Performance Myths: Do Goals Get Work Done?

Take goals to the next level for real results

The secret sauce to getting work done is focus on the work that matters most, give that work visibility to the people that can help you most, and keep it simple.

If goals aren't the answer, what is? The super simple secret sauce to getting work done.

In my last post, I talked about why goals were created – and more importantly, why goals aren't doing what we wish they would. Creating alignment, getting the right work done and measuring performance is tricky when we acknowledge that so much of our work is in the right now, is ever changing and even somewhat undefined. It's no wonder that goals, SMART or otherwise, aren't the be-all end-all to getting work done. This, of course, begs the big giant question, what is the secret sauce to productivity in the real world?

The secret sauce to getting work done is focus on the work that matters most, give that work visibility to the people that can help you most, and keep it simple. The intent of every HR tool ever created is spot on, but when the work planning method is so complicated you need a book to learn it, it's probably not going to be the long-term answer in today's increasingly fast and complicated world of work. The solve? A consistent framework to focus on near-term priorities with a strengths-based twist.

The term "priorities" is very intentional. It implies urgency and today, our world of work is all about urgency. You could call it fast moving but it's really about what's my next fire drill. While tasks tend to pile up, priorities get done, because they have to. Let's lean into that, the real world – and what actually gets done.

Of course, now that we identified the "what" it's equally important to discuss the "who." While individuals do work, most individuals don't do their work alone sitting in a bubble. There are others they need to work with and most importantly, others that need to support and guide their work. If we look at how work today is structured, the most important person to help get the right work completed are team leader(s).

The team leader's job is to help team members get more extraordinary work done. If team leaders are going to help team members do more of their own best work in the context of their jobs, there are 3 critical things they need to know. These 3 critical things are distilled from years of studying what the world's best leader do to achieve outstanding results – and ultimately serve in focusing conversations around near-term priorities mentioned above.

To effectively create a framework focused on strengths-based conversation about near-term future work, team leaders need to know, focus and engage their team members. This starts by being able to answers the following questions:

  1. Know: What an individual's unique best work is. What are their strengths? What is that work that they can do that no one else can do quite like them?
  2. Focus: What are their priorities right now? Work happens in sprints and changes frequently. This means priorities update frequently, at least once a week. And priorities aren't some made up list, they are the short list of the difference-making work that they actually need to get done now.
  3. Engage: What help do they need to get their priorities done? They are not asking for feedback; they are asking for real help, guidance and support. The person who's got the best shot at making sure they have what they need is their team leader.

When you put this simple approach together it looks like this: at least once a week, have team members pause to write down their priorities and what help they might need to accomplish those priorities. Share those priorities with their team leader, every week, and have a quick conversation about the most important work, right now. And do it through the lens of an individual's own unique best work. What you'll find, is that when you look at the world through the way work actually happens, you can get a lot done. But you can't try to neatly organize or package work. Work has to be accepted for how work happened.

The way to focus on priorities, on big chunks of work, on actual alignment requires doing the right think with the right people. These "rights" are summed up by uber frequent light touch conversations between team leaders and team members about near-term priorities through the lens of the team member's strengths. While "goals" try to do this, the simple, consistent agility of "check-ins" takes goals to the next level, so work gets aligned, the right work gets done and people move towards doing more of their best more of the time. Real-world, real work, real results.

To read more on the Myth of Goals:

The Myth of Goals: An Honest Observation of What We All Wish Was True