August 22 2019

3 Principles For Setting Realistic Goals For Your Team

The idea of setting goals and delegating complex activities at the push of an excel button may not sound too far-fetched for large enterprise – but even CEOs of the largest multinational organisations would dismiss this as an unrealistic ideal: ultimately, the complex and subjective nature of many ‘white-collar’ activities makes the process of setting project targets a qualitative process.

Photo credit :  US-Women-GettyImages-1160858454

This requires a manager to move beyond rigid spreadsheets and performance metrics – and instead develop a ‘real-time’ behavioural intuition that makes setting goals in this environment near-second-nature.

However, as we explore leadership methodologies from across both the sport and business domain, there are three principles or ‘mindsets’ that enable high-performance managers to take control of the goal-setting process – and in some cases turn the role of project goals completely on its head.

Angela Ahrendts: 'The last five years have been the most stimulating, challenging and fulfilling of my career' © Bloomberg


For the majority of successful managers, improving the process of assigning project targets begins with ‘upgrading’ the model of how goals are perceived in the first place – and how this understanding impacts the success of the final result.

It can be easy to forget that the idea of setting a ‘milestone’ or project target – as with any human construct – is not truly reflective of the mechanics that define failure and success: the football manager may motivate a team with the hypothetical target of winning the end-of-season championship, but any result remains the aggregation of hundreds of training increments and improvements combined together; and although a marketing manager may set an end-of-year revenue target to keep a fresh team motivated, organisations still recognise that this can only ever be the by-product of the processes and habits controlled at a day-to-day level (Karl, 2016).

Ultimately, one-time events understood under the binary criteria of ‘success and failure’ might be what makes the headline – but real-life executers such as Andrew Murray know that a commitment to the process is what deserves the pat on the back.



Re-evaluating the role of tasks and targets may be a healthy starting-point for managers and high-performance athletes when beginning a project or training programme – but this mindset should also kick in to bring order when an existing goal is falling apart.

In the case of former CEO of Microsoft Steve Ballmer, carrying early-stage teams using a conventional ‘IMB-style’ approach to hiring and team management had reached its glass ceiling: just as the industry was entering a new era technologically with personal computing, the original process that had worked for past industry when setting goals and targets had reached its limit – the modern 1990s corporation needed something unique.


Latham’s Goal-setting theory, 2006


Ultimately, this shift in culture would turn inward and lead to a ‘re-wiring’ of management behaviour that favoured lateral communication and an emergent process of goal-setting that could adapt quickly for this new pace: launching a radically-new technology meant that iteration and modification would be inevitable – but the process of corporate culture driving each of these decisions would remain the common denominator that management could control.

Moreover, in observing models of behaviour developed shortly following the early 2000s, management behaviour and ‘corporate culture’ cease being considered as a ‘complement’ to the process of goal setting – but actually the underlying process from which all goals within an organisation should be directed: this suggests that the behavioural interactions of communicated vision, tenacity and self-efficacy between manager and employee should not be separate – but intertwined (Latham, 2006).



The recent example of ‘lean in’ set by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg may be the best demonstration of corporate leadership in the past decade: with the tech sector long-struggling to combat gender discrimination, this top-down example may have been the ‘push’ needed to trigger social attitudes throughout the sector at large.

But this example of a practical and relatable demonstration of how a complex and endemic issue can manifest through all levels of an organisation may have deeper implications: the ‘rejuvenation of ideas’ that allows a company to innovate may not be confined to the spontaneous brainstorming session – but may also require a direct example from the top for the real ‘ripple effect’ of change to kick in.

This suspicion that true ‘behavioural re-wiring’ actually requires an in-person influence is supported by recent studies inhabit creation and human behaviour: Humans are intrinsically wired to emulate role models in a leadership position, and although organisations may have been designed theoretically to automate the learning of procedures and technical knowledge; changes to the deeper cultural attitudes still require in-person demonstration – and that cannot be delegated: this suggests that the in-person behavioural influence of leadership remains the most effective method of embedding a behaviour that is recognised to make the creation of goals more productive (Beale, 2018).


In this week’s article, we explored several principles used by high-performance leaders for setting goals for team members that are realistic and attainable. If you are a manager in either the business or sports domain, consider applying the following principles when next assigning goals to your current team:

  1. Think of goals as guides for process – not the absolute end result: The beginning of mastering the process of assigning goals is to understand the real ‘behind the scenes’ role of conceptualised goals within a project: although you should keep goals and targets as an overall ‘motivator’ for your team, remember that they can only ever be the by-product of a successfully (and consistently) followed process measured over the long-term.

  2. Your ‘culture DNA’ is the ultimate process to fall back on: Building on this shift in focus to process as opposed to an ideological end result, assigning accurate goals also means refining the most impactful process of them all: the management behaviour and corporate culture you have trained your team members to navigate.

Take a true ‘top-down view’ and ensure that cultural values are aligned to your project success criteria. For example: are team members socialised to disregard competitors, or instead encouraged to take a collaborative and positive view that remains open to insights that could benefit the organisation?