How to set performance goals for your team

If you want your team to be successful, the best thing you can do is set aside time to work on some team performance goals. Visit why you need to set your goals for 2018 to refresh the reasons why goal setting works.)

Just as effective personal goals have to be set thoughtfully and thoroughly in line with your personal vision, team performance goals require some thought and should be aligned with company goals.

I’m sure we’ve all heard, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” right? Well, that is especially true when all of the parts are working together toward a common goal. As long as each piece is performing optimally and calibrated to work in harmony with the others, it’s much more likely that the whole will achieve success because of the strength of the parts.

Whether you’re a leader or one of the employees, working on your team goal setting offers a chance to achieve better things. It helps to have clear expectations and fully understand how each person’s contributions fit into the organization’s mission. People who feel their contributions matter and who have a written goal will be more engaged with their work and typically more productive.

Let’s work through how to set effective team goals so that everyone works with a shared purpose.

Identify opportunities for team performance goals

Start by identifying company goals, for the short and the long term. Then, within the company goals, clarify what your team’s responsibilities and goals are (unless you’re the CEO, and then company goals ARE your team’s goals).

Break down these goals into sub-goals that are based on areas of responsibility for individual team members. Ideally their interests and abilities will align to their areas of responsibility, but they don’t always. Don’t despair! Sometimes a goal requires ability outside our normal duties and those abilities may be found where you least expect them (and you have time to figure out the details later).

Some leaders use goal setting not only to challenge their team members, but also to help them have a chance to learn and grow by learning new skills or undertaking new responsibilities. Some goals will be a bit of a stretch, more than the employee’s normal daily routine activities. They should be within reach, and clearly establish how the employee will contribute to the good of the company.

Taking the time to write down sub-goals can help you identify situations that may need extra support or discover ways in which staff will surprise you with their hidden talents. Refer to our recent blog about mastering daily tasks to achieve big goals to help with this step.

Set smart goals

As I discussed recently in the blog presenting our ultimate goal setting worksheet, effective goals need to be SMART goals. To recap, this means that the right kinds of goals are going to be:

Specific – Does the goal set out exactly what needs to be achieved, including who is responsible and what supports can be leveraged?

Measurable – How will you know when this goal is achieved? You should be able to define how many, how much, or how often to give the goal some metrics.

Achievable – What makes this achievable? Is it likely that this goal can be achieved given the supports and resources available? If it’s not achievable, rewrite the goal to be achievable OR create an IF…THEN list; add in the obstacle (the “IF” this happens) that makes it unachievable and see if you can find a “THEN this happens” to address that obstacle.

Relevant – How important is this goal to the company and why does it matter? What difference will this goal make? Write that stuff down – when it feels tough to reach a goal, rereading the relevance might be motivating.

Timely – What is the target to complete this goal? Is it realistic to achieve? (Remember that while a stretch goal can be motivating, if the time frame is too challenging it can be demotivating and if the time frame is too far out, you risk losing momentum.)

Set aside time to collaborate with each team member, meet face to face if possible, and help them determine their SMART goals. Yes, depending on how many folks report directly to you, this could be a bit time consuming, but will save so much time – and frustration – for you and the team later. Just remember that you’re investing in your own leadership by nurturing collaboration so that you can help your team identify goals that will in turn support the company’s success.

In your meetings, outline and review each person’s goals and expectations, including the SMART measurement metrics and timelines. Keep in mind:

  • If employees are newer, you’re going to guide them through the steps you expect them to take and require them to check in with you often. (Be sure to set a reminder for yourself to do the same!)
  • If employees are experienced, you can outline how often you want updates and ensure they know they can come to you with questions. Then coach them on the projects (I recommend using open-ended questions with very little direction). Let them find the path that works best for them, as long as goals are met on time.

Align employee goals to company vision

It’s absolutely crucial that you make time to ensure that employee goals are coordinated. Imagine a dance troupe without choreography or a sports team with no memorized plays to execute on command; that’s the kind of chaos you can expect if employee goals aren’t aligned to the strategic business objectives of your company.

There are important benefits from making sure that everyone’s efforts are focused on supporting company goals. First, clear communication and encouraging collaborative efforts strengthen and enhance leadership. Second, camaraderie improves as people feel they are supporting each other and working together efficiently to achieve common goals. And finally, when redundant work is eliminated or minimized and people are very motivated, you’ll find much greater organizational agility as they can quickly respond to changes.

When each employee can see exactly how their smaller picture fits with the company’s bigger picture, they’re going to have a deeper understanding of where the company is going and what their roles and responsibilities are in accomplishing crucial steps.

