I was working for an organization that was attempting to go through a re-branding to become more relevant to their customers. They had hired an outside consulting firm to come in and help walk them through the branding process.
After talking with several of the employees, it became clear to the consultants that the employees didn’t all have the same view about the two and three year goals of the organization. To help get a better understanding, they scheduled a meeting with the CEO to ask him what his goals were.
Several of the employees were pretty excited about finally understanding the direction that the organization would be headed and counted down the days until the consultants would meet with the CEO. When the consultants came out of the meeting they were asked about the goals for the organization. They responded:
“We asked, but you aren’t going to like the answer.”
Evidently the CEO told the consultants that he didn’t like making goals clear for the employees. His reasoning was that if the organization missed goals he had set, people would be disappointed. He felt that would hurt his leadership more than keeping people in the dark about where the organization was headed.
This isn’t as uncommon as it sounds. Many people in leadership don’t set goals for the very same reason, but they aren’t self-aware enough to understand why. This CEO was able to articulate his reason for not setting clear goals, which was a step better than most leaders, but it revealed a misunderstanding about how to motivate people.
Most individuals would rather play a game where they understand the goals of the game and come in second, than play a game where they don’t know what they are trying to accomplish and come in first.
When I was a kid, I was playing with a demo video game in a store. Another youngster came up, took the other control and we started playing a wrestling game together. I pushed buttons as fast as possible in order to try to win. After the first round he leaned over to his friend and commented, “This guy is really good!” referring to my skill at the game. I turned and asked, “Which player am I?”
I was winning, but I didn’t understand the game. I didn’t even know what player I was. This was much less satisfying than other games where I understood the rules—even when I lost horribly.
People want to be challenged. This doesn’t mean you should set goals that no one can reach, but don’t be afraid of setting and communicating your goals to the people you lead. This is your job as a leader—to show people where you are going and how you are going to measure your progress. If you don’t give people these goals, it is hard for them to really get satisfaction from their job.