Why is Goal Setting So Hard?

Kristin Poon
Kristin Poon
Oct 15, 2021

And we're not even talking about the goals themselves. We're talking about the process and cognitive investment required for an individual to create durable and meaningful goals within the context of an organization.

We recently underwent a transformation to completely change the way we approach and track goals (and thus PeachyHR was born). Previously, we had an ad hoc system to drive performance which was fortunately made easy due to the highly mission-driven nature of our business.

However, as we scaled, and our organization became more complex and dynamic, we found the need to revisit and improve on our goal setting process. Understandably it ended up being a little more work than reading a couple blog posts.

The more we dug into the process, spoke with industry friends and evaluated literature in the context of a small organization, we realized most of what we found didn't apply to our small but mighty organization. We don't have full-time "human resource" professionals, we don't have unlimited cash but we do have a ton of important work to deliver on.

This frustration led us to experiment, learn and integrate our findings into a tool, today known as PeachyHR. We based the tool on the requirement that we spend our time and energy on designing really great goals, not communicating the process to our team or following clunky processes. It was also tied to the deep belief that goals that exist in secret, separate from all other operational systems are sure to be forgotten and fail. The goal definition and realization process must be a natural daily process aligned with existing work and made visible to all.

In doing this, we found the following three items made the goal setting process much less difficult:

  1. Don't start until you have clear, crisp and relevant organizational goals.
  2. Encourage people to think across multiple lenses when ideating goals.
  3. Support, don’t audit.
" Support, don't audit. "

Clear, Crisp and Relevant Organizational Goals

We thought we had this right. We thought this was implicit. We thought wrong.

Think of your organizational goals as the high-level map of where you want your organization to go. Individual goals will follow this path. If it is at all vague, or delivered in a language that isn’t familiar to your people, it will lead to a lot of energy spent without focused value.

As a leader, this means you must also be decisive. Overly broad goals will dilute the potency of the sum of individual goals. This is hard, but this is the crux of organizational strategy and performance.

Multiple Lenses

There is a common process used in design thinking, called crazy 8s. The idea is to force individuals to identify at least 8 alternatives for any solution, even if they seem silly. The ability to shift your brain into more holistic and creative thinking is essential in individual goal setting.

To support this, we have implemented a process that asks for all members to identify 10 goals spread across 3 focus areas. The three areas are client, organization and professional. Identifying 10 goals forces individuals to think deeply about what is important across each of these lenses. It makes it impossible to settle on the "easy goal" or whatever is top of mind. It also creates a natural pipeline for future goal setting activities.

Offer Support, Not Auditing

Lastly, we believe people need support, not a layer of auditing. Thus, when designing and implementing goals all members must identify a "supporter", who is a manager or colleague that will be there to ensure the success of the goal. Just like pair programming in software development, two heads focused on building a better deliverable will result in better goals.

So yes, defining goals is hard, and this will always be the case. However, where and how much energy is spent in the process can vary greatly. We want, and you should too, all of the energy going into critical thinking about what best serves our clients, our organization and individuals professionally that is aligned with the organization and delivers the most overall synergy.

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About the author

Kristin Poon

Kristin Poon

Kristin has had the unique perspective of viewing human capital management through the lense of competetive sports, high-fashion and technology.

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