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Setting Up Goal Posts: Six Tips For Creating A Goal-Oriented Culture

When employees are unclear on the company's priorities, they are almost certainly wasting time and resources.

A question for CEOs: Are your employees working toward clearly defined goals that advance your corporate vision? You may assume the answer is yes. But if you gather your top managers together to develop key initiatives and goals -- then expect that goals are set down through the organization and that people are clear about the direction of your company -- you're likely fooling yourself.

When employees are unclear on the direction and priorities of your company, and when they aren't sure how what they do fits in, they are almost certainly wasting time and resources. And their morale isn't what it should be. They haven't "bought in" to your vision -- and that's bad news for the bottom line.

My company, KeyGroup, recently commissioned a survey that sheds light on how pervasive this problem is. The survey by MMc Marketing Research and Consulting asked 1,727 people to evaluate the statement "My company has given me clearly defined goals for my job." Forty-seven percent said that was not the case!

Clearly, too many leaders are dropping the ball with regard to helping their employees set and work toward well-defined expectations. But the good news is that any company can develop a goal-oriented culture that pays dividends to its bottom line. It's all a part of what I like to call a Vibrant Entrepreneurial Organization, or VEO -- a workplace in which employees want to come to work and contribute.

Here are six ways to get started setting up your goal posts:

  1. Share the "big picture" with employees. If your goal is to make a better widget, don't just give your employees a bunch of parts and ask them to come up with a better design. Tell them how the work they do will revolutionize the widget industry. This will give employees a sense of ownership for their work and help them buy into the vision.
  2. Work with employees to set challenging, yet attainable goals. That's right, work with them. Don't impose goals on your employees. Remember, you're looking for buy-in. Sit down with employees and hammer out goals together. Make it a priority. Employers too often create lofty goals without any input from those doing the work. The result can be an unrealistic benchmark that doesn't get met.
  3. Give them a real voice in the company's future. Solicit advice from your employees and put their best suggestions to work. Like many other companies, a manufacturer I worked with encouraged employees to submit ideas about how the business could save money and work more efficiently. The organization attached suggestions to rewards. Employees whose ideas were implemented then had their names entered into a drawing for cash prizes.
  4. Encourage employees to be innovative. Sometimes it pays to shake employees out of their comfort zones and get them to stretch creatively. Follow the lead of a consumer brands company who sponsored field trips during which employees engaged in team-building activities like mountain hiking, museum tours, and whitewater rafting, then held new product brainstorming meetings. Later, employees submitted their ideas in team business meetings and the best ones were implemented.
  5. Put systems in place for measuring productivity. Don't confuse activity with progress. Put systems in place for measuring productivity and live by them. Remember this mantra: What gets measured gets done. Create policies that ensure that the "urgent" doesn't take precedence over the "important" and do everything you can to eliminate redundancies and busywork.
  6. Give feedback, both formal and "real time." Establish ongoing evaluative processes so people can get feedback on how well they're meeting their goals. But don't limit feedback to formal evaluations. Give it on the spot. Yes, you should tell people in "real time" what they're doing wrong so they can correct it, but it's even more important to tell them what they're doing right. Many organizations I work with give "spot" rewards to recognize a job well done: spa passes, gift certificates, gourmet chocolate and so forth. These tokens of appreciation go a long way toward inspiring and motivating employees.

Boosting productivity and changing your culture will take some effort. It will shake up the status quo. But while change is challenging, it's also inspiring and energizing. It's often the best thing that can happen to your employees and your entire organization.

Joanne G. Sujansky, PhD, CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) is president of KeyGroup and creator of "Vibrant Entrepreneurial Organization. (VEO). VEO describes businesses that have a culture where employees think and act like owners and are teeming with innovation, creativity, energy and passion. The company Web Site is Joanne's Web site
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