Søren Friis Larsen

Søren Friis Larsen

Direktør for stakeholder relations
Phone: +45 2972 5257
Email: sfl@mannov.dk

How to stretch those goals

Nov 22, 2016 By Søren Friis Larsen
Tags: kommunikation

The corporate pep talk trying to rally the organization behind new and ambitious goals is a challenging communication genre. Too often, the result is “let’s do more – faster” or targets are simply allowed to stand on their own. Here is some advice on how to optimize performance management and stretch those goals like a true yogi.

Soon, it will be Christmas and a new year will nearly be upon us. Many companies will use this occasion to thank employees for their huge efforts – and to highlight next year’s ambitious goals hoping to stoke everybody’s fire. And many will fall very short of this aspiration.

The performance management literature is clear: goals work. If we have something to aim for, we get further than if we don’t. Studies have even been made on how ambitious goals should be – it turns out that a 40 per cent likelihood of success is the ideal stretch. Less ambition leads to poorer results because of complacency, more aggressive goals also leads to suboptimal results because they are perceived as unrealistic and demotivating.

"To simply state a desired future outcome is
not really that useful – and it will have very
limited effect on motivation and performance.

We need to know the how."

This of course is a bit of an academic point, because in real-life, coming up with a target that is precisely 40 per cent realistic is practically impossible. But you get the idea. Only, how do you effectively communicate these targets?

Don’t forget the why and the how
The most important thing is to make sure your communication is actually helpful. To simply state a desired future outcome is not really that useful – and it will have very limited effect on motivation and performance. We need to know the how. How to boost those sales numbers or turn around that business segment. Use the opportunity to share strategy: What are we going to do differently? The more specific the better – but I am not necessarily talking about being very detailed. You gain little by making overly detailed goals. The key is being specific about what needs to be done, how and by who. It can be broadly described, but if it is vague, so is the response.

Share the doubt
The great pep talkers of the Hollywood movies never seem to doubt their under-dog team no matter the current score or standing. But they typically spend a lot of time painting the full and grim picture of their despairing situation, and that is why they capture their audiences. If you introduce goals and you downplay what it takes to reach them, you are also discouraging the extraordinary effort. So, skip phrases like “I know we can do it, we just need to work hard”. In fact, make it a habit to excommunicate the word “just” from your leadership vocabulary entirely. On the other hand, if you also include what you think will make things hard, or perhaps even what you yourself have no idea of how to solve, you set people up for a breakthrough success. It is a fine balance, because at the same time you want to express absolute faith in your team.

Add some color
The third advice takes some skill, but it will make a big difference. Even ambitious goals fade in our memory as certainly as our New Year resolutions rarely survive through the winter darkness. So, you need to make your goals pop. Why aim to “raise sales to existing customers by 25 per cent” when you can rally your entire organization behind the ambition to “have the industry’s widest smiling customers, who will spend 25 cents on top of every dollar they already trust us with”? The easier it is to picture what success looks like, the greater the likelihood of achieving it. Giving some thought to how you turn very generic and uninspiring goals into more vivid ideas will typically pay dividends and it will set you apart as a leader too. 

Keep these three points in mind, and you will become a veritable yoga master of goal stretching. Namaste!

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