If goals don’t challenge, push or stretch your people in any way, if they just have to show up to get it done, it sends a message that you don’t think they’re capable of taking on difficult tasks. This kills employee confidence to try bigger, more challenging things. Difficult goals, however, send a message that says, “I believe in you. I trust in you. I know this is hard, but I know you’re the right person for this job.”
HARD Goals research has found that only 15% of people believed that their goals for this year were going to help them achieve great things and only 13% thought their goals would help them maximize their full potential. The research also shows that the most psychologically motivating goals are those where there’s a roughly 50/50 chance of success.
Most goals are too easy. Smart goals, for instance, which boast of being both ‘achievable’ and ‘realistic,’ will never hit that 50/50 mark. When success is a foregone conclusion, goals are not all that motivating, and they don’t send a message of confidence.
Less common, but equally destructive, are too difficult goals. If someone has a project with a 5% chance of success, for example, and sometimes this is done under the heading of creating stretch targets, not only will motivation be low, but the foregone conclusion of failure will tear away at people’s confidence.
Ask yourself what kinds of goals you’re giving your people.
Test goal difficulty by asking employees what new skills they’ll need to learn in order achieve a goal.
If they aren’t going to have to learn something new, trying upping the difficulty level of the goal by 30% to get closer to that 50/50 sweet spot. Also ask your people if they think they can easily achieve a goal. If they say they know they can do it, try making the goal 20% harder.
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