How AI Can Help Your Managers Set Better Objectives and Goals

It is critical for teams to set effective goals for significant progress to be attained


Garrett Mintz , Thu 18 January 2024
Goal setting is a critical element to any successful team. If businesses fail to create an environment for team members and leaders to set goals, then they are firefighting.

Firefighting is the concept of having employees tactically react to emergencies that come up in the business as opposed to strategically creating long-term solutions for those challenges. Firefighting is exhausting, mentally draining, and leads to burnout for employees. Firefighting is also highly inefficient. 

As opposed to strategically coming up with a process to handle common issues as they arise, firefighting is asking individual employees to create unique processes for handling the same issues. This means that the company is not leveraging the knowledge and experience from multiple employees that have already solved that issue. Instead, they are leaving an effective, easy solution on the backburner as challenges arise since nobody can find the time needed to implement it. 

In most work environments firefighting is inevitable, but it shouldn’t be your team’s primary focus. Employees should be either following a proven process to solve that challenge, or they should be experimenting and tweaking potential solutions to create a proven process.

One of the best ways to combat a culture of firefighting is with goal-setting. Goal-setting is the practice of reflecting on the challenges one has faced over a certain period of time, ideating on what process or solution can be implemented so then that challenge is less painful or frustrating to handle in the future and then work on testing the best way to go about achieving that desired result. 

Most business owners and executives may read this and think to themselves “Let’s start having our employees set goals” or “We have an HR system that allows us to set goals and we encourage our employees to set them”. 

These comments miss an important fact: most employees suck at setting goals. And to be fair, that’s not their fault! Good goal setting takes practice, and many people let that skill atrophy if they ever learned it at all. 

They have never been taught proper goal-setting techniques like setting goals that are specific, measurable, relevant, attainable, and time-bound. And even if they have learned about SMART goals, they probably haven’t practiced this skill enough to turn it into a habit. 

And even if a couple people on the team are good at setting goals, you still need company support to ensure that goal setting stays as a high priority. If nobody at the company is holding those that struggle at setting goals accountable for setting good goals, those that are good at setting goals have little incentive to continue setting goals because those that struggle to set goals are not being held accountable.

This is even more critical at the managerial level.

If managers aren’t setting goals or are setting poor goals, this lack of skill in this area permeates to their entire team. This ripple effect causes the employees of a manager that doesn’t set goals or sets poor goals to have a culture of firefighting – because if businesses aren’t strategically thinking about how to build processes to handle the challenges that comes up, then they will be reactive to whatever challenges they encounter.

The other challenge in goal-setting for managers is isolation.

Even if a manager knows how to set goals effectively and consistently sets them, they still need to understand their company’s objectives to set great goals. If they are isolated, they will set goals based on unclear or out-of-date objectives that were determined internally from the past. 

To clarify the difference between objectives and the typical goals set by direct reports. Objectives are top-down, publicly shared and ambitious goals that are strived for over a long period of time. They are set by company leaders to shape the company’s next months or years. Once a company has set an objective, teams will set goals that help achieve that objective. These goals are the steps in the process that determine a company’s ability to achieve the objective. 

It’s important to note that objectives are typically broad and non-specific (e.g., optimize operational efficiency and scalability). So, for an objective like optimize operational efficiency and scalability, team members might measure its success with goals like reduce software deployment time by 30%, or enhance server infrastructure to accommodate a 20% growth in user base without performance degradation. At the end of a successful push, team members and leaders will know whether the objective was met because the achieved goals all contributed to optimizing operational efficiency and scalability. 

An easy way to understand this concept is by following the format recommended by this article; a company will achieve an objective  as measured by several key results. Check out a few examples below to see what this looks like. Also note that an objective is typically supported by 3-5 goals.  

Objective: Drive Business Growth through Market Expansion.
1) Enter at least two new target markets, increasing the customer base by 20% in those regions.
2) Achieve a 15% increase in annual recurring revenue (ARR) through upselling and cross-selling to existing customers.

Objective: Drive Business Growth through Market Expansion.
1) Enter at least two new target markets, increasing the customer base by 20% in those regions.
2) Achieve a 15% increase in annual recurring revenue (ARR) through upselling and cross-selling to existing customers.

Because the world (and thus the company) is constantly changing and evolving, if managers don’t have any concept as to what innovations are coming within their departments, they run the risk of their goals getting stale and outdated.

Companies can combat this by having their manager join executive mastermind groups where they are exposed to leaders outside of their company and can learn from their experiences.

Or

Companies can leverage AI to help their managers not only set effective goals, but set goals based on the goals set by other managers of similar teams in similar industries are setting. Through artificial intelligence, managers can glean suggested objectives and goals based on what other leaders of similar teams in similar industries are doing. 

How?

AIM Insights has an AI integration that can identify the industry, title, and department of a manager and provide suggested objectives and goals to that manager based on what other leaders in similar roles are doing. AIM Insights also helps managers from across the company see what goals other team members and managers are setting so they can get a better understanding as to what other departments and managers are focused on.

Why is this important? 

If companies have managers struggling to identify what is the most important thing that they should be focused on (this typically occurs after prolonged periods of firefighting), having suggestions based on AI can help managers quickly realign and get ideas. When used in conjunction with an executive coach and knowing the goals of other managers in other departments at the company (that are also using an executive coach), managers can combine cutting-edge technology with an experienced professional to get the best of both worlds.

When managers and teams have extended periods of firefighting, doing any work that is strategic can be really hard to pick back up. Employees can become so jaded by strategic work like goal-setting that they sometimes end up weighing the cost of time spent goal-setting as a sacrifice to their ability to put out a certain number of fires. This zero-sum thinking is devastating for a company’s long-term health.

“I can’t believe I just spent 15 minutes goal setting! I could have spent that time checking 5 emails or handling a customer issue.”

If employees develop this mindset around goal-setting, it creates a toxic environment and a culture that is too incentivized to put out fires without considering ways to preemptively stop the fires from ever starting. 

There is a story about the early days of Amazon. Jeff Bezos was on the floor with some of his employees packing boxes and shipping them out. Bezos said to his employees “we should get knee pads.” Another employee chimed in “No, we should get packing tables.”

When employees and managers don’t take the time to regularly set goals, they are blinded by what they can do to put out their immediate pain (knee pads help alleviate pain from an uncomfortable position) instead of focusing on an innovative solution that can eradicate the challenge altogether with a side-benefit of increased productivity (getting packing tables).

AI suggestions for goal setting and objective setting can be a great way to quickly get employees thinking about what they can focus on to handle their issues. 

Keep in mind, these are suggestions, not mandates. AI can be a great starting point for assisting in goal setting, but it is the human receiving the AI suggestions that needs to approve those goals and subsequently act on achieving them.




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