The value of clear goals


As the business I work for has scaled, we have found ourselves in a situation where we rapidly need to grow the technology team. In this scenario, we have come to see the limiting factor is how fast we can nurture new leaders within the organization. For context, the tech team is organized to have small groups of 4-6 people led with a subject-matter expert team lead.

For our newly minted team lead, I need to take them through the ropes, especially if they are a first time manager. Even if they aren’t, we need to instill in them how we view leadership.

If you imagined we do some Nyamachoma or a related team building activity, you would be wrong. The first task we set out to do is to articulate the defining and setting of clear goals for the leader and their team.

In this entry, I will be discussing why we consider goal-setting to be the most critical activity for a team.

Eliminate politics

In the absence of something to aim for, people generally result to irrational self-interested behavior. In truth beyond the smallest businesses, the activities and aims of the organization are beyond the reach of individual contributors.

Sure, you may have an inspiring vision, but if you are customer support agent in Google Adsense division, what exactly are you supposed to do with “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”?

This ambiguity means the measure of work rapidly falls to the level of who receives the most accolades from the boss or whoever can warm the office seat the longest.

Mutual accountability

I have had a varied gym relationship, filled with “on” and “offs”, mostly “offs”, but that is a story for another day. The point is when trying to understand why it’s so hard to sweat it out for 30 minutes, I came across the concept of a gym buddy. For the time my brother and I went to the gym together, I experienced my longest “on” streak.

You can employ the same principles which make this system work to your teams. Think about this way, to them you are just a boss, overpaid and didn’t do any actual work. Their colleagues, on the other hand, are comrades, they sweat it out together to bring the sprint to fruition. As you can imagine, much loyalty abounds in these relationships.

With clear goals, you can tap into this dynamic. Every team member can see what the others are doing to accomplish shared goals, and they don’t want to be the ones viewed as slacking off. If an individual decides to be a loafer, peer pressure works for you as they receive the stink eye from their colleagues.

Grow leaders

In one of the leadership syncs, the sourcing manager quipped at how happy she now is to see the table full. For context, she was one of the earlier employees, doing the start-up work from tuk-tuks to now leading a 100+ organization. Still, I wondered why the comment. She went on to explain, before we came she had to do everything, to think of everything now, there was a whole team of colleagues.

You can not scale any organization if you can’t grow leaders.

By challenging your team to set clear goals for themselves which align with overall company goals, they start to understand the concept of what it takes to honestly ask themselves “What can I do that will benefit this community I am a part of.” In this way, you forge the next great leaders.

What to look out for

Finally, it’s essential to look at the two things you should never do when setting your goals: impossible goals, and mutually unachievable goals.

Stretch goals are great; they help teams do better than they thought they could. However, when you stretch the goal past the level a human being can accomplish, you lead your group straight to the death march.

The death march is a situation where everyone knows the goals will not be achieved, but you as the leaders don’t acknowledge it. Under this reality, work seems to be going on, but everyone is demotivated and stressed at the same time. Don’t do this to your worst enemy.

Mutually unachievable goals refer to situations where there is just nothing you can do to achieve both. For example, insisting this coming quarter, your QA team catches twice the amount of bugs as well as committing the senior members within the same time to scout out new QA software which will take most of their time in the same quarter. The benefits accrued from the latest technology may achieve the former feat, but the goal just can’t be completed in the quarter, perhaps at best the next one.

Do you have clear goals for your team? How do you set them? Talk to me in the comment section below, my Linked in chenchajacob or my twitter @jchex


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Software Project Manager