How to Run a Lean Company-Wide Goal Setting Process

By Jessica Wishart

Company wide goal setting
When it comes to goal setting, there are two extremes that come up over and over again. Some companies tend to err on the side of simplicity, leaders picking goals without much consideration of what else is already on their plates or how they fit into the larger strategy - "Let's do this!" Maybe there's little follow-up or commitment and the goal fizzles before it gets off the ground. Or the goals sit in a nice binder or PowerPoint file only to be revisited a year later when everyone has forgotten about them and moved on.
Or, on the other extreme, companies over-engineer a complex process that takes a lot of time to prepare, many rounds of revisions or manual work to update spreadsheets or post-it notes, and the cumbersome nature of the process makes the goals irrelevant by the time they are "done."
Both the scattershot and the overly complex approaches prove ultimately unsuccessful. Your planning process should be lean enough to be effective but robust enough to result in a solid finished product, an execution-ready plan that your teams can start doing right away.
How do you know if your goal-setting process is overly complex? If your process to set and align on goals takes more than three or four weeks, you have wasted a third of your execution time on planning. Planning is important and necessary, but if you run out of time to implement the quarterly plan in the 13-week quarter, all that time to create the perfect plan could have been better spent executing. It's better to get a few things done than to have a perfect plan you haven't started.



Here are some common pitfalls and best practices for trimming the wasted effort from your planning process to get to your goals faster without sacrificing quality and alignment:
Common Pitfall No.1:
Not Dedicating Time For Planning In Advance
Everyone is busy, there's just no time on the calendar to get all the execs together to set the plan until 3-weeks into the quarter. Then, by the time we cascade the plans to teams and individuals, it's already week 6 and the quarter is half over.
We recommend keeping a company-wide calendar with planning dates for the full year. Your cadence will be specific to your needs, but typically, your executive team should have the following on the calendar each year:

    1. 2-days for strategic annual planning and Q1 (Ideally a month before the new year starts)

    2. 2-days for Q2, Q3, and Q4 quarterly planning (Ideally about 2-weeks before the new quarter starts)
      Additionally, each departmental or cross-functional team should meet after the executive team (usually about a week later) for a 1-day Quarterly Planning Session. Then, the teams should share plans with each other, work out cross-functional dependencies and finalize the details.
Common Pitfall No.2:
Ignoring Elephants in the Room
We avoided some difficult discussions, and some members left without sharing key insights about the likelihood of our plan's success. Only later did it come out that our plan wasn't feasible and was doomed from the beginning. We ended up wasting a whole quarter trying to do something that our team members knew was impossible from the start.
During the session, resist the temptation to ignore elephants in the room. Have the conversations you need to have so that everyone can leave the session with extreme clarity on the decisions that were made. Each person needs to air their concerns and whether the goals that are chosen are their favorites or not, be able to fully support the decisions that are made. This can take time. It's far better to spend longer in the 2-day session working through any issues together than to leave with things unsaid or unfinished. The executives in the room will have to take this plan to their teams and rally everyone behind it; if they are not fully on board or clear on the goals, this will cascade through the organization and sabotage your success.
Common Pitfall No.3:
Failing to Write Goals Clearly or Define Success 
We had the right information and discussions, but we ran out of time to button up our goals. We didn't take the time to write the goals clearly or define success. Everyone thought we were on the same page, but we ended up working on different things, assuming we understood the goals instead of ensuring the plan was complete and clear.

Sometimes, discussions take longer than planned, and you can spend two full days planning and leave without a solid plan in place. Commit to finishing the plan. Extend your team's next weekly meeting or set aside a few hours the day after planning and ensure you have 3-5 well-written priorities for the quarter with an owner, due date, and clear Red-Yellow-Green success criteria at the end of it. Go through the plan together as an executive and get aligned on the goals and how success will be measured. Without this, your cascade teams will have nothing to anchor their plans to, and you'll end up misaligned with teams working on whatever they want and not what your leadership team has decided is most important to move the company strategy forward.
Common Pitfall No.4:
Failing to Engage Others in the Process

Our plan is awesome! We know what we need to do and we spent days talking about it so we are crystal clear! Our teams will surely join us, right!? Wrong - they have no idea what the goals are, why they matter, or how their work can impact those goals unless we explicitly engage them in the process.
Goals can't just "trickle-down" through the organization. Once your goals are in place, share them. The cascade planning sessions are a great opportunity to communicate goals and get aligned and clear on how each department or team will work toward them. Share your quarterly goals with the whole company. Ask each person in the company to think about how they will contribute. Give your team members opportunities to express excitement, trepidation, confusion. Slow down to get aligned so you can hit the ground running when the quarter starts with everyone on the same page.
Common Pitfall No.5:
Failing to Utilize Effective Tools
Once the executive team, departmental teams, and individuals all set their goals, someone compiles everything into a Spreadsheet or shared drive or walks the halls squinting at sticky notes to be sure each person has done the work to set their goals. Doing manual work to ensure the goals are set and aligned across the organization is just plain ineffective.
Using a tool like Rhythm Software makes it easy to build a company-wide plan that connects to your strategy. Your departmental team's goals roll up to the company goals, and individual goals link to any goals they support. You can see the energy in the organization at a glance and know what everyone is working on and how it's going. And it only takes a few clicks each quarter to set up the goals and link them.

If your goal-setting process has gotten out of control, consider simplifying it. Bring more focus, energy, and resources to doing the work rather than maintaining a cumbersome process that is no longer serving your business.

Schedule a demo and see how Rhythm Software can make your company-wide goal-setting process more effective and efficient. 

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Jessica Wishart


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images