Year’s resolutions”– in and outside of the workplace — are the buzzwords of January every year. So how can CEOs and managers capitalize on employees’ willingness to make positive changes in the workplace? There is a way to align workplace motivation and goal achievement, and it starts from the top down. As I emerge myself in Goal Science, it’s clear that it requires a healthy combination of goal setting and techniques to support achievement. Driving change among your employees is an all hands on deck effort, but is totally worth the payout in the end.

This year, I opted to set my own goals at work and at home—drink my own champagne so to speak. My work-related goals include expanding the BetterWorks team while maintaining company culture, increasing our product breadth, growing upsell and renewals and ending the year with twenty amazing case studies that illustrate the dire need for goal-setting in the modern workplace. In addition to these work resolutions, I’m setting out to be a better husband, dad, brother and son this year.

I plan to do the same thing with my goals as what I urge hundreds of businesses to do with theirs: apply goal science by continually defining and tracking goals and their outcomes. For my personal goals, this means not only defining the end result, but also tracking progress weekly, monthly and quarterly. For some of my goals, I assign a number  (e.g. I will play board games 10 times with my kids this year), and for others this means pivoting to redefine my goals based on whatever is thrown in my path (e.g. increasing our product breadth might require pivoting in engineering, staffing, etc.).

There’s no reason your employees can’t achieve goals that align with your company objectives this year too. Objective-Key Results (OKR) goal-setting results in real progress and permanent change. Google actually applies OKR philosophy to its goal setting process. Annual goals aren’t good enough, as constant innovation is moving the company in a new direction. Google staff members set quarterly goals at impossible levels and then figure out how to achieve them. By measuring progress every quarter and rewarding outstanding achievement, Google continues to lead us to great innovation year after year.

Goal achievement starts with you—the C-level team must define the corporate objectives so employees’ individual goals align with whatever is most important quarter to quarter. Here are some best practices when setting Objectives and Key Results this year:

  1. Choose ambitious goals. The only way true change will happen is if employees choose something that will take new innovation and hard work to achieve. It’s ok for the goals, or objectives, to feel uncomfortable so employees are stretched. When choosing new objectives, think about progress from quarter to quarter and what is doable in a few months’ time.
  2. Numbers matter. Set three to five goals and have specific key results for each one so your employees know where they’re headed. Keep the number of objectives slim so they remain achievable and not overwhelming. Likewise, choose corresponding key results to be sure the objectives are attainable in the foreseeable future.
  3. Make objectives measurable. Not only should the objective be clear, how you will judge success should be well-communicated. It’s not a key result unless it is measurable. Concrete key results make it possible to measure employees’ progress and track how they compare to peer and overall company achievement.
  4. Get mass buy-in. Gaining mutual agreement on OKRs, from the employee working to achieve the goal to his and her peers, aim for overall buy-in. Community support, alignment and accountability will help not only motivate, but also let employees understand how their personal goals fit into the bigger company growth story.
  5. Be ok with change. You might run into a situation where a key result is no longer desirable because company direction has shifted. This is why setting quarterly or monthly goals and steps to achieve bigger goals is so vital. Continually evaluate which key results make the most sense, and be okay with dropping some goals if they are no longer a fit.

Motivating employees this year will require more than a chain of command approach. Your workers crave context and incentive, but will perform when achievable goals are in place, and when they know why they are important. Prioritize goal setting this year, and show your employees your commitment to measuring objectives and key results. Goal achievement is critical to success not only at Google, but for every evolving and growing business. Permanent behavior change can be achieved, but it will require a healthy combination of goal setting, transparency and tracking progress along the way.

This guest post is courtesy of Kris Duggan, CEO of BetterWorks.

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