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Characteristics of good goal setting are these:

- Goals must be realistic and attainable. Don't shoot for the moon but instead for steady, incremental and continuous im-provement.- Goals should be public, and progress toward the goal likewise should be charted or graphed so all can see what progress is being made, or so others know where help is needed. We often smile at the frequency of use of the thermometer in the employee cafeteria reporting progress on United Way giving or blood drive participation, yet those same organizations seldom or never post progress toward goals or outcomes in offices and production areas.

- Goal attainment or significant steps toward the goal must be recognized with appropriate celebration. Timely, enthusiastic and sincere recognition is an important source of motivation. Waiting for the annual performance evaluation is no way to recognize goal achievements.

- Multiple goals should be established so that balance and choice can be maintained. At least three goals ought to be established for every player and/or team. A goal for offense (output, revenue, services delivered, accomplishment), defense (quality or cost, throughput) and team play (how effort contributes to rather than distracts from others' goals).

When setting team goals, is it better that everyone achieve exactly a 10 percent increase, or would it be better if one or two heroes achieve 15 percent while the rest are so far off the mark that the net increase, or average increase, is only 4.5 percent?

In most organizations, the commitment has already been made, and the two "winners" or "heroes" go off on the company paid vacation while all the "losers," including the organization and the many members who made it possible for the salesperson to achieve the goal, stay behind. Stupid, right. But incredibly common.

Or what about the supervisor who has agreed to a 10 percent increase or improvement and four of his or her 10 people achieve over 20 percent while the other six achieve 5 percent or less, but the average for the total group if 10.5 percent? Should that supervisor be rewarded even though 60 percent of his or her staff failed to make their individual goals?

I don't think so. Yet, in most systems, the supervisor, by accumulating the results of his or her subordinates, will have achieved his or her goals thanks to a couple of heroes. I don't think the supervisor has earned his or her reward until all members of the team are growing, all are achieving their goals and all can be treated as winners.

To win on the average is no indication of great coaching. But this too in unbelievably commonplace. (Those who understand the total quality methodology will understand this as the application of variation theory to the human environment.)

- Goal setting must include a plan for achieving the goal or for eliminating barriers. To simply set a "goal" and then assume the performer will work harder in order to achieve that level of performance is ridiculous. Such unrealistic approaches to goal setting are based on the false assumption that the performer could have achieved the desired level of performance already if she/he had wanted to, and all that is necessary is to prod the person to the higher level is a higher goal.

Our assumption is, and must be, that the individual is already doing the best she/he can. If the higher level of performance were simply a matter of effort, the goal would have been achieved already. It is up to the coach, when helping to determine a new goal, to also provide the support, the training, the tools, the elimination of barriers and waste effort, the system and the resources the individual or team will need to move to and sustain the higher performance level.

My son visited a fast-food restaurant recently and related this story.

He had trouble getting waited on because the crew was receiving a motivational pep talk in the back room. Once they did come to his aid, following a rousing clasped hand cheer led by the supervisor, they apologized for keeping him waiting. The woman taking the order had a hard time keeping it straight and finally wrote the order item by item on a piece of paper. All at once she began entering the list from her handwritten note as fast as she could into the machine. The crew sprang into action.

Before she could even make change, the food preparation people reached over their head to hit a level that obviously stopped a clock of some sort. The order was put on the counter and the crew yelled, "13 seconds - all right." Obviously the time of delivery was tied to the beginning entry in the register in some way, and "speed of filling orders" was the measure of the day.

The order had no less than three incorrect items. All of the items were thrown together like hash. Jon had been at the counter for nine minutes and it took four more minutes to correct the order. Although he was the only person at the counter when he entered, the line of customers now reached all the way out the door. Yet the crew was cheering for its success.

This is exactly the kind of goal setting Edward Deming worried about. He was also concerned about the use of "goals" which, in reality, are standards. When we hear "we need to do a million feet a day, or $100,000 per month or some artificial goal statement, we know that a ceiling has also been set.

Sandbagging, manipulation, lying and a variety of other not so pleasing behaviors occur regularly. Goal setting that generates action and activity, or that forces people to compete with each other, or that sets limits as well as targets, is always destructive.

We have built a simple six-step process that works for most everyone. When every person or function took time to answer, post and track progress on these item, performance improved dramatically.

1. What do I do? (Example: We deliver a product, or we serve customers.)

2. What is the best way to measure or keep score on how well I do what I do? (Example: On-time deliveries or percent of customers who return or mean time between sales or breakdowns or percent of repair comebacks.)

3. What is the current level of that measurement (the baseline)? (Example: 87 percent on-time or 65 percent of customers return or 18 hours between sales or 43 days between breakdown or 98 percent repaired with no comebacks.)

4. What is the goal? (Example: If we are now at 87 percent on-time, can we achieve 95 percent on-time or 75 percent return?)

5. How will I go about making that goal a reality? What gets in the way of our achieving that goal? What is the action plan? Goals without specific plans for achievement or to eliminate barriers to their accomplishment are meaningless. (Example: Implement a red tag system, or follow up each customer with a call.)

6. Monitor performances to see that, as the action plan is implemented, you are moving ever closer to the goal. Incremental continuous improvement is better than huge leaps in performance which cannot be sustained.

Goal setting is a powerful tool - and it will bring results for good or bad. It is not to be done lightly or carelessly. When you set goals, you are messing with people's lives and with the future of the organization. It is among the most important and serious tasks a leader undertakes and potentially the most valuable but should not be done without knowledge.

Ed Yager is a Park City-based consultant.