Using Goals to build a high performance business culture

If you haven’t already set goals for yourself and your team then recent research further strengthens the argument that effective goal setting improves performance and results.

“We found that specific, difficult goals consistently led to higher performance than urging people to do their best….In short, when people are asked to do their best, they do not do so…..This is because do-your-best goals have no external reference ….This allows for a wide range of acceptable performance levels, which is not the case when a goal level is specified.”

You will no doubt be well aware of the importance of using specific or SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) goals and this research further emphasises this need. The research paper goes on to explain 4 mechanisms by which goal-setting improves performance:

  1. Goals serve a directive function; they direct attention and effort toward goal-relevant activities and away from goal-irrelevant activities. This effect occurs both cognitively and behaviourally;
  2. Goals have an energizing function. High goals lead to greater effort than low goals;
  3. Goals affect persistence. When participants are allowed to control the time they spend on a task, hard Goals prolong effort;
  4. Goals affect action indirectly by leading to the arousal, discovery, and/or use of task-relevant knowledge and strategies.

Goals are often set for team members in larger organisations as part of the (dreaded!) annual appraisal process, however, my own observation is that these goals are rarely kept front-of-mind – frequently being filed away until the half year and then year end appraisal. Given the findings above, are businesses missing a trick in developing a high performance culture?

The research points to the importance of inclusive or participatory goal setting to allow for information exchange, however, it is vital that an ongoing feedback loop is maintained so that team members know and are constantly reminded of what they should be focusing on and how they are performing against their written goals. How often does this happen in businesses?

As high performance coach Brian Tracy famously notes:

“3% of the population have written goals and plans for how they will achieve them. The remaining 97% work for these people.”

What are you doing to build a high performance culture in your business?

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