Employer Branding

Traditional Goal Setting Methodology is Broken. Here’s How to Fix it

An effective goal setting process is a critical step in building the foundational skills of leadership in your employees. However, many organizations are having a hard time finding a method that aligns with their organizational needs. Many organizations are still using traditional goal-setting methods, which aren’t producing the desired results they hope to see. The traditional goal-setting method is largely managed through top-down corporate hierarchy and is often too slow to adjust to the rapid strategy pivots needed in an agile economy and workforce. These types of traditional goal-setting methods aren’t working in today’s modern workplace, and there are several reasons why your organization should consider a new approach to achieving organizational strategy and elevating leadership at every level of the company. 

Traditional Goal Setting Problem #1: Cascading Goals

Most traditional goal-setting practices are outdated in a knowledge-based workforce. Even some of the trendy new goal-setting methodologies are stuck in the old mindset of command-and-control goals, which may, or may not, have effectively worked in the traditional industrial workforce, but certainly aren’t as useful or efficient in today’s modern knowledge workplace. Organizations and leaders can no longer afford to be of the mindset that all of the answers and direction come from the C-Suite, passing down goals from on high, like Moses descending from the mountain top with a set of commandments. 


Today, good executive leadership sets corporate strategy by inviting team leaders, teams, and individual employees to determine what the most important strategy is for a given cycle of the business. They look for more than just vertical alignment to corporate goals, but also seek to promote and encourage horizontal alignment across teams. This is where the feedback of the first-hand experience and customer feedback is most relevant in setting meaningful goals. For goal-setting to be truly useful in today’s knowledge economy, individuals and teams should be interpreting the most critical business needs of their internal and external clients, then translating them into an organizational strategy.

An excellent goal-setting process allows for robust, and often intense, conversations about the real business objective needed to be achieved before setting out to assess the measurable results of that goal. A good goal-setting method also includes discussions about the individual and team’s ability and/or motivation to pursue the goal. Motivation is a critical factor in setting goals and subtly affects the healthy pursuit of a goal, and it can cause significant collateral damage to leaders and organizations if not carefully considered, before, during, and after the pursuit of a goal at any level of a company.     

Traditional Goal Setting Problem #2: The Culture Clash

The most significant problem with any goal-setting methodology is that the company’s culture isn’t ready for it. Goal setting is hard work. It takes time to collaborate with teams and individuals to make sure everyone is clear about the objectives and the key results needed to achieve the objective. Confounding the culture clash through goal setting is the lack of goals that are aligned with the organization’s core mission, vision, and values. Mission, vision, and values are often promoted and hung from the walls throughout corporate hallways but rarely incorporated into how the company goes about its business. Taking time to discuss goals, let alone align them with the values of the organization, is time-consuming. Many organizations want to wave a magic wand and see goal-setting have a positive impact on their organization and bottom-line business results. However, if they don’t have the norms and conditions set in place to make goal-setting work, the process can be disconnected from the purpose of your business. 


Make sure your organization has dedicated time, on a quarterly or tri-annual basis, to discuss, debate, and set meaningful, transparent goals that can be measured and evaluated on a regular cadence. Clear goals are the foundation of excellent performance, and leadership guidance should be a normal part of your organizational culture–not just a separate training of leadership skill sets. Set aside time for goal summits and values discussions at the start of every performance period. Make it part of the norm for individual contributors to take the time to align key personal and corporate values with the goals they are pursuing so they have a better understanding of why they are pursuing certain goals. 

Traditional Goal Setting Problem #3: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Once goals are in place, many traditional methods only check back in at the end of their scheduled completion. Waiting once a year, or even once a quarter, for a manager to have important conversations about an individual’s progress, challenges, ability, and motivation to achieve the goal, isn’t going to give your employees the direction and support they need to achieve their goals. Without regular conversations about goals, there is little to no insight for managers or senior leaders to understand how the company is executing on their strategy.


Make sure the organization has regular check-in conversations on goals at the team and individual level. Companies that have regular One to One meetings between team leaders and team members to discuss the goals they are pursuing have higher levels of engagement and performance than organizations that do not have consistent conversations around goals. Seek to integrate your conversations through an effective performance management or goal setting software that integrates with other important Human Resource and Business Intelligence data platforms.

