This column is authored by Tech Entrepreneur & OKR Expert, Henrik-Jan Van Der Pol
Behind every great success, there are goals. Unfortunately, setting goals isn’t something most people are naturally good at. Getting good at goal setting requires training. In the beginning, you’ll make mistakes that prevent you from tapping your full potential. But after eliminating these mistakes and re-thinking the way you set goals, you’ll exceed your own and everyone else’s expectations.
When it comes to successful goal setting, there’s a lot we can learn from companies like Intel or Google. They were pioneers in using the goal-setting framework OKR (Objectives & Key Results) to increase transparency, engagement, and alignment across their companies. To make it really simple: an Objective is your destination, and Key Results are numbers that tell you if you’re getting there.
Based on OKR theory and insights I got from helping hundreds of companies of all types and sizes achieving their goals more effectively, I’ve collected six common goal setting mistakes everyone should avoid:
Resetting goals too frequently
Being fast and agile on an operational level is a must if you need to adapt to changes in a fast-moving environment. However, being able to commit to a specific range of goals for a longer period is a crucial skill for successful people. If you constantly feel the need to change your existing goals, you’re not thinking strategically enough. Taking a long view when setting your Objectives and Key Results will make frequent changes needless. Most companies set goals on an annual as well as on a quarterly basis.
Relying on your gut feeling
Intuition is useful but overrated. What could work for an individual running a business on his own stops working when you have other people around. How should you, and especially others, be able to see the impact of your efforts if your Objectives are not measurable? Always keep in mind that it’s not about ticking items on your checklist but about moving the needle. That’s why you should have specific Key Results that tell you whether you’re getting closer to your Objective or not.
Thinking too small
We all love performing like rock stars and scoring a 10 out of 10. A very common mistake is setting your goals in a way that getting to this stage becomes way too easy. Instead, what Google does to evaluate the success of OKRs is classifying the progress of 60-70% as the “sweet spot” for impressive results. Goals should always make you feel a bit uncomfortable. This is how you unlock creative thinking and achieve outstanding results.
Keeping goals private
The fact that you’re in charge of achieving your goals doesn’t mean that you’re the only one who should be aware of them. Company-wide goal transparency leads to higher employee engagement and better collaboration because everyone knows where your company is heading. Imagine you and your team would have to win a rowing race blindfolded. Although every one of you knows the sequences of movement needed to row, your team will be unable to align their efforts and win the race. Making goals transparent is like taking off the blindfold.
Having too many goals
Deciding what not to do is way more complicated than deciding what to do. The ability to make tough decisions is what separates successful people from people running after their own goals. When setting your goals for the next quarter, limit yourself to 3-4 Objectives. Each week, you should try to focus on working on only one Objective that gets your full attention. I like illustrating this with an ancient Chinese proverb: “If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.”
Ignoring the context
No matter how good you are at what you do: your personal efforts will be useless unless they are aligned with other employees’ goals, and most importantly: the company’s top priorities. This sounds pretty basic, but if you would ask the average (talented) employee in a company, the majority wouldn’t even know their company’s top priorities. Setting goals that contribute to higher levels of the organization is what brings you closer to fulfilling your company’s ultimate goal.