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Goal Setting

A simple goal setting definition is that it is just the act of declaring something that you want to achieve, and putting some specific parameters around the end result-the who, what, when, where, why.

This goal setting definition, though, is overly simplistic. Goal setting has a large component of an art form to it. It requires knowing yourself and your team, and having a realistic understanding of everyone’s capabilities.

Goals have some fairly basic characteristics. They should have a timeline. They should assign responsibility to a specific person. They should be quantifiable and measurable. They should be linked to a strategy, even if is through a few layers of other goals.

Most leaders agree that goal setting is important. It keeps people and teams focused, gives them direction, and lets them know what the priority is.

Goals are tightly linked to objectives. Like many business related terms, the goal setting definition varies depending on who you get it from. One big discrepancy comes when trying to differentiate between the terms ‘goals’ and ‘objectives’. For simplicity, I tend to view goals as the ‘what’ part of the equation. They are the end result of your efforts. Objectives are the incremental things that have to happen to reach a goal.

Goal setting in Lean takes on an element of faith. It takes some trust in the tools and the Lean system to walk up to a process and set lofty goals even before you really dive into the details.

Read more about this topic below.

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There is no single, formal goal setting definition or governing body on goals and objectives. There are numerous opinions on these terms. That’s probably the most important thing to remember-they are opinions. Use what you read to decide how to go about structuring your own targets.

You will find, though, that most opinions on the definition of goal setting have a few things in common. Somewhere in the mix, you will need to assign dates and quantities. You will have to break big things down into attainable, smaller steps.

Here’s one method. Use a goal to identify what you will have when you are ‘done’. Some personal end states are a little open-ended, and allow goals that never end, such as ‘retire happy, or travel more.’ In business, I generally recommend that goals be close ended, and quantifiable.

Notice how these goals become increasingly easier to ‘get behind.’

  1. Increase market share.
  2. Increase market share in the US.
  3. Increase widget market share in the US.
  4. Increase widget market share ($) in the US.
  5. Increase widget market share ($) in the US by 15%.
  6. Increase widget market share ($) in the US by 15% before Aug 17, 2032.

Notice how the goal becomes progressively more specific and understandable. Is that essential? Not always, but in business it helps. The clearer a goal is, the more likely a team will be on the same page.

Objectives are the results of the tasks that it takes to accomplish a goal. Those results generally do not stand alone, but rather support the goal. In the above goal, one objective might be to ‘Develop a website where customers can purchase widgets by Jan 1, 2015.’ Getting the website up and running is not the end-it is a means to reaching the goal of increasing sales.

Management styles vary widely in how people approach goal setting. Consider these things when selecting your management style:

1. How aggressive do you want your goals to be?

If your team hits them every time, they may feel great about it, but you have to question what they are really accomplishing. Are you leaving too much on the table? If they never hit the goals, you may suffer morale problems.

I generally try to have my teams hit about 70% of their goals. I recognize that they will not hit every goal if they are aggressive in setting them. When I grade people, aggressive goals with a 70% hit rate tends to get very good evaluations. A word of caution: make sure your boss is on board with this philosophy when setting your goals!

2. How closely do you want to monitor your team?

Part of being a leader is that you are responsible for getting other people to work effectively, not necessarily doing the work yourself. Some people respond well to close guidance, and in fact need it. Others are ‘fire and forget’. Put them on a path, and they will get the job done.

I recommend tailoring your oversight to the abilities of your team members. There is nothing wrong with treating people differently-they are different. Find what works for each individual. How do you find it? You ask them. Then you negotiate some checkpoints. If they are meeting your expectations, increase the time between checks. If not, you might need more frequent checks.

3. How often do you let your team member know how he is doing?

The answer to this question is linked to number two above. Checking on progress of the project has an implication. Some delays are reasonable-most projects and goals have some inherent risk to them. For example, landscaping for a big event may require cooperation from the weather.

Part of a goal, though, is linked to personal performance. Leaders should be giving feedback throughout the project so a team member knows how the boss views his performance. The rule of thumb is that there should be no surprises for the team member at the end of the project. At every step of the way, if the team member and the boss compared grades, they should be pretty much the same.

Let’s talk about some specific Lean issues with goal setting. Team goals on continuous improvement projects are usually on a compressed timeline. Goal setting is done in the same basic way as in permanent teams, but here, they have to do it much more rapidly.

The bigger challenge, though, is that the people setting the goals often are not familiar with the skills and tendencies of the people on the team. That makes it much harder to think through what a team can accomplish.

There is also the added challenge of the resistance to change that accompanies Lean. The fast pace of improvement can make people uncomfortable. Understanding this and dealing with it is critical to reaching goals.

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