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Set Inspiring & Meaningful Goals (#2 Reset Performance Management)

We operate in a complex and highly demanding world with an endless need for innovative and mind-blowing results. Being able to inspire people to greatness is imperative. It takes a strong vision that people share (not just a nice plaque on the office wall). This vision is your anchor for a roadmap with inspiring goals that answer the Who/What/Why (but not the How).

This article is part of the series “How Lean | Agile Enterprises Push the Reset Button on Performance Management

#2: Share an understanding of vision, set inspiring goals and clarify expectations

Regardless of your trade or company size, you are likely to operate in a highly demanding, complex, and fast-paced business world. Being able to set meaningful goals and inspire people to greatness is a key competitive advantage. That puts more pressure on Performance Management than ever before.

Unfortunately, years of mismanagement have led to Performance Management systems that are simply uninspiring, and they are a long way from the intended aim of sharing common objectives and channeling energy toward achieving these goals. Instead it has become a necessary evil, dreaded by managers and employees alike. And most organizations treat it as an administrative process rather than one critical to business outcome.


show that 50% of managers have difficulty driving accountability, 87% complain their employees are not actively engaged in achievement, and 93% say their people cannot translate a goal to actions.

It is not that employees don’t want to work on their given goals. But often they don’t really understand the goals or what their contribution is. Or they feel their goals are irrelevant. Then, when daily tasks take over, these goals are soon forgotten.

When people start out with a half-hearted commitment, goals lose their meaning and relevance when they encounter additional client demands, shifting priorities, emerging technologies, new strategic focus – you name it.

Organizations try to respond by setting the right type of goals. But often the effort is in vain. They either set goals that are so abstract and overarching that people don’t really know what to do with them, or the goals get so very specific and detailed that they are outdated by the time they get to work on them. Even companies who have check-in(s) during the performance cycle don’t adjust goals, even though they know that the validity of the goals must come up when they discuss the progress.

Having said that, people actually do accommodate changing circumstances in their daily activities. But this adaptive behavior somehow changes towards the end of the performance cycle, when they feel the need to refocus on the original goals in order to pass their appraisals. Not because these goals are suddenly reasonable again but because the system obliges them to do so in order to get a good performance review – and hopefully a bonus and a promotion with a salary increase.

This way your employees might achieve excellence in their appraisals, but at what cost? The organization does not necessarily get the best results, and resources might simply be wasted. All because we have a system in place that measures them on something that seemed like a good idea months ago.

How can we, as organizations, ensure people work enthusiastically on the things that matter if our processes encourage them to complete obsolete goals in order to be considered high performers?

Agile enterprises understand the power of inspiring goals and the need to understand, commit, review, and adapt these goals on a regular basis. It is an integral part of their workflow.

But it is not just the ‘what’ that matters. It is the ‘why’ that matters just as much or even more, especially for knowledge workers. And when they understand the ‘why’, they are more likely to offer solutions that are innovative and insightful.

Therefore, setting goals must be done in a collaborative way rather than a top-down approach. Don’t get me wrong, it is still the task of leadership to give direction and align overall goals with the corporate roadmap. But there must be transparency, clarity, and interaction to enable a dialogue with the people responsible for delivering value.

However, the conversation with the team is not just about communicating goals and getting their buy-in. It also includes clarifying expectations and defining how results will be measured. We discuss their leeway, potential dependencies, and risks, and the teams consider their velocity. So that when the teams give their commitment, they know exactly what they are getting into and are confident that they will be able to come through. When you ensure your goals are understood and shared, you get real commitment.

But we don’t stop at that. Performance management in an Agile enterprise is an ongoing process of communication, including clarifying expectations, setting objectives, identifying goals, providing feedback, and reviewing results.

And their constant companion is a strong corporate vision. I am not talking about a vision that is only a meaningless statement on a nice plague on the office wall, but one that employees understand, relate to, and strive to follow in everything they do. And one that will guide the results they deliver. But it takes inspiring leadership and a willingness to set your teams up for success.

Are you ready to set inspiring goals?

About Fabiola Eyholzer

Fabiola Eyholzer (SPC, CSPO) is an expert and thought leader in Lean | Agile People Operations – the contemporary HR approach for the age of disruption. Fabiola is a seasoned Management Consultant and key players in various industries seek her expertise in Business Agility, Human Resources, Compensation & Performance Management, Operations & Processes, and Strategy.