Bad Advice about Goal Setting? Ask Madeleine

bigstock-132565361Dear Madeleine,

I am the manager of a large group of service professionals. Earlier this year, I was inspired by a management book to set goals with my people and then give them the autonomy to decide how to achieve them.

It sounded good on paper, but here we are at the end of the year and not a single one of them has done well on their goals. As a result, I have given them all less than stellar ratings on their performance reviews. They are all surprised and upset with me.  —Confused

Dear Confused,

Managing people is complex, and managing high level professionals is maybe even more so.  So I checked out the book you shared and I think I know what went wrong.  You gave people goals and the autonomy to figure out how to achieve them—but you seem to have missed the rest of the steps outlined in the book, which go something like this:

  • Work with each employee to identify actions that will be most likely to move them toward achieving their goal.
  • Create a visible scorecard that shows both you and the employee how they are tracking to their goal.
  • Meet weekly to review progress, brainstorm obstacles, and inspire the employee to stick with the plan.

In other words, you should give people enough autonomy that they feel like they own the goal—but not so much that the goal falls off the to-do list without anyone noticing.

There a lot of reasons people don’t achieve their goals. The most common ones are shockingly simple:

  • They didn’t really know what to do or how to do it
  • They didn’t really want to do it
  • They didn’t think it was a good goal
  • They didn’t think it was that important and prioritized other things above it
  • They had too many other things to do
  • They simply forgot

That last one is my personal favorite because it has happened to me.  I sat down with my manager to review the year and he asked how things went with a project we had discussed some months back.  I was appalled to realize that I had forgotten all about it and had done absolutely nothing.  I was lucky to have an understanding manager who also took some responsibility for the fact that we hadn’t talked about it since that first discussion.

Just think, for a moment, about what competes for our brain space on any given day.  Anything that actually gets done only does so because of relentless attention and focus to ensure that it does.  Otherwise, the goal might as well not exist.

I am sorry you are now in the position of feeling like the bad guy.  I recommend that you not give your people a bad rating on this part of their review—and that you take responsibility for essentially setting them up to fail.  Try the same approach this year, but include the part about working with each person to identify action steps, build the scorecard, and have regular reviews to check progress and offer support.

I’m certain that when you incorporate the additional steps, your people will come through with flying colors.

Love, Madeleine

About the author


Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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