October  31,  2023

Now is the time to start 2024 right.

It’s the end of the year, and most organizations are embarking on everyone’s favorite holiday activity: goal setting.

Leaders analyze the past year’s performance and estimate what they can and must accomplish in the coming year. Executives then review these goals and finalize organization-wide, measurable objectives that drive success.

This annual exercise is necessary, and it makes sense. But why is it so hard?

First, each role has its own relationship to goals. Top leaders want to dominate the market but must also consider the health of the organization. Executives and managers want to push for greatness but also take morale and capabilities into consideration.  Employees feel pressure to impress the boss but have to balance that impulse with what they think is realistic and achievable.

And, after all that work and rounds and rounds of reviews, the final goals are cascaded down to the organization, which can be like a game of telephone. By the time a line employee gets his work objectives, they might no longer be recognizable to top leadership.

So, as a leader, how should you approach annual goal setting? A clear process and sound principles will make strong goal setting easier on everyone.

Listen up.

Teams understand their capabilities and limitations, and if given a safe platform, they will tell you what they really think. It’s good to be aspirational, but make sure you propose goals the team believes in and feels inspired to achieve.

A clear process and sound principles will make strong goal setting easier on everyone.

Align up, down, and across.

Departmental goals should directly support organizational goals, and departmental goals need to make sense across teams and divisions. As you translate overall goals to objectives for teams and employees, check them against the strategy. This type of alignment is critical to business strategy and execution — every part should contribute to the whole.


Make sure your goals are balanced across your strategic and operational capabilities. Don’t set one goal so high that achieving it saps energy from other areas or from overall productivity. Discuss where your key balancing metrics are, like volume and customer experience, and allocate investment and resources across those areas, not just those that obviously hit the bottom line.

Share now.

Employees need to know as soon as possible what they are being measured against. The later you share this information, the higher the risk. On January 2, your teams are already supposed to be working toward the new year’s goals. They need time to shift and ramp up. So, give employees a preview of the new year’s priorities. This is especially important if your company ties goals to merit pay; this is not an area where employees want to be surprised.

Employees need to know as soon as possible what they are being measured against.

Review and support, often.

Create a safe space for employees to report on their progress and ask for help where they feel stuck – otherwise goals can feel punitive. Give people space to tell the most accurate story of where they are so you can support them. That’s a win-win.

Goal setting has big impacts on productivity, morale, and the bottom line. Make sure you use this time to create meaningful goals that help your business succeed and your people thrive.