Setting Goals For Your Team

Setting effective goals

Have you ever explained a task to someone, and they seem happy with your instructions, only to find that later, they’ve done completely the wrong thing? Or they’ve come close, but the end result is still not what you really wanted? Responsibility lies on both sides here. When you explained what needs doing, were you clear? Did you provide enough detail, but not too much? Is the goal one they are capable of achieving? And the other party – did they really understand what you were talking about, or just go for the ‘nodding dog’ approach? Pretend to agree now, worry about it later? Did they ask questions to really get their head round it, or did they feel they couldn’t?

Clearly we need to improve the situation, which is where the SMART goals acronym comes in handy:


Clear and understandable information, not vague or open to misinterpretation. You know what a good result looks like, but have you successfully conveyed it to them? Check for their agreement and understanding, and make it ok for them to ask questions if there’s anything they’re not sure about. Nodding dogs, begone!


Perhaps the most important letter in the acronym! SART goals are no use to anyone. Any goal or objective has to contain a measurable element, otherwise how will you know when you have achieved it? You could carry on regardless, working on a goal you have already achieved, but you don’t know that! The measurable part of the goal provides an indicator of how we are doing – it makes progress and success quantifiable. Some tasks are more measurable than others, e.g. in a sales team you will have monthly sales targets expressed in numbers – sell this much equipment, or make this much money – and at the end of the month, look at the figures on the sales spreadsheet. They will tell you if you have achieved your goal or not. With some goals, the measure is you either achieved it or not before the deadline. Make it measurable!


Sounds obvious, but make sure the goal is one they can achieve! Ideally, the goal will be a stretching one – stretch them but don’t stress them! The goal is neither impossible nor too easy. They can do it, but they have to think and use their initiative. If the individual feels that the goal being set is not achievable, please encourage them to say so!


The goal being set should be relevant to their role, making them better at their job by enhancing their confidence and skillset. You could also go for realistic (although if the goal is achievable, this has already been taken care of) or recorded – if the goal is part of the performance management process, then it should be written down for future reference.


You could also go for timed, timely or time-driven – it’s all about the deadline! Some people are given SMART objectives, in which case they should push back and ask for an appropriate deadline, otherwise the job will never get done.


We all need goals, otherwise we would never achieve anything. The SMART acronym gives us a useful model to work from – the 5 criteria for an effective goal or objective. When explaining what needs to be done, be as specific as you can. Make sure there’s a measurable element, and that the goal is achievable and relevant to their role. Add a suitable deadline to the equation and they’re ready to work SMARTer, not harder!

Different interpretations of the SMART goal framework has resulted in it losing its effectiveness or being misunderstood. Some people believe that SMART doesn’t work well for long-term goals because it lacks flexibility, while others suggest that it might stifle creativity. For more information on the potential weaknesses of the SMART goal framework, this article on Locke’s Goal-Setting Theory is a good read.

Leadership Styles – One Size Does Not Fit All!

Flex your approach

We all have preferred ways of working, and managers and leaders will have preferred ways of managing and leading. If you’re not sure about your preferred style of leadership, it’s usually the one which emerges when you’re under pressure! Not thinking first, just saying and doing, with mixed results! This is where a leader’s ability to be adaptable and flexible when faced with different situations becomes vital.

There are a range of leadership styles at your disposal, and only one Golden Rule: It depends!


The above model is a sliding scale or continuum. It compares the amount of authority a manager might use in certain situations, with the level of freedom to contribute given to the team members. As we move from the left to the right, the manager’s use of their authority recedes, giving the team more freedom to join in and feel more involved in the situation.

Let’s consider the range of leadership styles this presents us with:


A very directive style; the manager’s use of authority is total. This is the one-way flow of instruction – the manager states what, how and when and the team complies. It’s that simple! Many managers are aware of this style but refuse to use it: ‘Oh no, it’s just not me! I could never be like that!’ Well, here’s the hard truth: sometimes, this needs to be you. Telling people what to do can be the best approach, e.g. when time is short, or there is an emergency or crisis and swift, decisive action is needed. Or, you’ve tried the other styles and nothing else has worked! New starters will be happy with this style, as they’re new to the role and need direction. It can be applied in a polite and respectful way, it’s not about shouting at someone, but it is the one-way flow of instruction, no doubt about that!


A similar style to telling, but the manager gives the team not just the what, how and when, but also the why, i.e. the reasons behind the task and the background are explained. This is better because the team now understands more, and can buy-in to the task: ‘Well, I didn’t know that, but now you’ve explained, ok, I’ll do it’. Don’t just tell it, sell it!


‘Hello team, there are a number of jobs that need doing. I do have a few provisional ideas regarding how I’d like them to be completed, but I’d also like to know what you think. What you tell me may or may not change my original thinking, and ultimately I’ll still be making the final decision re-task completion, but I’d still like to know what you think.’


‘Hello team, there are a number of jobs that need doing and I don’t really have any thoughts re how we’re going to tackle them. Tell you what, let’s decide together.’ A very democratic leadership style!


‘Hello team, here’s a list of jobs which need doing today. Let me know when they’re done. Thanks!’ This style works best with more experienced team members.



Any one of the above styles could be the correct approach in a particular situation. It’s all about your ability to take a step back and then decide on the best style to use to achieve the best result. With some people you’ll be telling, with others you’ll be selling, and with some you’ll be empowering. As long as you’ve thought about it first, there’s never a wrong answer!