If I walk up to anyone in your firm tomorrow, I should be able to ask about two things and get clear answers. First, what is the vision of the firm. Second, what are your current goals.

Let’s talk about the goals. The inexperienced often think of goal setting as a way for a leader to pressure their team. It is as though the leader is saying, “Here is your quota. Reach it or leave.” Well, that isn’t what great leaders call setting goals.

The setting of a goal is one of the great arts of leadership. It is the way a leader draws his or her team into the future. In fact, it is a mechanism by which the leader enables his team to lay a claim on that future. Where there are no goals, people work blindly day after day and hope that someone, somewhere is pleased enough to let them keep their job. This won’t produce team excellence and heroism.

Wise goals empower teams to lay claim to the future—theirs and the firm’s. Through the vehicle of goals, the team member understands what he or she can do, understands what doing it can mean to the firm, and understands what honor and rewards can come their way.

Done right, goals awaken possibilities. Goals stir imaginations. Goals energize. Goals harmonize efforts and dreams. Goals motivate and inspire. Goals can also create team building and solutions that would never have arisen otherwise.

Some suggestions for crafting goals:

  1. Set goals only after getting input from everyone involved. This doesn’t reduce expectations. It raises them. People want to achieve great things. They just need for those in authority to hear them, equip them, put them in settings that allow them to achieve, and then reward them.
  2. In these conversations, listen for the obstacles. Time and again I’ve been told of some minor obstacle—the copier “sucks,” we don’t have enough shovels—that was preventing major production. I would never have known of such easily-fixed problems without listening to those on the ground.
  3. Start your goal-setting by determining what the firm has to have. What’s the minimum? Keep this to yourself and your immediate team. Then start exploring what is possible.
  4. Get as much outside input as possible. Look at other firms in your industry. Ask consultants. Ask the elders in your field. You want to work against inbred “groupthink” as much as possible. So welcome the fresh breeze of outside perspectives as much as possible.
  5. Make sure the goals you set are achievable but also stretch your team. If your people aren’t having to strive and sacrifice to achieve a goal, then the goal wasn’t high enough.
  6. Present the goal not as a top-down command, but as the consensus of a team. The shipping department is “owning” a goal for the good of the company, not being handed a goal they resent and distrust.
  7. Build in competition. We are competing with other companies in the market. Our own Team A is competing with Team B. We are competing with our last annual numbers. The more you can turn the whole affair into the Super Bowl of whatever—online sales, cookie shipments, new customers, units off the production line—the more you awaken the competitive drive in people as well as their passion for excellence and achievement.
  8. Reward, reward, reward. If you can, make these rewards of the type that the families of team members enjoy. The dinner out. The scholarship money. The vacation. As in the case of one company, the new car for every goal meeting team member. You get the point. In one small town, the winning team was presented to the community in a full-page ad, photo and all. This was more important than anything else they might have received and the boss knew it.

Naturally, you’ll need to have periodic goal-checks and fine-tuning along the way. Yet particularly as we energize our firms with the receding of COVID-19, wise goal setting is one of the greatest tool in the hands of vital leaders.