by Deanna Parkton
As we start a new year, organizations and teams are implementing new goals for the year. Often, company and departmental goals are set by management with little input from employees: the individuals whose work will be contributing to those goals. This can leave employees feeling demoralized at worst, or unheard from at best – but mostly, feeling as if their insights are not valuable enough to be considered. If the goals that management puts forward do not match with what employees are seeing “on the ground,” this can cause them to view management as out of touch and ultimately lack confidence in the leadership team’s decisions.
While it is certainly the role of leadership to set goals, there are strong benefits by simply increasing the involvement of employees in the process. A 2020 Harvard Business Journal article discusses the various benefits of involving employees in decision making, including but not limited to: an increase in employee engagement, more collaboration and communication, a way to identify blind spots and most notably, increased buy-in from the people who will be tasked with implementing the goals.
This approach of involving employees in decision making is similar to more recent approaches in parenting, sometimes called responsive parenting or positive parenting – in which parents involve children in a decision making process. This does not mean that every idea that the child has is implemented, but it allows for a conversation on why the parent ultimately made the decision they did. While the parent ultimately makes the final decision, because the child was involved in the process, they are then invested. Additionally, because the child was asked for their opinion, it increases their confidence in what they have to offer, and they see their opinions as valued. They then feel like a valued member of the family.
The same can be said for organizational leadership and employees. While employees are certainly not children, it can feel demoralizing as a professional to consistently have decisions made for your day-to-day work without your input. This family analogy can help us to see organizational psychology and dynamics in a new way: a more holistic way of leading and guiding teams.
Involving more people in the decision making process can feel overwhelming (as they say, “too many cooks in the kitchen…”) but the benefits far outweigh the extra work.
Here are some ideas on how to include your team in goal setting in a cohesive and structured way.
Brainstorming Goals: asking team members to contribute goals or ideas that they think would benefit the team and company’s overall mission or values
- Large groups or teams should be split into small groups to brainstorm ideas. Aim for groups of 3-5 people to ensure that all voices are heard.
- Each group should be given parameters in terms of how many goals or ideas to submit (i.e. 7-10 goals per group).
- Leadership can identify topics to provide structure for the groups to follow. For example, management may be looking for goals related to certain initiatives that pertain to the growth of the company or team such as financial/sales, a way for the company to differentiate themselves from competition, or goals related to diversity. This will help the brainstorming teams get started with some structure, while also creating some cohesion across groups.
- Important: Also allow groups to submit ideas or goals outside of the identified topics. These new ideas can go into a Miscellaneous category to be collected and vetted. By allowing employees to think outside of the box, valuable ideas can rise to the top that could have been missed by management.
Upvote / Finalize Goals: asking team members to vote to identify which goals/ideas get the most buy-in.
- Small groups take a list of submitted goals (or goals prepared by leadership) and rank them. Depending on the number of goals, different groups can be given different goals to make it more manageable per group. For example, there may be 50 total ideas, but each group is given 10 different ideas to rank to make it more manageable.
- If relevant, the team can use various categories to help identify certain considerations. Categories could include:
- Best “Low Hanging Fruit” (easy to implement, does not require a lot of resource and beneficial to the company/team)
- Most Innovative (might not need to be done but is exciting and would be a great differentiator for the company)
- Most Time Sensitive (i.e. this might be a goal that should get done in the first 2 quarters of the year)
- Best Long-term Investment (an idea that would take a lot of planning, resources and implementation but in the long-term, would be a great investment)
Brainstorming Process or Action Steps: asking team members to identify proper process or action steps to help move goals forward. Whereas brainstorming and defining goals is the What and the Why, thinking through the process is the How. How could these goals be implemented?
For more information on the Why-What-How philosophy, check out this article about using this strategic approach.
- Once goals are finalized, by allowing teams to come up with ways to meet those goals, they can then help give an “on the ground” perspective of implementation.
- Groups can be separated by departmental teams (to focus on goals that relate to their day-to-day work) or can be separated on a random basis across departments (to allow for diversity of thought and perspective).
- This may vary based on the goals identified or assigned to the brainstorm group. For goals that would require work from select departments, those departments that will be working on the goal would be most relevant. For goals that are more far-reaching across an organization, randomized groups will bring perspective across teams.
Consider a task force to move forward
- To further integrate employees in the goals or planning process, consider identifying select professionals from across the organization to serve on a task force. The task force can be responsible for choosing the final goals or approving processes for company wide initiatives. The task force can even serve in the role of tracking implementation steps across teams, as well as providing support to teams through the implementation phase.
Whatever your company or team’s approach, finding creative ways to engage employees in goal setting and action planning is well worth the extra effort. The increased buy-in from employees is worth its weight in gold, but so is the message to your team: “We value your insights and perspectives.”
For more ideas on tracking your goals or being an exceptional leader, consider working with a career coach. A coach can help you identify strategies to face challenges head on. Check out our executive coaching services and sign up for a free consultation here.
Deanna Parkton is a writer, career coach and educator with a passion for professional development and work wellness and happiness. With a focus on self-reflection, she works with individuals in their quest to reach their career goals as well as satisfaction in work-life balance. You can find more of her writing at workinglivingwell.com and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.