Are Your Organization’s Goals Too Easy?

Achievable and realistic are what we’ve been told our goals should be. But can you name one time in your organization’s history when an achievable goal delivered greatness? When a realistic goal opened up the flood gates on employee innovation? How about the last time an achievable goal helped you create something revolutionary; like your company’s equivalent of the iPhone, iPad or iPod? I’m willing to bet you can’t, and I can almost guarantee it’s because your goals for employees aren’t gutsy or challenging enough.

A negative trend we’re seeing in a lot off workplaces is a goal setting process for employees that invites complacency, when what we need to be doing is lighting a fire under our people that ignites untapped potential, tests limits and inspires greatness. CEO’s don’t set goals that achievable and realistic (at least not the really successful ones). That’s why they hold those jobs.

Goals that are realistic and achievable (two of the core factors in SMART goals) are a problem. They send a clear message of, “Hold on, make sure you don’t push beyond your resources,” and as a result, our workplaces have become void of aspiration. And make no mistake; your people are feeling it.

Leadership IQ asked over 4,000 workers from virtually every industry about their goals at work. Only 15% said they believed their goals for this year would help them achieve great things. And, only 13% of participants in the same study thought their goals would help them maximize their full potential. This is significant to note, because if you reflect back on your own great achievements, I guarantee the goal you set to get there was anything but achievable and realistic. I bet it pushed you hard, demanded you to deliver top of the line effort and to even learn some new skills. Almost everyone (and certainly your best people) wants the same chance to reach greatness, so why are you giving out goals that, by their very nature, invite underachievement?

Employee goals that require 2-4 major new learning experiences inspire the greatest engagement   

If you want to drive your folks to greatness, you need to stop spinning your wheels on goals that are achievable and realistic. 100 % Leaders set goals that require their people to stretch and grow, to move beyond their comfort zone, exert extra effort, and embrace new learning. The key is finding just the right level of goal difficulty that stretches the brain without throwing folks into panic mode. Here’s where we can take a cue from organizations like Amazon and Apple and create goals that require extra learning and effort.

This is as easy as asking your people, “What new skills will you have to learn in order to achieve this goal?” If the answer is, “No problem, I can do this with one hand tied behind my back,” it’s a clear sign that goal isn’t going to push that person out of his or her comfort zone. And this is what you want—to generate a challenge that lifts your people out of the status quo and puts them on the fast track to off-the-charts success.

A general rule of thumb is that every goal should require 2-4 major new learning experiences. So if you’re hearing that a goal isn’t hard enough, raise the bar by 30%. If the employee still claims it’s a piece of cake, take it up another 30%. Keep going until you hear something like, “Wow, I’m going to have to learn a few new skills to make that happen.” That’s your signal to set that goal and get busy providing the employee with the tools required to tackle the big challenge ahead.

Learn more about the 4-part technique for setting HARD Goals that stimulates people to push beyond their self-imposed limits and achieve 100% performance. Join us November 19 at 1 PM Eastern for our Becoming a Hundred Percent Leader webinar and discover how to find the right balance of Extrinsic and Intrinsic motivation for your unique employees.

Mark Murphy is the New York Times Bestselling author and Founder of Leadership IQ.

Click here to see Mark’s upcoming webinars.

Mark leads one of the world’s largest leadership training and employee engagement studies, and his work has appeared in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report and the Washington Post. Mark has also been a featured guest on programs including CBS News Sunday Morning, ABC’s 20/20, Fox Business News and NPR.

Mark’s leadership training and employee engagement surveys have yielded remarkable results for organizations such as Harvard Business School, Aflac, Charles Schwab, Microsoft, IBM, MasterCard, Merck, MD Anderson Cancer Center, FirstEnergy, Volkswagen and Johns Hopkins.

Mark’s best-selling books included Hiring for Attitude, Hundred Percenters, and HARD Goals.

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