Fighting Lost Motivation with Goal Setting

Updated October 2022

Quiet quitting has been a buzzword and a source of much back and forth on social media. As you know from my latest book, Leadership Two Words at a Time, I am all about two-word phrases. But quiet quitting doesn’t actually explain the phenomenon that is happening in workplaces all over the country and in every industry. A better phrase might be lost motivation.

Workloads have doubled, inflation just continues to rise, and pay raises, if given at all, are not even coming close to bridging the gap. Employees are left wondering why they are working so hard in the first place. And following a period of geographical disconnect from organizations for many, they have lost sight not only of their goals but the goals of the organization. 

Most people perform better and are more motivated when they are heading toward a goal. Especially one that they have had a part in choosing. As such, if you’re a leader, it is essential perhaps now more than ever that your team members know how to set goals and create action-based plans to achieve them. No one is born knowing how to set goals. It’s a skill that you will need to impart and nurture as you work with them.

When structured mindfully, goals incorporate five specific characteristics that facilitate and ensure their successful execution.

5 Characteristics of Successful Goal Setting:

  • Clarity. Clear goals are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound (SMART). When a goal is clear and specific, the team member knows what needs to be done and what is expected.
  • Challenge. We are often motivated by achievement, so we’ll judge a goal by how difficult we perceive it to be. If it is too easy, we won’t give it as much attention and energy. However, if it demands us to stretch ourselves in order to achieve the recognition of a job well done, we are more likely to be motivated to excel.
  • Commitment. For goal setting to be effective, the goal needs to be agreed upon and understood. While this doesn’t mean you negotiate every goal with every team member, there is value in engaging the very people working towards the goal. The harder the goal, the more commitment is needed.
  • Task Complexity. For goals that are highly complex, we have to not only give people sufficient time to meet it, but actually provide the time to practice or learn skills that are necessary for success. The purpose of goal setting is successful achievement.  Be careful that the conditions around the goal support the success rather than stifle it.
  • Feedback. Incorporating feedback into the goal setting process allows for expectations to be clarified, difficulty to be adjusted, and recognition to be given. In particular, when a goal is long-term in nature, it’s important to set benchmarks that help employees gauge their success and see their achievement.

Choosing Objectives

Once your team member’s goals are defined, each goal should be “drilled down” with specific objectives and measures. Objectives can be thought of as the yardstick; measures can be thought of as the exact location on the yardstick of each goal area, and both short-term and long-term objectives and measures should be defined.

When determining objectives and measures it can be helpful to ask these questions.

  1. How will you know when this goal is achieved?
  2. What, exactly, will be different around when the goal is attained?

Without goals and the process of goal setting, anyone can feel adrift. They may be tuned in to your words of wisdom.  But they need the opportunity to directly apply the principles you’re teaching. As a leader, help your team create and implement goals. But goals alone won’t completely address the lost motivation that many are experiencing. Consistent conversations, in as little as 15 minutes, can help a small spark of motivation continue to burn. 

Think back to a significant achievement you accomplished at work. Was it the result of a goal or goals? How was your level of motivation impacted by the goal?

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