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How to Set (and Actually Achieve) Quarterly Goals

Kristen Craft on September 24, 2018 · 3 minute read

At this time of year, so many teams find themselves knee-deep in quarterly goal work. Executives consider past performance and refine their targets for next quarter. Team leads evaluate how company-wide goals translate to the work their individual teams do. Managers think about how to best help their reports reach granular targets.

Too often, these considerations happen behind closed doors and are only shared belatedly. Even worse, some teams never truly understand how leadership sets and thinks about quarterly goals. For anyone in leadership, one of the most important parts of the job is communicating quarterly goals effectively. If people understand where they need to get to and why, they’ll feel better able to do so.

Why You Need to Beat the Drum on Quarterly Goals

If you don’t feel like a broken record, you’re not saying it enough. Brendan Schwartz, CTO and co-founder of Wistia, once noted that reiterating company goals was one of his most important jobs. People need to hear information multiple times for it to really sink in. Even then, a reminder never hurts, since it underscores the way your team handles the process. Besides, what about the people who were on vacation or out of office when you first outlined your goals?

Ideally, you should document goals in a place everyone can access. Yes, spend time on them in person, so people feel motivated and aligned, but remember that most people are visual learners. Cater to this learning style by communicating goals verbally and in writing.

Bottom line is that you need to be intentional about how you communicate quarterly goals. They’re the north star that your whole team uses to inform where they spend their time. Make it as easy as possible for people to use these goals to chart their course.

How to Help People Internalize Goals

If you give people the right info about your goals, it’ll be easier for your team to work towards them effectively. This means giving them the actual goals, but it also means giving them context around how you got there. Furthermore, it means clarifying how you measure progress and how you respond when people fall short of goals.

Help everyone on your team understand the process. Clarify why you set certain milestones and not others. Consider sharing other approaches you considered and why you rejected them. If people understand how you arrived at certain goals, they’ll feel more invested in striving to reach them.

Make sure everyone can cite the milestone you want to hit. Ideally, your goals are succinct enough that people can recall them easily. The clearer they are, the better. For us, we focus on “Team Activation” –  the point at which a team has created four pages in Tettra. We’ve found that this is the tipping point at which teams succeed with documentation. It’s a clear, simple metric we can all rally around.

Also verify that you’re able to measure progress. How will you know if you’ve achieved your goals? Do you have the proper tools and instrumentation to gauge success? At Tettra, we have a dashboard that we see every single day in the office, and this is the biggest single item on the dashboard.

In addition to communicating upcoming goals, spend time revisiting past goals. This means celebrating wins but also being open about failures. Quarterly goal retrospectives accomplish two things. First, they demonstrate that people will be held accountable for their progress towards goals. Second, “owning” your failures makes it clear that trying things and failing is ok. If you’re not failing sometimes, you’re probably not aiming high enough or taking creative risks.

What to Do to Reach Your Goals

Make sure your team has the support they need to hit your goals. First off, it’s table stakes that you document them somewhere. Break quarterly goals into monthly chunks, and document those somewhere easily accessible. These monthly goals should roll up into quarterly goals in a logical way. Make sure the team feels that they know the action steps to reach the goals.

Give people as much contextual information as possible, and also make it easy for them to ask for what they need. Let people ask questions about how you got there. Ideally, document the questions and answers. If one person doesn’t understand, chances are high that other people don’t either.

Ultimately, goals are only as valuable as your ability to communicate them. They’re only worthwhile if people feel they can take action on them. Make it easy for people to access and internalize them.