Track progress 

Identifying the individual goals that support the company-wide goals is only the first step. Every employee needs to be tracking their progress to fulfill the measurement requirement of a SMART goal.

Key metrics need to be carefully documented as a matter of routine so that they can be easily reviewed. This way you or your managers will be able to assess whether progress is adequate or insufficient – as well as if extra supports are required – using actual data instead of a gut feeling.

While your employees should be keeping track of their own progress, don’t forget to set up your own calendar to track and check in. Don’t fall into the trap of running out of time to manage the employee and then feeling surprised and frustrated if things aren’t done right, on time. Their job is to deliver the goal, but yours as a leader is to make sure they’re on track and have everything they need as they progress, even if they don’t yet know they need it.

Measure success

Tracking progress helps us measure and demonstrate to employees how tangibly their own hard work supports the company’s goals. It can be immensely motivating to give different team members or departments insight into how their peers are doing. Reviewing goals and measuring success can sharpen focus and make everyone more determined (as long as the competition remains healthy!).

Studies show that setting and tracking metrics greatly contributes to achieving the desired results. There may be times that reviewing key data informs how individuals or teams can improve performance.

Some leaders choose to use dashboards to give a concise overview or snapshot of progress. These can be updated “live” dashboards available to everyone or tailored to individuals and groups. Sharing ongoing results with everyone can encourage a sense of collective responsibility, both motivating individuals to take ownership of their own roles within the team and offer support to others when needed.

Sharing metrics in team meetings is another way to review challenges and celebrate successes. Measuring should be a time to share ideas and find solutions so everyone is on track to achieve the goals.

Be flexible

It’s not unusual to have to reassess certain strategies or action items. Refining the process to achieve a goal is not a failure, it’s par for the course. Be prepared to adjust or change various aspects as required.

This is when you might decide extra supports or resources could be beneficial. There may even be times when deadlines can – perhaps even should – be extended. To paraphrase one of our fantastic clients, sometimes “procrastination is a skill.”

The ultimate goal setting worksheet

A New Year really feels like a fresh start, even if it’s really just the beginning of a calendar year. Let’s take some time to start 2018 strong by working through effective goal setting together.

Why set goals? A well-defined goal gives us focus and direction so that we can achieve results. Without that level of focus our goals are only dreams the imagine-ifs, what-ifs, wouldn’t it be nice-ifs that seldom happen. NFL coaches don’t have their players just wander onto the field for each game; they spend hours working out plays, strategy, and training. Think how much more productive and effective you can be if you put that kind of attention and planning into what you want to do in your life!

What’s interesting is that research into goal setting in the workplace shows that people are actually more likely to perform better if they have input into their goals (and financial incentives aren’t as big a motivator as giving employees some autonomy to set goals they care about!). Perhaps the best-known example of this in practice is the success Google has had allowing employees to use 20 percent of their work time to pursue a work-related goal (The New York Times and others have termed this The Google Way).

Having a plan makes sense. Setting goals gives shape to our days, weeks, and months so that we stay focused and on task. You can track your progress, refine the process if necessary, and feel the satisfaction of moving forward (it’s very motivating to draw closer to the finish line, confident you’ve achieved milestones along the way!).

I recommend you take at least an hour of uninterrupted time (it’s possible if you turn off your notifications on your cell phone and email!) for your 2018 goal setting. If you can’t carve out that much time in one block, tackle each step in 15-minute blocks.

You can use a blank notebook or download our customized goal setting worksheet here.

Here’s how to work through setting the right kind of goal:

Step One: Clearly define your goal

For goal setting to be effective, we need to set realistic goals that are specific, actionable, and measurable. Goals that are too broad or too difficult can be discouraging (and are likely to fail). Conversely, goals that are too simple may not be motivating and can fizzle out as enthusiasm wanes. Like Goldilocks, we need to find the goal that is just right.

Additionally, we’re all more motivated to work towards goals that really matter to us. Think about “a bigger than average thing” you want to accomplish as a personal or professional goal. What will change when you achieve this goal? How will achieving this goal affect your life? Why does it matter to you? It may be helpful to quickly create a personal vision statement to help align your life goals with what matters the most to you.

You should be able to define your goal in a few sentences. Once you’ve written it down, we’ll move through the next steps to figure out how you’ll work toward it and what might block you, how you’ll measure the success, and give yourself a deadline or completion date.

