Newsletter – October 10, 2012

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5 ways to make goal-setting less painful

Hello friends,

If you’re starting to think about setting goals for 2013 (and we hope you are!), you’ll find this month’s reader question timely:

You’ve talked a lot about the important of each staff member having written goals. We’re doing it but …. well, it’s a lot of work! Writing them almost becomes a project unto itself, and the same goes for meetings about them throughout the year. Are we doing something wrong?

If they’re that painful, yes!  If goal-setting turns into an ordeal that you’re slogging through, the goals will lose their power and become something you avoid, rather than something cool – the results you’re going to achieve!  and something that shapes the course of your daily work.

Here are five tips to make goal-setting easier.

1. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Most people find that the majority of their goals are pretty easy to nail down, but there’s one or two that they struggle to articulate. Rather than holding up the whole process for a single goal, get the easy ones down on paper now, and put a placeholder for the harder one. Then, schedule a separate conversation to hash that one out. And don’t agonize if it’s not perfect; just do the best you can, and plan to revisit it next time.

2. Schedule a one-hour goal-drafting workshop with your staff for everyone to get their goals down on paper. It’s easier to fine-tune once you have a draft, so this can be the push that gets everyone over the initial mountain. Give people examples of goals at the start of the workshop … and don’t forget to schedule individual meetings to talk through people’s drafts afterwards.

3. Try shorter cycles. If you’re struggling with writing annual goals, try writing them for a 3- or 6-month period instead, and then revisit them when that period is up. You might be thinking, “Ack, that just means more goal-setting!” … but shorter periods are often easier to work with  and less weighty – and if you get the system going now, you can better refine your goals down the road. (Plus, when you’re operating in a rapidly changing or uncertain environment, shorter cycles can make lots of sense.)

4. Use your words! People often get hung up on making goals quantitative and stall out because they can’t figure out how to do it. While some goals are obviously quantitative (your email list’s open rate, or how many points your issue jumps in polling), plenty of others aren’t and that’s okay. With the latter, instead of using numbers, use words to paint a picture of what success would look like. For instance, a goal around your website redesign might be that the site “will reflect our desired branding and regularly draw unsolicited praise from people who visit it.” Or a goal for a staff member organizing your annual dinner might be to “ensure that all logistics run smoothly, meaning no lines at the check-in tables, seamless transitions between speakers, and A-V equipment is glitch-free.”

5. Set up a mechanism now to check in on progress against goals through the year. We like to schedule monthly team meetings for these, but you can also do quarterly one-on-one step-back meetings or whatever works best in your context. But whichever mechanism you choose, get it on everyone’s calendar now, so that you ensure you’ll be talking about goals through the year and not realizing next October that you’re three-quarters of the way through the year and people’s goals have been growing moldy on a shelf.

Overall, the key with goal-setting is simply to get started. Good luck!


Here are some more resources you might find useful:

How to make one-on-one’s more effective

12 ways to make your employees love you

What do you do with a brilliant jerk?


If you have a question that you’d like us to answer in a future newsletter, we want to hear it!  Email it to us at We’ll field as many of them as we can.


Jerry Hauser and Alison Green
The Management Center

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