Traditional Goal Setting Problem #4: A Lack of Understanding for the Art and Science of Goal Setting

Another major issue facing the effective use of goal-setting methodology is that most managers and individuals haven’t been trained in setting proper and effective goals. It’s both an art: how you put together a goal, and science: how you’ll go about pursuing the goal. OKRs and SMART goals are simple approaches to an effective goal setting practice, but it takes some skill-building to master using those methods effectively. Many companies expect teams and individuals to have goals, but they do very little to train best practices in goal-setting methods. 


Having an intentional and consistent approach to goal-setting through the organization is the first step in having the practice adopted into the culture of an organization. It also sets the tone for performance throughout the organization. Without goals, it is challenging to evaluate performance objectively. Establish a dedicated training approach to onboard new employees in your organization’s goal-setting methodology, as well as keeping veteran employees up to date with best practices in setting and pursuing goals. 

Traditional Goal Setting Problem #5: Big Goal Syndrome

Most traditional goal-setting methods are annually focused. Annual goals are just too big and slow to pursue effectively in today’s knowledge economy. Reasonable goals are flexible, yet specific. They should aim for long-term success while remaining agile with the ability to continually assess performance in real-time, and include goals at a corporate, team, and individual level. Long-term goals are an effective plan for the future, but shorter, agile goals help increase the impact of measured progress toward the bigger picture strategy. Big Goals are much more complex to understand, pursue, and track over time. It can be difficult to understand the different levels of knowledge and motivation to pursue a goal if it has so many different elements caused by an annual pursuit of the desired objective. 


Agile goals describe a set of values and a process of achieving outcomes that evolve through small cycles of collaboration with in-tact or cross-functional teams. Performance goals are designed to measure, analyze, and improve over time. Quarterly corporate goals inform the real-time process towards long-term success. Shorter, agile goals maintain clear and consistent communication, define and maintain perspective, and sustain growth and autonomy in shorter and more achievable segments. 

Traditional Goal Setting Problem #6: It’s All About the Money

Finally, most traditional goal-setting methods only focus on financial numbers (How much did the company grow revenue? How much can we save financially in the next quarter?). Smart companies realize they have to go beyond financial goals to achieve a more desirable outcome with other important objectives (Why you’re pursuing the objective). Getting to the ‘why’ of an objective is more important than the ‘how’ or ‘what’ that goal produces. 

While financial success is critical to the overall health and vitality of an organization, it’s not the only factor that should be considered when implementing a goal-setting methodology in your organization. Financial Key Results or Performance Indicators only tell part of the story. You could have stellar numbers related to your performance as a salesperson, but it could be completely dysfunctional in how you achieved those numbers. By only focusing on financial results, rather than process or solutions based results, you may be unintentionally undermining the vision and values of an organization and individuals if you only focus on financial success.


Great organizations, leaders, and individuals are as obsessed with a healthy process and high engagement for achieving objectives as much as healthy financial numbers. It’s not just what you achieve; it’s how you achieve it that matters. Today’s organizations need to extend their focus to setting goals for the culture of the company and the people themselves, rather than just the hard numbers the executive team is indebted to. As Behavioral Science begins to evolve and research efforts prove the profound effect meaning and purpose has at work, leaders also need to evolve with what we are learning about human behavior.

Step into the 21st Century

The old way of tracking goals, through spreadsheets or word of mouth, isn’t working in today’s evolving workforce. You need to train and develop your employees to effectively set and pursue goals in their own space and within their role while contributing to the larger organizational success. Organizations need to use modern technologies to make the goal-setting process seamless and proficient across the entire organization. With a structured goal-setting plan worked into your leadership development program, your leaders should establish goals that align with corporate values, individual roles, and team tasks. With various types and ways of goal-setting, it can be easy to lose focus on your desired outcome. It’s essential to remember what matters most when pursuing goals at every level of an organization.

About the author: Jason Arnold is the Director of Leadership Solutions at Inspire Software. Jason has more than 15 of experience training and developing leadership concepts in the classroom and virtual learning platforms. At Inspire, he helps integrate leadership philosophy into the Inspire software and introduced a new approach, Leadership as a Service, to the leadership development market. He has been mentored by some of the most recognized leadership and business book authors in the leadership development industry and is an experienced professional leadership facilitator and instructional designer in leadership theory and application. His passion for leadership began while working with the best-selling business author, Ken Blanchard, as a literary assistant and media director of a small internal media team that served Blanchard’s clients.

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