Step Two: Explore your obstacles

It would be wonderful if goals unfolded as planned once we write them down, but that’s not the case. Start a list of everything you think could stop you from achieving this goal. Just make a big list. Think about problems honestly and list internal and external barriers that you might encounter. Remember, this plan, and this step in particular, is just for you, no one else needs to see it. Be brutally honest with yourself. If you’re using our worksheet, list them all under the “IF” column.

Working through potential obstacles gives you the opportunity to figure out ways to deal with problems or complications as they arise. Thinking in terms of “if” this happens, “then” I will take this action is empowering and will help ensure your goal is not derailed by obstacles along the way. Being prepared to deal with the unexpected allows you to regroup, adjust, and tackle the issue without giving up. Take some time to now write your “THEN” column – if that happens, then you will do this. You don’t have to write full solutions, but perhaps just how you will find the solution. IF “I get bored or distracted with the details,” THEN “I will call Jill B. Friendly to brainstorm ideas because she’s been through something similar.”

Step Three: Refine your goal

Striking the balance between short-term and long-term goals is tricky, and after we’ve considered barriers or obstacles that original goal might need to be tweaked.

Sometimes as you start working through your goal on paper, you may discover what you’ve set out initially isn’t quite right – and that’s okay. Maybe you realize it’s not big enough. Or, it’s too big and could be two goals. Goal setting isn’t a result in itself, it’s about figuring out the results you want, so what you write isn’t set in stone rethink it, rewrite it, take some time to reflect. When you do you’ll feel more confident in your goals.

Step Four: Make it S.M.A.R.T.

You can take any goal, and make it SMART. This process helps to give your ideas more purpose and direction by giving you some criteria as a framework to help you achieve your goals. Answering these questions honestly can help you to refine your goal so that it is something you can realistically accomplish. Essentially you want to ensure that your goal is:

Specific – Does your goal set out exactly what you want to achieve, including who is responsible and what supports can be leveraged?

Measurable – How will you know when you achieve your goal? You should be able to define how many, how much, or how often to give your goal some metrics.

Achievable – What makes this achievable? This is where you can review your IF…THEN obstacles list. Is it likely that you can achieve this goal given the supports and resources available to you? If it’s not achievable, rewrite the goal to be achievable OR review your IF…THEN list and add in the obstacle that makes it unachievable, and see if you can find a “THEN” to address that obstacle.

Relevant – How important is this goal to you personally or to your work and why does it matter? What difference will this goal make in your life? Write that stuff down – when it feels tough to reach your goal, rereading the relevance might get you back on track.

Timely – What is your target to complete this goal? Is it realistic to achieve? (Remember that while a stretch goal can be motivating, if the time frame is too challenging it can be demotivating and if the time frame is too far out, you’ll lose momentum.)

Here’s an example:

S – write a TED talk

M – have a well written and edited talk of 5 – 12 minutes in length that has been peer-reviewed by at least two other people.

A – use my expertise, experience, and reference three recent studies to support my theory

R – so many people ask me about this subject I can offer insight to help others and feel I have contributed to bettering my community while also gaining visibility!

T – rough draft in two months; final draft in three

Step Five: Break it down and make your action plan

Taking any goal and breaking it down into steps is valuable. A big goal can be daunting and overwhelming, but manageable steps are easy to start. Working your way through milestones is a great way to feel accomplished and keep you motivated.

Consider your timeframe and work through what you need to accomplish. Depending on your goal you may want to set weekly, monthly, or quarterly milestones. Go with your intuition for what feels challenging enough to get your adrenaline going but not so tight that you’re already thinking you can’t do it!

In our example we might have:

  1. Pull together research on the topic from X Book,, and my own notes.
  2. Write an outline of my talk – the core idea, the main message, two to three anecdotes or stories, two to three pieces of evidence, the hook, and call to action.
  3. Draft first draft based on outline – not based on time.
  4. Review draft for general direction – have I made the case?
  5. Edit draft based on timing – what’s not necessary?
  6. Review draft for clarity and general direction. Am I still making the case?
  7. Send draft to two to three peers for input.
  8. Consider feedback and edit as necessary.
  9. Etcetera

Be sure to go through the plan and add some timelines and, if others are involved, be clear about who has to deliver what, and when.


Why you need to set your goals for 2018

If you really want to accomplish things in 2018, forget the resolutions about things you don’t really want to do and take a run at setting some really good goals around things you do!

Before the holidays we talked about the value of creating a personal vision statement for your life. Going through this process is a great way to figure out which big goals (at work and/or in your personal life) really matter to you.

