Now, I don’t mean you can be unrealistic while setting goals (for yourself or your team). You shouldn’t, however, be fixated on the “reality of the situation” that you don’t even bother to stretch. And that’s precisely what I see most leaders, managers and team members do when times are tough or the company’s focus goes a little ‘conservative.’
I believe setting goals should be more evaluative than it usually is. We seem to be in love with SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound) goals and while I don’t see anything wrong with it, the framework (IMHO) binds one to be ‘realistic.’ I think that prevents people to stretch a little. And worse, it doesn’t allow them to get creative with their thinking.
Of course, there are stretch goals. But who decides them? The management, right? For the team, that’s a great goal to have. For individuals, however, managers have to get a little bolder and let them set their own goals. What’s the risk? They are aware of the bigger goals and how their contribution makes an impact, aren’t they?
If not, that’s an opportunity for you (the leader/manager/coordinator/whatever-fancy-title-you’re holding) to create awareness and help them see the importance of their contribution and how it affects the overarching goals. Once you’re through with that, give them enough space to craft bolder goals for themselves and help them carve out an action plan (without feeding some of your own ideas) that will help them achieve their goals.
If you’re a manager, believe me, this is what ‘developing your people’ feels like. A massive time investment, an equal amount of patience and trust that your team members would do just great if you let them. This is your biggest responsibility.
And if you’ve read so far, you probably know this is way too unconventional for your leadership/management to approve of it. That’s fine. Try it out with your top performers first. If you can elevate their performance, you can definitely transform the rest of them.
The worst that you can do is thrust your team with another set of SMART goals that they don’t believe in.