Jump start the return to work with a different type of goal

As the kids go back to school and more of us take a tentative first step towards the office after months at home, for many there’s a feeling of having to temper the usual need to set new goals at this time of year with a sense of caution.

Whilst a desire for certainty may well be strong, reality dictates that this is just not possible and the now hackneyed ‘new normal’ will have to wait a while.

So, what does this mean for the annual performance and goal setting conversation that many managers have with their team members in September? What’s the point of production targets when performance metrics are based on outdated business models or more buoyant markets?

Say it quietly, but does SMART matter anymore?

The simple answer is it depends. There’s no doubt about the potential power of well-set goals. They focus our attention towards what’s relevant, they increase our energy levels and help us persevere when we encounter obstacles.

With this in mind, there’s a strong argument to suggest that setting stretching goals right now could take attention away from the loss of what was and redirect it towards what might be.

But extensive research by Locke & Latham over the years has shown that the positive impact of goals tends to start dissipating if individuals don’t believe they’re possible to achieve or within their control to deliver.

If the unwavering focus on achieving a fixed and perceived unrealistic outcome leads to a lack of flexibility, it can inhibit openness, innovation and learning.

The conundrum becomes how to set goals that lead people out of adversity without creating ‘I must hit this or else’ tunnel vision.

The answer may lie in the type of goals being set.

Given that the majority of people are having to adapt the way they do their jobs to meet the demands of their roles, organisations and markets as they now find them, goals that focus on learning rather than commercial outcomes are likely to be more intrinsically motivating and inclined to build commitment.

According to Locke & Latham (2006) learning goals expedite skill and information acquisition, facilitate self-planning, monitoring, and progress evaluation. Plus, they’re particularly effective in environments that lack structure or continuous check-ins.

Perfect over the next few months as we establish new patterns of work whether from home, in the office or a blend of both.

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