The Power of One Minute Goal Setting

Bernard Van Berg / EyeEm/Getty Images

You learned it in Leadership 101: goal setting is the most powerful motivational tool in a leader’s toolkit. But is your goal setting up-to-date?

In the past, top-down leadership was a way of life, so the leader always set the goals. Today leadership is more of a partnership than a superior-subordinate relationship—and effective goal setting is a collaborative process.

When leaders set goals without involving the employee, people feel left out of the process.

As a result, leaders don't get the passion and buy-in they need. Occasionally, employee resentment sets in.

In some organizations goal setting is left to the employees. While this hands-off approach may be comfortable to employees, it can lead to people working on projects that aren’t aligned with the organization’s overall goals, or that focus primarily on the employee’s existing skills. As a result, both the organization and the employee fail to grow.

To achieve the best results and greatest satisfaction, leaders and direct reports need to work together to set goals that are aligned with the organization’s objectives and offer the right amount of challenge for the employee.

In The New One Minute Manager, Spencer Johnson and I teach people how they can achieve results and satisfaction with today’s One Minute Goal Setting.

Collaborate. Instead of setting goals for your direct reports, listen to their input and work side-by-side with them to develop clear, specific goals.

Make sure both of you understand what the direct report’s responsibilities are and what they will be held accountable for. In many organizations when you ask people what they do and then ask their boss, you often get two different answers. This leads to the unfortunate situation of people getting in trouble for not doing something they didn’t even know was their job!

Limit. Don’t set too many goals. People with too many goals can lose track of what’s important and spend time on the goals that are easiest to accomplish, whether or not they are of the highest priority. Keep the 80/20 rule in mind: 80% of your really important results will come from 20% of your goals. So set goals on only that 20%—that is, the key areas of responsibility—maybe three to five goals.

Write it down. After you and your direct report agree on the most important goals, have the direct report write down each goal—what needs to be done and by what due date—in no more than a paragraph or two, so the goal can be read and reviewed in about a minute.

One benefit of having concise, well-defined goals is that follow-up conversations can focus on specific tasks instead of the person. This helps you avoid de-motivating conversations where you’re giving feedback such as, “You're not performing well.” Instead, you can point to the fact that a specific goal is not being accomplished. Together, you and your direct report can talk about what you both can do to move the project forward.

Review.  Have your direct report look at the goals daily to stay focused on what’s important. Remind them to take a minute every now and then to look at what they’re doing and see if it matches their goals.

If they are spending time on activities unrelated to the goals, encourage them to adjust what they’re doing and refocus on the goals. Check back with your direct report at regular intervals to see how the goals are coming along—and praise their progress!

Working together on goals has the added benefit of improving the relationship between you and your direct report. People become more passionate and engaged when they feel you’re invested in their success. Don’t be surprised if you become more passionate and engaged as well!

One Minute Goals work well when you:

  1. Plan the goals together and describe them briefly and clearly. Show people what good performance looks like.
  2. Have people write out each of their goals, with due dates, on a single page.
  3. Ask them to review their most important goals each day, which takes only a few minutes to do.
  1. Encourage people to take a minute to look at what they’re doing, and see if their behavior matches their goals.
  2. If it doesn’t, encourage them to re-think what they’re doing so they can realize their goals.

Ken Blanchard, PhD is one of the most influential leadership experts in the world. He has co-authored 60 books, including Raving Fans and Gung Ho! (with Sheldon Bowles). His groundbreaking works have been translated into over 40 languages and their combined sales total more than 21 million copies. In 2005 he was inducted into Amazon’s Hall of Fame as one of the top 25 bestselling authors of all time. The recipient of numerous leadership awards and honors, he is cofounder with his wife, Margie, of The Ken Blanchard Companies®, a leading international training and consulting firm.