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Goal setting: A comprehensive guide for people leaders

Insights, strategies and tools to help you foster a culture of goal-setting within your organization.

A young man with glasses works on his laptop from a coffee shop, smiling.A young man with glasses works on his laptop from a coffee shop, smiling.

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Insights from Ellen Raim, Founder of People MatterWe focus more on solving than preventing People problems.

Goal setting is a fundamental aspect of leadership and organizational success. 

Most leaders understand the importance of aligning individual and team goals with the company's broader objectives. But how can you ensure goals are set and achieved? This resource article explores insights, strategies and tools to help you foster a culture of goal-setting within your organization.

Understanding the power of small changes

BJ Fogg's TEDx Talk, "Forget big change, start with a tiny habit,” emphasizes the importance of small, incremental changes. Focusing on tiny habits can create lasting change within your team. Watch the BJ Fogg talk and then consider these discussion questions:

  • How can you improve team collaboration and communication?
  • How can you help your team identify the "triggers" and "rewards" needed to build effective habits?
  • How does your team currently celebrate small wins? Is it effective?
  • How can you help your team members hold each other accountable for making and maintaining effective habits?

Goals vs. systems: A balanced approach

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear challenges the traditional focus on goals alone. You can read an excerpt here. Concentrating on systems instead of goals alone, suggests Clear, lets you create a sustainable path toward achieving those goals. Read the article and then reflect on these questions:

  • How can a focus on goals hinder progress, productivity and happiness?
  • What are some current systems that your team uses to achieve goals?
  • How might you help your team focus on systems and goals?

Embracing the value of quitting

The Harvard Business Review IdeaCast podcast episode, "Grit Is Good. But Quitting Can Be, Too," explores the biases that keep us stuck and how quitting can sometimes be the right decision. Listen to the podcast and then consider these takeaways:

  • How do you currently foster a culture of experimentation and learning within your team?
  • How might you apply the principles of "sunk costs" and "opportunity costs" to help your team make decisions and prioritize?
  • What are your takeaways about how to help your team prioritize long-term goals over short-term gains?

Finding the right support

Carla Harris's 2018 TED Talk, "How to find the person who can help you get ahead at work," emphasizes the importance of mentors, advocates and sponsors. Listen to Harris and then reflect on these discussion questions:

  • How do mentors, advocates and sponsors differ?
  • How can the presence of a sponsor help you (and your team) achieve essential goals?
  • What steps are needed to find a sponsor? How can it be challenging?

Building habits with the paper clip strategy

"How to stick with good habits every day by using the paper clip strategy" is another excerpt from James Clear’s Atomic Habits. Within this excerpt, Clear explains a simple strategy for habit formation. Read the passage and then consider these questions:

  • What is the power of visual cues, and why do they help build new habits?
  • For what kinds of goals do you think the paper clip strategy would be most helpful? Why?
  • How can the paper clip strategy be adapted for different types of goals?

Goal setting is a multifaceted process that requires thoughtful planning, execution and reflection. You can foster a culture of continuous growth and achievement by leveraging these resources and engaging in open dialogue with your team. 



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