Adapting Your Team’s Goals for Uncertainty in 2021

Published On: January 5, 20213.3 min read

What style should a team emulate in 2021: the classical orchestra or the improvisational jazz band?

We found ourselves thinking about this question while Verne Harnish, Author of Scaling Up and a musician himself, presented on goal setting for 2021 for Align’s end of year webinar.

With the uncertainty of the coming year, executing on strategy will require constant creativity and adaptability. Companies must redefine how they craft the goals that propel strategy. With so many challenges and opportunities ahead, realizing your team’s full potential requires a more ambitious and dynamic approach to setting goals.

FAST is the new SMART

The best practices of goal-setting largely come from the empirical research of retired professor Edwin Locke. Over his 35 years of research, Locke established such findings as:

1. Setting specific goals leads to higher performance than non-specific goals

2. Higher goal difficulty results in greater effort, focus and higher overall performance

3. Tight deadlines lead to faster work

4. Publicly committing to a goal increases personal commitment

Some of these findings form the basis for the well-worn acronym: SMART Goals. “Specific”, “Measurable”, “Achievable”, “Realistic”, and “Time-Bound” are all decent components of a well-written goal, but will they go far enough to help your team achieve their full potential?

“No one is going to set goals that don’t seem attainable or realistic,” writes Dick Grote in Harvard Business Review, “but a manager’s weakest subordinates may glom on to the A and the R in the acronym as their justification for setting goals at the shooting-fish-in-a-barrel level of challenge. It’s the setting of high goals—tough, demanding, stretching—that generates the greatest levels of effort and performance.”

In his webinar, Verne Harnish endorsed a new, improved acronym for goal-setting: Frequently-discussed, Ambitious, Specific, and Transparent. FAST Goals capture the importance of setting goals that push your organization beyond what may be easily achievable. Especially during a period of uncertainty, aspirational goals force your team to rethink what is possible.

Crafting Goals around What Matters

While acronyms are helpful reminders of what to prioritize when writing goals, they won’t really tell whether your goal is worth pursuing.

Verne recommends each business find their “Moneyball” stat. Baseball’s Billy Bean found success by analyzing which player metrics correlated with actual wins and ignoring everything else. Successful teams will be those who focus on the activities that move the needle on this critical number.

Verne believes that the correct model for successful teams closely mirrors the championship sports team: led by a coach, not a  manager, always well-prepared but capable of in-game adjustments, and guided by visible scoreboards and performance analytics.

As Jack Stack wrote in The Great Game of Business, “We tell people that they have the wrong idea about business, that it is really a Game—no more complicated than baseball, or golf or bowling.  You don’t need to be an entrepreneurial genius like Sam Walton to succeed in business.  What you do need is a willingness to learn the rules, master the fundamentals, and play together as a team.”

Starting a New Quarter Right

Much has changed since Edwin Locke introduced goal-setting theory 50+ years ago. While setting ambitious goals is still important, new technology helps ensure that goals maximize performance and engagement.

Technology offers real-time transparency into progress towards goals and the opportunity for real-time feedback. Teams can share goal progress and monitor critical performance indicators from anywhere.

With the uncertainties of the year ahead, the right tools can shorten feedback loops to act quickly when goals fall behind pace. When new opportunities and threats emerge, organizations that effectively communicate across levels and departments will have an unmistakable advantage.

If you’re ready to start the quarter with the tools to achieve ambitious and dynamic goals, download our Quickstart Guide to Goal Planning Ebook. Make sure that your team’s next season is a championship one!

Watch Verne’s Full Webinar

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