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Goal-Setting is as Easy as 1+3

It’s that time of year when organizations start to put their people through the (arduous) process of goal-setting. Most of the time this process is based on some convoluted competency framework that tells us the kinds of things we must do in order to be successful. Typically there’s a (long) form involved. And in the off chance someone actually takes the time to fill it out, they do so in cursory fashion. So as you approach the 2011 planning season – whatever it holds for you – I offer this post to you as food-for-thought.

First of all, goal-setting is a business, professional, and personal imperative. Don’t argue this point with me. It just is. And the alternative sucks…one of my favorite quotes on the importance of goal-setting:  “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you…Not Much!” ~Jim Rohn

o.k. now that we got that out of the way…

Not so long ago, I was turned on to an approach to goal-setting which, in its simplicity, is close to perfection . And as a disciple of simplicity, it was hard for me to resist. Venture Capitalist Legend, John Doerr, came up with it and a number of companies he helped found use it (including Google). And if that weren’t enough to peak your interest – yes, that’s right – I use it!  I first caught wind of it thanks to my favorite New York Times regular feature – The Corner Office. It’s called O.K.R. and it only requires that we come up with:

(1) Objective – the one thing (at the highest level) that we must really strive toward achieving in the ensuing period (year, quarter, month…even day)

(3) Key Results – three tangible (and succinct) results that will clearly evidence our achievement of the aforementioned Objective.

As an example,  here’s how it might play out in the HR realm…

O: Enhance [company's] employment experience through an overt commitment to listening to our constituents, communicating with our people, and simplifying the HR process, technologies, and tools on which they rely.

KR1: Heightened employee empowerment and self-sufficiency (primarily through HRIS self-service functionality)

KR2: Measurable increase in the business units’ solicitation and use of HR’s perspective and counsel toward driving business results

KR3: Positive trend in Employee Affiliation and Engagement Scores, particularly in those areas directly influenced by HR

It fits on a quarter of a page, it’s fewer than 75 words, and it’s something you can sink your teeth into. Everybody keeps it on their desks (or in their wallet) and refers to it often. Implicitly, each of the key results have tentacles and will involve individual plans and actions. But this is all about framing goals in a way people can understand and connect with themand then actually align their efforts with them. As Abraham Lincoln said, “a goal properly set is halfway reached.”

Image Credit: Anthony Theobald, Flickr

  • John Hunter

    Aligning actions with strategic goals is key. And frankly this rarely happens. It is great when it does but it takes a much more systemic approach than just goal setting. Without a systemic focus on evidence based management goals often end up having people just focus on numerical targets whatever that results in for the rest of the business.

    It doesn’t HAVE to do so. It just does, quite frequently in many organizations. A culture that understands variation, thinks systemically and uses evidence based systemic measures of progress helps make sure the dangers are avoided. But that understanding is missing in most places that use goals.

    Without that you should spend at least as much time worrying about the dangers the goals you are setting will pose and put in counter-measures to try and deal with them as you do on the rest of the effort around goals.
    John Hunter´s last [type] ..The 3rd Annual Management Blog Review Has Begun

  • alan

    Nice…I like things in 3′s…if it is simple and easy to use and people will use it on an everyday bases.

    Good advice!

  • Chris Young

    Excellent post Charlie! I absolutely agree with you – all things equal, simple is always better – especially when communication performance expectations with employees.

    I have included your post in my Rainmaker ‘Fab Five’ blog picks of the week ( to show my readers that goal setting can be as easy as 1+3!

    Be well!
    Chris Young´s last [type] ..Possibility Maximizer- Maxim Health Systems Flu and Wellness Podcast

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