Culture Killer: GOAL SETTING

#87 of the 17,000 Ways We Can Wreck Our Company’s Culture: AKA: How to goal-set your company to its slow and inevitable death

This is part of an ongoing series where we discuss the things that are killing your company culture. Who knows? You might read something all too familiar and realize it’s time to make a change.

It’s a new year, which means lazy managers everywhere are ready to ride the resolution wave and capitalize on their employees’ renewed (albeit potentially fleeting) motivation to actually Accomplish Something This Year. When employees want something more out of their lives, award-winningly-culture-killing managers swoop in, “borrow” that motivation, and use it for personal corporate gain. Great timing!

Recognize yourself in any of these sure-fire tactics to rip apart any remaining shreds of goodness in your company/ team’s culture? Particularly as it relates to setting goals? Be honest. In no particular order…

  • In a blaze of holiday boredom/ inspiration, you come up with 2,019 goals for your team to reach this year. Because you know, it’s on theme. And you make it clear that you’re upping the bar from last year.

  • Karyn meets with you to present her similarly-on-theme “19 Goals for 2019.” After scoffing at her for copping out (because you came up with 2,000 MORE GOALS than her), you notice she looks a little rebuffed and so you tell her to maybe make a 20th goal to not to be so sensitive.

  • Out of nowhere, you announce your personal goals for the year to your team, which at first sounds like the start of a productive group exercise until no one else is asked to chime in and you promptly move onto the next agenda item. It becomes clear that you’re just paving the way to leave early for your HIIT fitness class on Mondays and Wednesdays.

  • You came up with everyone’s goals and handed them out in the Monday morning meeting, which is always super motivating for people to have no input whatsoever into the work they’ll be doing on a day-to-day basis.

  • The goals you came up within the vacuum you’ve been living in are so out of reach that some of your team members have taken to crumpling them up and playing beer pong with them. People always find ways to drown their sorrows.

  • You goal dump by white-boarding a bunch of shit and grandly announcing what MUST happen (or else…?) this year, then swiftly exit as though it’s your mic drop moment, leaving everyone aflutter about what to do next and who is supposed to do it. Mario suggests that the team should draw a mind map of the MUST reach goal, Angela fires up an Excel spreadsheet (but no one knows why), and Jennifer leaves the conference room and doesn’t come back. Great start!

  • Your boss handed you an unrealistic goal seemingly out of nowhere (because you developed all of your goals in the aforementioned vacuum), and since you ain’t no fool, you padded the crap out of it and assigned it to your team in the same frantic, stressed out tone that your boss used when communicating with you.

  • You commit the cardinal sin of Pass-the-Buck Spineless Leadership, “confiding” to your team that “this goal is bat-shit crazy, I know. There’s no way we can reach this. But it’s from upstairs, so…”, and then you skulk out of the room.

  • In another path on this Choose Your Own Culture-Killing Adventure, you receive a “bat-shit crazy” goal from upstairs, and opt to just keep it to yourself because you don’t want to demotivate your team– who are all apparently unable to handle challenges. Even if you did know how to present the crazy goal a professional manner, you see this move as you being “the good guy” by making things “easier” for your team. You harbor the stress of this insurmountable goal all to yourself and then resent your team when they complain about the attainment of the pansy, pretend goal they think they’re working towards.

  • You create goals that are quizzically unrelated to what you all agreed your strategy would be for the next three years– so when Imran from the call center furrows his brow and asks why he has a goal to improve call times, when you agreed the focus would be on the quality of the calls and improving overall customer satisfaction, you mutter buzzwords about pivoting and leveraging dovetail strategies until Imran’s eyes glaze over.

  • In the middle of the client status meeting you look at your Fitbit, realize you’re only at 270 steps for the day, and excuse yourself to Get Your Steps In (which is totally allowed because you told your team all about your fitness goals last week, so they understand and really want to help hold you accountable).

  • You want people to be held accountable to their goals– because you once read that was a hallmark of effective management– so you ask for verbal progress reports at each month’s team meeting. Mason is behind on his cost management goal so you launch into an attack on his work ethic, character, and choice of socks.

  • In July you commit the cardinal sin of Shifty Leadership: your team has been killing the goals you set forth, and after briefly “celebrating” by ordering in muffins at the quarterly review meeting, you announce the new s t r e t c h  goals that may or may not be what their bonuses are based on for the year. Everyone leaves confused and deflated.

  • You go straight-out AWOL after launching the Most Important Goal Ever; everyone is working the project plan that you’ve fully and completely extricated yourself from, until you need an URGENT status update the night before your executive committee meeting where you need to look like you’ve actually been leading the project, just a little bit.

  • You deliver an impassionate plea for commitment to several Absolutely Essential Goals, but your team has come to realize that your goals are like flavors of the month. This month it’s all about umami and since they know next month you’ll shift to savory, and that you’ll never ask about that umami stuff again, the team just picks and chooses the stuff they want to work on. Sometimes it relates to the bigger objectives and sometimes it doesn’t, but somehow you stay in business.

  • You’re a goal hog– you delusionally delegate aspects of this big hairy audacious goal, but really you’re hoarding most of the tasks for yourself because a) you’re a control freak, b) you don’t really know how to manage people but you do know how to individually contribute like a champ, c) you want all the glory when you reach the goal, d) all of the above.

  • You forget to acknowledge the sales team when they exceed their goals by 7%. Alec, your sales leader, gets recruited to work for one of your competitors for less money, and you can’t begin to fathom why.

  • Goals stress you out (almost as much as EBITDA budgets and everything about your teenager) because if you identify something worth achieving, then, you know, you might fail, or even worse, you might have to commit to something for more than a few weeks when its shine has worn off. So you don’t play to win– you play not to lose– and you skip over the whole “goals fad” and focus on just showing up every day, and wonder why your team is going in circles and lacking in focus, motivation, purpose and all the things that we feel when we have ambitious but attainable goals to reach. You make a silent goal to set goals next year. 2020 is gonna be great.

Like with most of these Culture Killer articles, reading the bullet points above might feel like a stinging slap in the face. I’m honored to slap you silly if it means helping you see how your goal-setting gaffes might be damaging your personal reputation as a leader, preventing your team from doing spectacularly amazing things, and cratering your culture in ways you hadn’t even considered. Small edits to your behavior can make a magnanimous impact. You owe it to your team to give them something to reach for, something to be proud of accomplishing in 2019. (Ideally not landing a new job for 2020.)

“The thing about goals is that living without them is a lot more fun, in the short run. It seems to me, though, that the people who get things done, who lead, who grow and who make an impact… those people have goals.” —Seth Godin

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