One of the essential characteristics that separates mediocre teams from those that surpass expectations is that the latter are full of people who are wholly committed to reaching the organization’s goals. As a leader, your ability to inspire your team plays a pivotal role in their level of goal commitment. The key to is to understand what motivates employees to care about their work on a personal level and to tailor messages and processes to appeal to those factors.
Here is how to set goals that inspire your teams to invest their whole selves into the work.
Communicate Plans to Increase Goal Commitment
If you want your team to produce outstanding work, they must be personally invested in achieving your goals rather than being motivated to complete projects because they have to. Studies show that when people have a firm goal commitment, they demonstrate increased:
- Persistence in achieving the goal
- Risk tolerance
- Openness to feedback
- Positive attitude
These benefits exist because they’re making a commitment to invest their whole selves into the work. To increase goal commitment, you must understand that, unless you work for a company that centers on an idealistic mission, most employees don’t care about the company’s success. If you want employees to care, you need to tailor goal benefits toward what's valuable to them.
For example, you may have a bright, junior-level employee who is eager for any opportunity to reach the next level in their career. If you tell them how your project will give them skills and experiences that will propel them forward, they’ll be much more committed than if you said them how the project would help the company reach its objectives.
Or, you may have a team of specialists who are passionate about their jobs but lack interest in the rest of the company. Incentivize them by providing them with abundant resources and autonomy, so they have the ability to work with minimal interference and make their project their own.
Goals should always be set based on organizational objectives, however, when you share your goals with employees, personalize the messaging so they are motivated to adopt them.
Know Your Long-Term Goals But Don’t Emphasize Them
As a leader, much of your time is spent refining your organization’s long-term goals and preparing your team to achieve them. Though your team should be aware of your vision, don’t pressure them to focus on it. The problem with emphasizing long-term goals is that until they’re close to completion, they may feel insurmountable. Employees may become disengaged if they’re pressed to reach huge goals that they aren’t passionate about.
Let’s say you’re leading a sales team. If you constantly remind your team that they need to sell 3,000 units in the next eighteen months and in the past they’ve only sold 2,000 in that period, they’ll be overwhelmed. However, if you told your team how many additional units they need to sell each month, the goal sounds achievable and they’re much more likely to embrace the challenge.
Break your large goals into smaller weekly or monthly tasks depending on how long it takes to make significant progress. When you’re mapping out your milestones, start small and gradually increase their intensity.
Setting progressive milestones is critical for establishing goal commitment because how people feel when they initially start working has a significant impact on their motivation moving forward. Giving your employees small wins builds their confidence and provides time for them to learn any knowledge and skills they need to reach challenging goals later on.
Optimize Milestones for Maximum Dopamine
Dopamine is one of our body’s primary feel-good hormones. If you help your employees increase their levels of it, they’ll be:
- Less tired
- More engaged
- More motivated
And generally more equipped to succeed and pleasant to be around. There are two primary ways to optimize your project milestones to release dopamine:
- Celebrate milestone completion. A large quantity of dopamine is released when we feel like we’ve won. When you debrief with your team, congratulate them by acknowledging specific contributions each member made. The recognition will trigger a reward response in your team’s brains, so they’re excited for the next milestone.
- Emphasize each milestone’s uniqueness. Another dopamine trigger is novelty. Our brains love learning about and creating new things that potentially have a positive impact on our lives. When you remind employees that they’re reaching a goal that no one else in the company has achieved before, you get their brains to light up at the prospect of being the first ones to accomplish something.
By taking actions to harness your team's natural reward/pleasure systems, you can make the process of working on challenging projects much more exciting.
Mitigate Failures by Being Your Employees’ Coach
Failures are inevitable when you are challenging your employees to accomplish feats that few people in your company have done before. While it may be frustrating to have to push back deadlines, to keep your employees motivated, you cannot get upset with them when they fail despite investing the appropriate effort.
Failure can be incredibly demoralizing to high performers whose self-worth often takes a hit. Some people internalize their failures and use it as motivation to excel, however, if the objectives feel insurmountable, other will withdraw from the project or the company.
To avoid the latter, you need to approach failures like a supportive coach. In a non-accusatory way discuss step-by-step what went wrong and what needs to be done to prevent it from happening again. Throughout the discussion, be empathetic toward your employee’s concerns and tell them you still believe they will succeed.
Encouraging your employees is vital. An American Psychological Association survey found that having a supportive manager is one of the top contributors to employee satisfaction and engagement. By supporting your team through failures, you give them the morale they need to recommit to their goals and be successful.
By taking this personalized and empathetic approach to goal setting, you can lead your team to accomplish challenging organizational objectives and enjoy the journey there.
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About the Author: Emily formerly led Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.