The One Mistake Most Managers Make When Setting Goals

With so much emphasis on setting goals at the beginning of the New Year, why do so many people end up off track by the middle of March? Ken Blanchard discovered the reason early in his career after the release of his all-time best-selling business book with Spencer Johnson, The One Minute Manager®.

In working with clients on setting One Minute Goals, Blanchard would often have managers and their direct reports identify their top five goals separately and then compare them.

As Ken Blanchard tells it, “Any similarity between the two lists was purely coincidental—especially later in the year.” In most cases, the work priorities were rank ordered quite differently by manager and direct report, with some important goals missing.

Digging into causes, Blanchard found that a day-to-day emphasis by managers on tasks that were urgent, but not necessarily important, was often to blame. Managers tended to focus on short-term issues when delivering feedback, which caused important long-term goals to fade into the background. Only when performance review came around were the long-term goals reidentified. Of course, by then it was often too late to make any real progress. The result was missed targets and, often, hard feelings.

Don’t let this happen with your team. In addition to setting clear goals at the beginning of the year, take some time, at least quarterly, to check in on what you are emphasizing as urgent.  Maybe priorities have changed.  Maybe the goals are outdated.

Good goal setting is not a once-a-year process.  In the best organizations, goals are reviewed on a regular basis and updated as needed.  Once goals are set, be sure to continually manage and review performance to stay on track throughout the year.

2 thoughts on “The One Mistake Most Managers Make When Setting Goals

  1. Thanks David for this article. Unfortunately, goal setting in most organizations is a top -down approach. Therefore Goals get set at the top. Leaders fail to communicate the “WHY” part of the goal and the managers don’t bother to understand the “WHY”. They, therefore continue to focus on the tactical stuff and day to day task.

    • Hi Shubha–thank you for your comment and reminder to connect the goal to the bigger picture. I think you are right that many leaders do not take the time to explain the “why” when assigning tasks. It might be a lack of time, not sure it is required, or possibly that it is obvious why the goal is important. All of these get in the way of people understanding goals, prioritizing them, and taking action. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. David

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