Set it and forget it: the typical approach to reviewing goals

At the risk of dating myself, back in the 1990s I remember Ron Popeil’s famous pitch for the Showtime Rotisserie. During his late-night informationals he told us that we could have a delicious rotisserie chicken if we just ‘set it and forget it’. Unfortunately, that is precisely how most teams treat their goals. Compounding the fact that 70% of organizations do not have an effective planning process, many teams never review their goals again. They ‘set it and forget it’.

Other teams think they have goal check-in meetings but they lack focus. Many people have experienced check-in meetings where people drone on (seemingly forever) with boring activity updates while everybody is checking texts or email. Perhaps you have also experienced the one hour meeting to review 20 goals, which becomes derailed on the second goal when two people go down a rabbit hole. I remember meetings where my team leader combed through our 75 ‘core metrics’, most of which had incorrect data or were irrelevant to achieving our goals. These meetings are completely missing the mark.

Focused goal reviews cultivate a high-performance culture. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that goal review meetings are just about reviewing goals. There are whole host of powerful benefits that are directly connected to conducting focused goal reviews:

  • People feel respected by being included
  • People are more likely to understand the context of their work and find it meaningful
  • People are more likely to say they have psychological safety
  • People believe they have the support and communication they need to perform
  • These meetings help you cultivate a culture of feedback and accountability
  • Your team is more likely to perform to expectations and be resilient

Focused goal reviews start with Complete Goals. When Complete Goals™ are in place,  you have identified your most important outcomes and established the supporting lines (commitments to action) that you need to have in place in order to achieve those outcomes. Firmly established supporting lines become the centerpiece of your goal reviews. There are two types of supporting lines:

  • Team or organizational supporting lines that should be reviewed together as a group in team goal reviews
  • Individual supporting lines identify a person’s most important work and should be reviewed in Tactical 1-on-1 meetings (these may also be team supporting lines)

Goal review meetings require – and cultivate – psychological safety. The role of goal review meetings is underappreciated. They make people feel important and support both resilience and psychological safety. That said, to be effective they also require psychological safety. People have to feel safe reporting that their supporting line is at risk. The best way to do this is to go through the process from a place of ‘how can we support people’ as opposed to holding people to task. There are four keys to an effective focused goal review meeting:

  • Prepare. Update the status of your supporting lines ahead of time (green is ‘on track’, amber is ‘moderate risk’, orange is ‘seriously at risk’ and red is ‘completely off track’)
  • Focus. Only focus on those which are ‘at risk’ or ‘off-track’. Do not discuss things that everybody agrees are ‘on track’. 
  • Identify actions. Goal reviews are meant to identify next steps and ensure you are comfortable that somebody is working to get things back on track.
  • Don’t go deep. Do not try to solve problems. If you need a follow-up conversation on a specific supporting line (or commitment), set up a separate meeting.

This might be the simplest technique in our entire framework. The key to success is the discipline to have the meetings consistently and stick to this agenda! If people are not prepared ahead of time the meeting is undermined. The minute you jump into solution mode the meeting gets off track. If done correctly, these meetings should be fast. As a CFO, I was able to lead our executive team through a review of all organizational goals in less than thirty minutes.

Put this into practice

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