Are your goals bringing out the worst in your team?

I’ve never met a group that didn’t see the connection between goals and behaviors. Ask too little of people and they become lazy. Ask too much and they become quitters. The trick is finding goals that are improbable, not impossible.

There is great goal setting research out there. And most of the findings are common sense. If the task seems too easy people have trouble getting started. If it seems too hard, people give up. The amount of stress associated with the challenge plays a huge role in our performance.

You’ve probably seen a chart like this:


optimal arousal graph

We have to choose goals that cause enough stress to get everyone aroused.  As leaders, we have to manage that stress in a way that makes the impossible improbable, and the improbable seem possible.

From our research, the best goals are those that can only be achieved when the team modifies its behaviors. Do you want to run a marathon? You’ll have to become more disciplined and focused. Do you want to increase sales? You’ll have to serve your customers better. Do you want to be more innovative? You’ll have to create an environment in which people take risks.

Whether you call them Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals or Stretch Goals, or use metaphors like Climbing Mount Everest, there has to be a sense that “what got us here, isn’t enough to get us there” if we are going to modify behaviors.

Are your goals bringing out the best in your team?