5 Goal-Setting Strategies You Can Use To Stay Focused In 2023
The New Year is here and it’s tempting to dream big—and plan bigger. Here are 5 strategies for your team to set goals you can actually hit.
As we kick off 2023, every organization out there is doing its best to prepare for whatever curveballs might be headed our way. If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. From supply chain challenges and labor force shortages to rising interest rates, organizations have been forced to adjust on the fly.
Typically, a big part of kicking off a New Year is setting the goals and targets the organization wants to achieve in the coming year. That process has become a lot more complicated as leaders try to assess an uncertain future—a process that, today, could potentially even create some paranoia. The question on everyone’s minds, it seems, is how to be as productive as possible while also setting realistic expectations.
Monique McDonough, COO at employee experience platform WorkTango, believes that the conversation around productivity paranoia becomes irrelevant once leadership communicates their goals, sets company-wide expectations and then works with employees to maximize their strengths and deliver results.
McDonough shared five tips on how organizations can rethink the goal-setting process in 2023 to help ensure that everyone buys in and rows together to meet your shared objectives.
1. Shoot for specificity
To set an actionable goal, you need to ensure it passes five checks: is it specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely (SMART)?
McDonough says big-picture goals and objectives should be established at the company level first, and then cascaded down and aligned throughout the organization, so that every individual understands how their work impacts the company’s overall strategic objectives and revenue targets. “Typically, setting goals, objectives and key results [OKR] works best if goals are organized in one centralized platform that provides visibility and makes tracking progress simple,” she says.
Not only is aiming for specificity important in setting goals, but you should also limit how many objectives you’re striving for.
“I recommend focusing on two or three quarterly goals for the organization,” says McDonough. “Encourage your employees to set no more than three or four individual goals per quarter. This way, leaders can rally behind goals that are realistic and avoid stretching themselves and their employees too thin in the quest to meet overly ambitious targets.”
2. Get granular
One of the most common mistakes leaders make in the planning process is not getting granular enough with their goals.
“Most organizations want to grow their business and increase employee productivity while fostering good work-life balance and culture,” says McDonough. “These are all great goals to have, but they’re not specific enough. Overarching goals should be whittled down to specific and actionable micro-goals that help map out a path to success.”
That’s why McDonough suggests that you start broad and then narrow the goal to more specific outcomes.
For example, if a leader wants to grow their business in 2023, they need to establish what growth looks like for them in today’s economy. Growth in 2023 may look different for the same company than it looked in 2022 or 2021, and businesses should recognize that when setting specific goals for the coming year.
3. Create space for honest conversations
One of the biggest issues leaders in every organization face in setting goals is that, quite frankly, nobody understands or believes in them. Worse, individuals don’t understand how the work they do daily impacts the overall corporate goals.
Case in point: studies show that 93% of employees are unable to tie their actions to organizational goals.
“Without common themes to bring employees together and meet a shared goal, it’s hard for purpose and real results to materialize within an organization,” says McDonough. “Employees want to understand organizational goals and how their individual work ties into those goals. If leadership does a good job of listening to employees prior to setting goals and then communicating expectations with employees about the year ahead, employee buy-in will follow.”
In other words, communication is an essential part of obtaining internal buy-in on goals. By incorporating employee feedback and sentiment into the company goal-setting process, leaders will create goals that align with and cater to the organization’s perceived needs and desires.
A consistent, open channel of communication is a great starting point to establish an honest feedback loop around goals.
“The first step leaders should take when trying to have a conversation about goals is to encourage regular, ideally weekly, sync-up conversations between employees and managers,” says McDonough. “This way, if progress on a goal is slowed, or execution doesn’t go to plan, managers and leaders can quickly address any roadblocks the organization or a specific employee may be facing and find solutions to overcome these obstacles together.”
4. Track progress
If you don’t track your progress, how will you know if you’re making any? Leaders and their direct reports must track the progress of goals with transparency and accountability—and deadlines. Establishing deadlines can help ensure goals are achieved in a timely manner, instead of scrambling to address them in Q4 when there isn’t much time left to meet them.
“Goals won’t be met 100% of the time, but if transparency isn’t incorporated and there’s no history of accountability in meeting goals, they will quickly fall to the wayside,” says McDonough. “This is a trap that many employees fall into.”
Accountability partners, who can check in frequently to discuss progress and next steps, are a big factor in whether or not goals are met. Without a level of accountability, McDonough warns, some employees may feel like their goals aren’t important and don’t provide real value to the organization. “When goals are monitored with that partner, employees are more committed to the achievement of that goal.”
McDonough says that if quarterly goals are evaluated and refreshed every few months, the process of tracking progress toward larger annual goals will become smoother. Quarterly check-in conversations ensure that any lessons learned are documented and that the manager and employee are aligned on any changes moving forward.
5. Look back to refine future goals
One easily overlooked element of the goal-setting process is taking a moment to reflect on historical goals that have already been achieved over the past year.
“Part of the goal-setting process is looking back on your progress toward your goals to determine what was achieved and what still needs work,” says McDonough. “This retrospection also helps employers know which targets or initiatives were realistic and which might have been too ambitious.”
And this isn’t just something to be done at the organizational level. “Having this data in hand enables both leaders and employees to set more realistic goals moving forward,” McDonough adds.
The best is yet to come
Of course, looking back on previous successes can provide a powerful spur to keep moving forward. Revisiting our wins, both individually and as an organization, helps create a culture where measurable progress is both expected and celebrated.
As we say goodbye to 2022 and welcome whatever is to come in 2023, take the time to reflect on how far you and your organization have come over the past year—while also considering how you could have gone farther. That’s the kind of insight that can help you set better, more realistic goals for you and your team in 2023.
And if you can do that well, the sky’s the limit for where you can go.