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How to Set Goals That Will Turn an Average Team Into All-Stars Treat goals as "rocks" that can be broken into smaller pieces or stacked to help the entire team move to higher ground.

By Laurie Cutts

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Whether we're limiting the times we hit the snooze button, increasing our attendance at the gym or improving our work performance, setting goals is essential in order to generate change. Yet, goals don't always work: According to Statistic Brain Research Institute, a mere 9.2 percent of participants the institute surveyed said they'd successfully achieved their New Year's resolutions so far in 2017.

Related: The 5 Golden Rules of Goal-Setting

That leaves the vast majority of us disappointed, frustrated, scratching our heads and questioning what went wrong. And this isn't just a personal problem: Goal-setting and communication are also fundamental in building up company teams to meet specific outcomes.

So, the question becomes: If so many people struggle to attain personal goals, how can a leader inspire an entire team to achieve the company's professional performance objectives?

The proof is in the metrics: According to a study by Workboard, 69 percent of high-performing companies surveyed rated companywide communication of business goals as their leading tool for stacking a team of top performers.

Stacking rocks to reach the top

At the start of a new year, that first look at annual goals can be intimidating for some employees -- especially if the bar has been set high. At Acceleration Partners, we call our goals "rocks" because we set our yearly and quarterly goals with the intention of breaking off smaller chunks to assign to individual team members. We review our progress every 90 days, to see how we're stacking toward our goals and where we need to adjust.

Related: 6 Tips for Goal-Setting That, Trust Me, They Don't Teach You in College

Leading a team from the mountain's base to the summit isn't easy, and it's just as challenging to reach that figurative peak together. However, if you find out exactly what it is that motivates your team, you can become the perfect guide to lead them.

Related: 3 Ways to Help Your Employees With Goal-Setting

Consider the following three strategies when you're setting your company goals. They'll help you cultivate a more aspirational mindset within any of your team members who haven't yet found their north star.

1. Anchor your team's focus on a common outcome.

To promote real collaboration and teamwork, first show employees the destination. One of the most effective ways to achieve a desired outcome is to establish common goals that every team member can work toward.

A strong, diverse team is comprised of individuals who have unique areas of expertise that are amplified when they work together with others and leverage one another's skills. Creating a safe space for your team members to express themselves, share ideas and learn from one other will help to clarify their direction and create alignment and commitment.

These outcomes are important for a sound, collaborative company culture where employees feel safe contributing new ideas and trying out new approaches: Google, for instance, conducted a study that found employees who felt psychologically safe in their environments were less likely to leave, more likely to leverage a diverse skill set and more likely to be successful.

The more collaborative the work environment you create, the more likely your team members will be to stay focused and work together. For example, clients once gave our client-services team a complex affiliate-recruitment challenge with a tight deadline. The team faced many obstacles: high expectations, competing project deadlines for starters and more.

However, going into the project with a strategic goal and a collaborative team mentality allowed our team members to persevere -- and meet the challenge.

2. Ascend to the summit (of your goals) by holding one other accountable.

As you climb higher to reach your collective goals together, keep in mind each team member's particular responsibility. I'm a big believer in providing strong, clear guidance on employee roles, and in establishing processes for efficiency and effectivess. Adding thoughtful guidance on employee roles, along with clear processes, is paramount for creating a successful, happy team.

Related: 5 Keys to Promoting Accountability in Your Business

When I became a manager, I learned that delegating allowed me to focus on strategy, process and growing my team's skill sets. At the same time, this effort at delegating held my team members accountable for their work and gave them ownership of it; and those things made them feel more satisfied in their roles.

To promote innovation and decision-making, you, as leader, must provide input, resources, tools, training and technology -- and delegate to instill a sense of ownership. For example, Spotify, a video-, music- and podcast-streaming company, has found success with its 2,000-person workforce by organizing its teams into self-organized "squads" of eight people apiece.

Several of these teams have also been linked together as a "tribe," managed by another layer of management. This model of organization aligns each staff member's role with the company's goals, without the need for micromanagement. Spotify's squads are thus accountable but also have the authority to not only innovate, but also create a product.

3. Pound the drum from the top of the mountain.

Continually communicating the visions and goals of the company from the leadership level down is critical. Effective communication is the basis for a high-performing team to stay well-informed, up-to-date and on track.

According to a Harvard Business Review Analytic Services Report, fewer than half of all companies in the Harvard survey said they measured employee progress toward a goal. Don't follow their example! Instead, set up regular meetings to discuss not only your current goals, but also how those goals measure up to your company's longer-term, big-picture goals.

Related: Access to Data Is Great, but It's How You Communicate It That Matters

Our team has quarterly leadership team meetings at which we discuss our company goals for the quarter. We also have weekly company calls and department-specific team meetings. These give our teams full disclosure on the priorities we've established as being most important. In this way, teams gain exposure to the company's top areas of focus and see how their individual departments' initiatives tie into the company's overall goals.

The meetings allow us to hold one other accountable, prioritize workloads, communicate to other team members about what's in the pipeline and share insights on how best to do our part to achieve the company's goals.

Related: 3 Ways to Help Your Employees With Goal-Setting

In sum, diversification of goals, like team members, is great as long as there's a base line for improvement and alignment, moving forward. Helping employees at the base to keep moving upward means teaching them how to pull one another up. So, start stacking those rocks to reach that summit.

Laurie Cutts

Vice President, Marketing, Acceleration Partners

Laurie Cutts is the vice president of marketing at Acceleration Partnersa performance-marketing agency focused on online customer acquisition for some of the world’s largest brands.

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