Now, I’ve always been a list-making, get-things-done kind of guy. And while I’ve always prided myself on being a big thinker with lots of ideas and vision, my lists often focus on tasks that need to be done today or during this week and not the bigger ideas or goals.

It’s easy to get swept into the rhythm of daily life to the point that we’re dealing with immediacy and not really thinking long term or big picture. It can be satisfying to finish a bunch of stuff, but are you achieving your vision?

If we can focus on breaking down the big audacious goals into measured tasks, we can stay on track to achieve them. As we discussed at the end of last year, once we master daily tasks, we can achieve big goals. This really works!

In the midst of all the hard work of launching and then, for the last couple years, running Padraig Coaching & Consulting, I wanted to be able to reach people who would benefit from our help, but who aren’t able to afford our one-to-one coaching or leadership workshops.

I talked about my ideas for a long time.  Sometimes with myself, sometimes with other people — thinking if I talk about it, I’ll have to get it done. That didn’t work.  I knew in my mind where I wanted us to be, but I wasn’t taking time to figure out the steps to get there.  It took effort and creative scheduling at times, but I was able to carve out time to figure out what to do and start executing the steps to get things underway.

I’m happy to report that now, just after celebrating the fifth anniversary of my business, we’re in the process of creating online courses to bring leadership skills to more people.

It’s been exhilarating to figure out that sometimes what seems urgent isn’t really important and to be so close to achieving something that really matters to me.

Are you feeling inspired to figure out some BIG goals for 2018?

Why goal setting is important

Author Lewis Carroll (he of the Cheshire cat and Alice in Wonderland), is credited for the saying: “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” While we can meander and enjoy the view or even enjoy the journey, we might also never make it to the destinations that really matter.

If your goal is to enjoy the journey (and hey, that’s a laudable goal too) then perhaps a well-drawn map isn’t needed. But, if at least part of your goal is to get to a specific destination or two, then it helps to have a roadmap to guide the adventure – a little strategy to make sure we aren’t lost and adrift.

Writing down goals makes them a priority. Seeing goals or dreams written out actually increases the odds that we’ll accomplish them. According to psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews, people are 42 percent more likely to do things they put in writing!

A goal without a plan is just a wish.

Antoine de Saint-Exuperay

Why goal setting has a bad rap

I think many of us have negative associations with goal setting because we treat planning and goal setting like it’s an end in itself. Then at the end of the year, we look at that list of goals or resolutions and wonder why we didn’t accomplish as much as we wanted.

When goal setting becomes a negative enforcer it’s pretty difficult to get excited about embarking on change. We’ve seen too many times how we set goals we never achieve, even if we try again every year.

How can this year be different?

If you change the dynamic, the way you interact will change. Rather than announcing some nebulous, albeit glorious business and career goals or listing big life changes to implement, it’s time to get specific.

The first thing you need to do after brainstorming is write out your goals. Prioritize them, and make sure they’re achievable.

For example, solving the homeless problem is pretty broad. Planning to volunteer with your coworkers at a shelter is something tangible. The more specific you are with goal setting, the more achievable the goals will likely be.

Second, do a little planning. Figure out how to conquer your goal in steps and stages. Instead of running headlong to hopefully achieving something, we need to make a plan to navigate the way there.

Mapping out the route will get you to any destination efficiently! Plus, having a plan to execute makes us more accountable. Dedicating time out of your week towards achieving a step toward the goal will help ensure the weeks don’t slip by!

Third, as you undertake the manageable tasks, track your progress. It is very motivating; achieving milestones along the way propels us forward. It takes us back to scratching things off our list. If our weekly or daily lists include one item from our big goal plan, we feel victorious AND we make progress on the important things.

We’re more likely to be successful if we set goals that are measurable, with deliverables or clearly defined steps to keep us actively working and moving forward. You might even want to let others know what you’re up to because feeling accountable to others can be another wonderful motivator.

As with life, another thing that is essential is the right attitude. Seeking perfection often prevents progress. Wooo boy, do I know that, and yet how often do I momentarily forget it.

One of the big solutions is… GET STARTED. It’s difficult to get things absolutely right, but if we get started we can always improve the finished product later because, at least, the product will be finished.  Right?

And finally, each time you set out to make a to-do list, whether that’s daily or weekly, take a moment to look at your big goals and consider what you’ve accomplished and what remains.

Figure out what’s next, today, to get things done.

When you can accomplish a series of short-term goals you’ll feel inspired to persevere for the long-term (and it might not seem too long or impossible when it’s broken down!).

So my Coach’s Question for you today, as we start 2018:

What will life look like at the end of the year if you achieve your big audacious goals?