My son is what we assume is a typical teenage boy. When asked what his goals are in life, he just shrugs or grunts. When encouraged to go outside and get some fresh air, or to ride his bike to get some exercise, or to get a head start on his homework, we get a look something like he has to go to the bathroom – badly. His mom and I sometimes worry that we have a future case of “failure to launch” on our hands. He seems listless much of the time and interested in very few things outside of video gaming, sleeping, messaging friends, or watching YouTube videos.
What has given us hope over the years is when he gets interested in something and steps outside his comfort zone to pursue it. We have suggested many sports, clubs, and activities over the years. Most are shrugged aside. Army cadets, scuba diving, snowboarding, and fishing are the few things where his curiosity and interest have overcome his quiet basement-dwelling nature. In these areas, we have seen ambition, determination, independence, and hard work towards achieving goals.
Goals we have tried to help him set in other areas (school, for instance) have sometimes been met, but not with any real celebration. (I wonder if meeting them was just a coincidence?) He excels without external motivation when he sets goals for himself. Goals imposed on him require the usual parental nagging and reminders.
The absence of goals at work, in my opinion, leads to average performance at best. The best employees are frustrated that they don’t have anything meaningful to achieve; the worst employees are happy because without goals, their slacking is less visible. It is all just one big average group coasting through the days. If you are leading without setting both overall goals and individual goals and are feeling overwhelmed and unsupported by your team, you have no one to blame but yourself. This may sound harsh, but this is the truth as I see it.
Personally, I work with each of my staff to set goals during a one-on-one coaching session every six weeks. These goals reflect a mixture of their own suggestions and current company priorities. I often ask: “What do you think the goal(s) should be for this period?”. The person will typically share a goal and it usually hits the mark, often exceeding what I would have suggested. Of course, these goals are much more specific and focused on organizational requirements than my son’s goals, but this is okay. In the workplace we are dealing with more mature people whose strengths and interests are much better understood, and they are placed in positions accordingly. The goals they set with our help often naturally align with their strengths, and the same strong motivation to meet the goals still exists, in my experience, as they do with my son. Just like my son and his school marks, each of our staff (just like us) must suffer through the occasional goal that does not excite, but having that goal defined is still important to make sure stuff gets done that needs getting done.
Goal-setting focused on strengths is one of the most powerful things that leaders can do to get the best from each person on their team.