Why New Managers Must Excel at Setting Goals

by Jennifer Miller on March 21, 2016

in Communication, Leadership, Team Effectiveness

Goal-setting in the workplace is key to getting things done. Countless studies on human motivation and performance bear this out. Yet it’s a fact that’s often lost on first-time managers. And even if they understand the importance of setting goals for team members, new leaders miss the nuances of this important management skill.

I turned to two experts in the management development field—Ken and Scott Blanchard—to get their opinions on the importance of setting clear goals. Ken is the Chief Spiritual Officer of The Ken Blanchard Companies and author of over 60 business books, including the classic One Minute Manager. Scott is the Principal and Executive Vice President of Client Solutions for The Ken Blanchard Companies. Their company recently launched a program for first-time managers. Concepts from The One Minute Manager form the foundation of this new program. Here’s what they had to say about goal-setting.

Ken boils it right down to this:

All good performance starts with clear goals. If you want somebody to accomplish something, they better make sure that they know exactly what they are being asked to do.

And here’s Scott’s take:

There is so much research that talks about the criticality of effective goals. Goals should have two parts: what needs doing and why it matters.

Scott shares why the One Minute Manager’s “Secret #1”—goal-setting—is key:

What the One Minute Manager tells us is that you need to understand how to have a goal setting conversation. If you can’t do that as a manager, you are in trouble because clear agreements go to the foundation of success. Vague and implicit agreements that end with a lack of clarity—they always result in conflict and problems.

For those of you who’ve been around a while, you may know that the One Minute Manager was written in 1982. It was revised last year. Clearly, some things have changed over the years, but the concept of goal-setting is timeless.

Says Scott:

When the One Minute Manager was first written in the 1980’s, managers tended to direct the goal-setting. Now it’s much more of a conversation. Today’s workers want a dialog.

Ken agrees and adds:

In today’s workplace, people look at leadership as much more of a side-by-side relationship [with direct reports], rather than as a top-down business relationship.

When they move from an individual contributor into leading their former peers, new managers are often shocked. Goal-setting doesn’t always come naturally. In talking with newly promoted managers, Scott has found:

It’s like they [newly promoted managers] didn’t get the memo on what they were stepping into. They are saying, ‘I ask people to do stuff, and they don’t do it.’

If you are leader who leads new managers, don’t assume they “know the basics.” In fact, most people don’t learn this stuff in their non-managerial roles. According to this Blanchard infographic, nearly 50% of newly promoted supervisors receive no formal training. Don’t be part of that statistic. Even if your company doesn’t provide formal training on how to become a manager, you can still educate yourself. Here are three easy ways to learn how to set goals:

  1. Read up on goal-setting. Set aside 30 minutes twice a week to learn about the mechanics of setting goals. Start here for some great ideas.
  2. Ask leaders you admire in your company how they set goals.
  3. Think back to your favorite work team leader: how did he or she help you set goals?

Goal-setting is an important life skill for leading yourself—and others. Take a page from the Blanchards and learn how to encourage the best possible results for your team.



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