Set Your Teams Up for Success—Help Them Create Annual Goals

As a CEO or business owner, one of your most important responsibilities is making sure your employees and team members succeed in their jobs. And that includes helping your employees set and reach their annual goals.

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Experts agree it’s better if you work with your employees to set their goals. “Employees want to see how their work contributes to larger corporate objectives, and setting the right targets makes this connection explicit for them, and for you, as their manager,” writes Amy Gallo for the Harvard Business Review.

Stay Engaged

While it's essential for you to stay engaged with your employees throughout the goal-setting process, some caution, you don't impede goal setting for your team by implementing the practice of "cascading goals." This is where the president or CEO starts the "goal relay" by sharing their goals with their direct reports and so on until the goals cascade down through the organization with the hope of achieving perfect goal alignment.

“Certainly no one should set goals that thwart those set by people higher in the organization. But if the concept of cascading goals is applied too rigidly throughout an organization, the practical outcome is that nobody can begin the goal-setting process until that person’s boss has finished their goals,” says management consultant Dick Grote from his article “3 Popular Goal-Setting Techniques Managers Should Avoid.”

But great leaders also establish clarifying guidelines around what makes a good goal. From her article, "What Team Leaders Should Do First," Carolyn O'Hara says, "Make clear what the team is working toward and how you expect it to get there. By setting these goals early on, the group's decision making will be clearer and more efficient, and you'll lay the framework for holding team members accountable."

Set Ambitious but Achievable Goals

But, to be clear, “One of your most important tasks as a team leader is to set ambitious but achievable goals with your team’s input,” says Ms. O’Hara. Your team could push back if your goals are too tough to achieve. “At the same time, you don’t want to aim too low, either. If you are overly cautious, you will miss opportunities and settle for mediocrity,” says Ms. O’Hara.

How can you ensure success for your team as they develop their annual goals?  

Naturally, a lot of research over the years has been directed at goal setting. As reported in the Harvard Business Review, two of the top goal-setting researchers—professors Edwin A. Locke and Gary P. Latham—wrote a landmark article in American Psychologist that summarized their 35 years of research. Here are five insightful findings:

5 Tips to Help You Create Effective Goals

  1. Setting specific, challenging goals consistently leads to higher performance than just urging people to do their best.
  2. High goals generate greater effort than low goals, and the highest or most difficult goals produce the greatest levels of effort and performance.
  3. Tight deadlines lead to a more rapid work pace than loose deadlines.
  4. Making a public commitment to a goal enhances personal responsibility.
  5. Whether the goal is set by agreement or by the boss alone doesn't make a big difference in goal achievement.

Use these insights as you work with your teams to develop your 2018 business goals.


Maybe one of your “high goals” for this year should be to explore becoming a member of an executive peer group, such as Vistage. You and your company would reap the benefits for years to come.

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About the author

Michael Karlsrud
Vistage Minnesota

Michael Karlsrud is a results-driven, big-picture visionary, executive sales leader with 30 years of experience with entrepreneurial start-ups and established Fortune 100 brands with revenues from $1M to $1B. Michael's passion is leading high-performing CEO groups whose members outperform their competition and their own previous bests. For Michael, the journey is as important as the outcome, and he finds that to be true for Vistage members, as well.

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