Moving The Goal Posts by Debbie Mitchell, h2h Lead Consultant

There has long been a school of thought that says if you don’t write it down it doesn’t get done –  this is one of the key arguments FOR objective or goal setting – whether corporate or personal. It is also the reason why many of us have spent much of our careers involved in strategy cascade, line of sight, goal setting and SMART events and workshops, helping line managers to set and manage relevant and challenging objectives for their team members.

Deliberate and considered goal setting really does help to focus the mind, efforts and resources of our team members. A study[1] found that 50% of companies who review their goals each month are in the top quartile of financial performance, whereas only 24% of companies where goals are reviewed once a year are in that top bracket.

However, we have experienced a few changes over recent years that shift the context of objective setting:

Constant change

Change is happening in our business all the time. Technology, process, people, service – it’s all changing at great pace. And given that speed of change, its highly likely that the objectives we set at the start of the year are barely relevant by the end of it.


Technology means that we can always be available, always accessing information, and frequently looking for or giving feedback.

Gone global

Technology has enabled our world to shrink. We can now connect easily with colleagues and stakeholders anywhere in the world instantly.

Appraisals are dead

The annual appraisal is becoming a thing of the past, and so that once a year opportunity to set objectives, a mid-year meeting to review them and a year-end review to measure them are drifting away.

Are the goal posts moving?

We believe they are – and that there are some changes needed to traditional objective setting processes in order to maintain engagement and deliver high levels of performance. We need to accommodate these changes in the working environment and context to ensure our approaches to goal setting are fit for purpose and deliver real business and individual benefit. Alongside that, we need to consider personal needs and preferences – focussing on strengths and connecting to purpose will help us to meet some of those needs.

What should we do differently?

  1. Go Bottom Up!

The traditional strategy cascade – from top to bottom – limits the opportunity for team members to really engage in the purpose, targets, priorities etc of the organisation. Instead, leaders should ensure that the vision and strategy, goals and values are clear, well communicated and translated for everyone. This allows every individual to define their own goals, engage in the bigger picture and align UP the organisation, rather than direct it downwards.

  1. Be Dynamic!

Setting objectives once a year is an out-dated approach. Organisations need to be able to adapt, reprioritise, refocus, delete and create goals on a continuous basis. Keep goals relevant, remove what no longer matters and re-energise those that do.

  1. Focus on Short-term!

Rather than setting a large number of annual objectives at the start of each year, set a few key ‘near-term’ SMART goals for a much shorter period. Near-term goals are achieved more quickly which improves employee motivation and builds engagement.

  1. Strengths-based!

A Gallup study[i] revealed that people who are able to use their unique talents and gifts are more satisfied, productive, and engaged. Understanding individual strengths, and utilising these in goals could enable better individual and collective performance and higher levels of engagement.

Building capability

People managers need to be able to understand, interpret and translate the business direction for others and delegate activities to others to contribute to its achievement. They need to appreciate how to motivate and engage their people through the setting of challenging, interesting and purposeful goals, and they need to be able to confidently and constructively provide coaching and feedback, enabling successful delivery and evaluation.

At h2h, we pride ourselves on delivering leadership programmes that enable leaders to meet the changing needs of our workforce and work environment. Our programmes incorporate the development of goal setting skills for today’s world of work, supported by strong coaching and interpersonal skills.



About the author

Debbie Mitchell is an organizational development consultant specializing in employee engagement, coaching, talent management, change and HR support. She is the author of 50 Tops Tools for Employee Engagement and 50 Top Tools for Employee Wellbeing, both published by Kogan Page. She works with businesses both locally and internationally that include consumer electronics, FMCGs, pharmaceuticals as well as those in the transportation, insurance, not for profit and education sectors. Prior to this, Debbie held in-house HR and OD roles and has experience of HR roles in retail, public sector and manufacturing.