How to Lead Your Team to Achieve the Goals No Individual Ever Could
We all know the expression, you can lead employees to water, but can't make them drink. Or was it horses? Either way, its still valid. You can come up with the best goal-setting method for your company, but getting employees to use it is another can of worms.
In my first management position as the editor of my university newspaper, my challenge was to get people who had never worked together to accomplish goals as a team. Most of the newspaper was run by second-year students like myself. My team members were from a lot of different backgrounds. I had both the introverted poet and the outgoing salesman. Each had used many different goal-setting techniques, and everyone had an opinion of which one we should use. Finding common ground was nearly impossible.
The problem of being a leader.
I know no goal-setting system works unless you get your entire team on board. And while it may be easy to adopt a new methodology in a small team, every extra employee makes it harder. Your team objectives are only as strong as your laziest employee, and even if a small percentage of employees are not buying into your goal setting system, it will fail.
It gets even trickier. Forcing a system onto a team is risky. You can’t just tell them to “set goals.” You must make them understand how the system benefits them, how it helps them, and what they’ll lose if they don’t adapt. I have seen way too many managers just telling someone in their team to pick a goal-setting system and implement it. That hardly ever works. As a leader you must be the one to set an example and show how things should be done. After all, leaders should lead.
Seven years later.
I haven’t run a student newspaper in a long time. You can’t be young forever. But in every team since then, I’ve faced the same challenges. And I’ve developed a system to deal with them.
I have settled for the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) methodology. It is a method of setting ambitious public quarterly objectives and measuring them based on key results every week. Made popular by Google, the system is used in many big companies today.
In recent years, a lot of case studies have been made about how the OKR methodology can be implemented. Exxact Corporation had their point-person travel to each office, while Mavrck used their weekly team meetings to implement the new system. Google has given many talks on how they first implemented the system. In all those cases, one thing remained the same: you need a active person spearheading the project.
How to set up goal-setting in a team.
In a new team, I start by doing a presentation about the benefits OKR offers to individuals. And explain how much they’ll win -- both in time and energy -- if they are willing to give the system a try.
Then I organize an offsite team event where we discuss the goals we must set and how everyone’s personal tasks and projects fit into it. This helps to bring the team together and makes them understand how everyone's work contributes to our team’s success. It usually feels like the mandatory part of a superhero movie, when the heroes learn to work together.
Finally, the team starts working towards the objectives. I try to give weekly feedback to my employees to make sure they stay on track. That might seem time consuming, but it is vital for the system to start working well. You might feel all of this is a little too much. After all, your time is very valuable. You don’t have enough hours in a day to do all this hands on. If that's the case, appoint a goal-setting ambassador. This ambassador can be a well-informed point person for your employees -- someone people can turn to with questions and who is responsible for the system’s implementation. And, if you’re that kind of person, someone who can be blamed if it fails.
Drinking the water voluntarily.
You can lead your employees to the water. But you need to make sure they know the water is good for them, and they can get help if they don’t know how to use the well. This is what leadership is all about -- making sure your employees know how to obtain water. Seriously though, they have to know how to use the tools you have given them. And you are responsible for keeping them motivated enough to use them.