7 Ways to Set Team Goals (That Actually Work)
5 min. read
Updated October 29, 2023
We’re big fans of goal setting here at Palo Alto Software. We set goals for the company as a whole, and by specific team as well. We even set additional personal development goals, using the OKR (“objectives and key results”) goal-setting technique. We take the time to review our progress often, and we’re always working to refine and optimize it.
That being said, creating a goal-setting methodology for an entire company doesn’t happen overnight. It can be difficult to know how to set goals that are a stretch, but not completely out of reach. It’s also hard enough to set these for ourselves, let alone for a team of employees.
To get a sense of how successful entrepreneurs effectively set goals within their businesses, I reached out to the Young Entrepreneur Council. So, whether you’re planning on running a company with a large staff, or it’s just you and your co-founder, these strategies will help you set goals that are measurable, hold you and your team accountable, and drive your company to greater success.
1. Ask people what they want to do
Take some times to sit down with your team and get a sense of what their professional goals are. While the reality is that they were, of course, hired to fulfill a specific role within your company, chances are they have their own growth goals that you can help them achieve.
“It’s very difficult to motivate people to do something unless they want to do it,” says Eden Chen of Fishermen Labs. “The best way to combat this is to find out what your employees want to do and help them move toward those goals.”
Chen mentions that at the end of the day, this strategy feeds back into your business and makes your offering stronger. “If someone excels at their position, they ultimately help the business as well,” he says. He also outlines an easy, practical way to put this strategy in place: “After you find out what they want to do, set milestones and review them every six months.”
2. Hold your team accountable
To better manage her team and set goals, Marcela De Vivo of Gryffin created an in-house system to keep track of tasks associated with certain projects. “Everyone in the company is responsible for keeping their task list up to date and current, and all of these micro-tasks are associated with larger projects and goals,” she explains.
Employees are also responsible for keeping a “start of day” and “end of day” report, and this helps keep everyone on task. In addition, the transparency of the system works to keep everyone accountable. “The tasks lists are open for all employees to see and support each other,” explains De Vivo.
3. Make goals public
On the subject of transparency, Nanxi Liu of Enplug takes it a step further and uses transparency around company success to help her team with goal setting. “To keep the team motivated and excited, we have TVs around the office that show the real-time dashboard of our monthly and quarterly goals,” she says.
For Liu’s team, the constant reminder of the bigger picture goals helps as a motivator to accomplish smaller day-to-day tasks. “The displays allow our teammates to see our daily progress and understand how it contributes to the long-term goals,” she explains. “It’s a powerful communication tool that lets our team know exactly what our goals are and how close we are to achieving them.”
4. Show how goals impact the larger picture
The idea of tying smaller goals to larger company goals is a tried-and-true strategy. That being said, you don’t have to display them on a large screen to make them impactful. Simply making sure your employees are aware of the overall company goals and how their goals tie in is the most important aspect.
“If you show how [employee] goals connect to the company’s strategic priorities, it increases their ownership and they see the rationale for the goals being set,” says Karan Chaudhry of Comnplus. “Once you have their buy-in, it creates a win-win for everyone involved.
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5. Make goals quantifiable
If the goals you set for your team members are vague and insubstantial, it is both hard for them to meet these goals, and difficult for you to track their success.
“It is absolutely critical to set quantifiable goals,” says Peter Boyd of PaperStreet Web Design. “The goal should have a specific measurement, so there is zero debate over whether the goal is met.”
Boyd goes on to explain how this works within his own team: “For our team, it can be a set number of sales, designs, websites launches, support hours, or pages written. Each team member knows the goal and we can break it down into monthly, quarterly, or yearly increments.”
6. Tie goals to incentives
Andy Eastes of SkuVault recommends transparency and incentivizing goals, but is quick to note that it’s important to tie any incentives to goals that play to your team members’ strengths.
“Incentive plans come in handy to help motivate team members, but it is important that your plan is geared toward highlighting their strengths and promoting favorable behaviors in the workplace, rather than the opposite,” he says. “This will ensure positive and cohesive development so that achievements are attainable in each position.”
For example, setting an insanely high sales goal and coupling it with a ridiculously awesome incentive could create a toxic work environment, as your staff might go to inappropriate lengths to make sales. Be sure to keep in mind your desired company culture when designing incentive programs, and tailor any incentivization to your employees’ strengths and career goals (see point #1).
7. Create an action plan
Goal setting alone will be nothing without a plan for success. When are certain milestones met? How will you touch base with your employees, and monitor their progress toward goals?
“When you are setting goals for your team, make sure they are backed by an action plan and then go over that plan with them,” suggests Anthony Davani of Kreoo/The Davani Group. At Palo Alto Software, we do something similar, and employ the strategy of holding a monthly plan review meeting to check in on our goals.
Davani also recommends letting your employees in on the planning process and enabling them to take ownership and remain accountable for the outcome. “Let them sell you on how they will achieve that goal. There is no sense in setting goals for your team if there is no one there to hold your team accountable.”
What is your favorite way to set goals for your team and for yourself?