June 18.2018, 7.00am

Back of the net: 10 ways to set manageable goals for employees


That’s a word you’re going to be hearing a lot of – and loudly – this summer as the 2018 World Cup kicks off.

Football is just like corporate management – only magnified and accelerated.

ROI isn’t calmly measured by accountants each quarter. It’s scrutinised passionately over 90 minutes by millions of screaming fans.

That’s tough for managers but looking at how they perform in a World Cup crucible can provide useful ‘takeaways’ – from the crushing regularity of Germany’s wins to Iceland’s inspirational success story in just getting there.

In both football and HR management, goal setting is one of the most important items in our toolbox.

Get it right and your team will thrive, motivated and successful, with a string of achievements satisfyingly measured.

But get it wrong and motivation will drain away just like a team 7-1 down to Germany in a World Cup semi final (as hosts and favourites Brazil were last time around).

With a topical football theme, here are 10 ways to set manageable goals for your employees.


This old acronym on goal setting is tried and trusted. It says goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

Football is measurable through scores all along the way and we have plenty of metrics and analytics tools in management now to do likewise.

A World Cup appearance could hardly be more relevant to a footballer – so too should goals set for staff, either through reward, recognition or potential advancement.

Timeliness isn’t hard to achieve in football with a huge 90-minute clock ticking above their heads. But corporate teams need deadlines, or they will dawdle or over-elaborate.


The latest goal-setting acronym – CLEAR – is sometimes seen as more appropriate in a faster-moving and more “touchy-feely” business environments.

CLEAR  goals should be:

  • Collaborative: To encourage employees to work together.
  • Limited: In scope and duration to make them more attainable and measurable.
  • Emotional: To tap into the energy and passion of employees.
  • Appreciable: i.e. broken down into smaller goals that are more measurable and attainable.
  • Refinable: So that while objectives should be retained, they should also be capable of refinement as new issues arise.


If you can visualise something happening, you can make it happen. This applies to corporate as well as personal goal-setting, except that in the former it’s up to the project manager to inspire employees with a descriptive and vivid visualisation of not only how the goal can be achieved but why.

Align goals with the corporate mission…

Players understand that the football fate of their nation is at stake in the World Cup. Yet only 5 percent of employees clearly understand how their role in meeting goals fits in with company strategy. Staff need to know how meeting goals helps fulfil wider corporate objectives – so lay it out for them.

…And personal development

Aligning company and personal goals is a powerful motivator. Footballers share in the glory of team success. Yet personal goals of staff are often neglected. Ask employees if they have personal ambitions and work them into goal setting.

“If I account for the interests of the whole person, not just the work person, I’m going to get more value from them,” says Stewart D. Friedman, Practice Professor of Management at the Wharton School.

Teams work

According to a Yale analysis, Germany’s perennial World Cup success could become “a case study for the difference sound management can make in hypercompetitive settings.”

It is attributed to “a commitment to common goals and shared values.”

One way to achieve this is to consult employees in setting their goals so they are part of the process. But don’t let them make goals on their own. And again, make sure they understand how their goals are aligned with company strategy.

Set goals within goals

Review and manage progress in goal achievement on a weekly basis, even for top performers.

Set milestones – goals within goals. Ask employees how they intend to achieve their goals then break them down into specific tasks and interim objectives. Linda Hill, Professor at the Harvard Business School suggests that you “help your people understand who they are dependent on to achieve those goals.” Then problem solve with them on how to best influence those people to get the job done.

Whether goals are achieved or not, assess the process, recognise achievements and review failure.

Avoid overload

Defensive Iceland didn’t need many goals to win matches. Goal-setting doesn’t need to be too prolific either. Set no more than five or six meaningful goals, enough to stretch employees but not overload them.

Also make sure your team has enough skills and resources to do the job. Iceland is a spiky frozen outcrop of basalt with hardly any grass.

In 2000, the first indoor football facility was developed. Now there are seven. It also increased its population of top coaches from zero to over 800. Likewise corporate teams need sufficient resources and training to meet their goals if they are to be fired up about achieving them – and not disgruntled over being mismanaged.

Think long term too

Set long-term goals. Iceland’s soccer success involved 15 years of investment. The seeds of Germany’s World Cup victory in 2014 were planted 10 years earlier, after a disastrous (for them) showing in the Euros.

Long-term goals should blend seamlessly with short term ones into a coherent overall strategy.

Be consistent

While we should have some flexibility, goal setting also needs to be clear, committed and consistent. Changing goals midstream is a recipe for disaster, often feeding into a cycle of failure.

Leadership turnover can lead to goal-changing and confusion over how they are set and assessed. It has been blamed for some of the worst payroll implementation disasters in history, for example.

It’s often seen in football when teams start to lose and then sack several managers in succession, all with different visions of how the game should be played, confusing and demoralising players. It remains to be seen whether Spain’s sacking of its manager on the eve of the World Cup will be as disruptive as it appears. But Germany, Iceland, and other successful teams maintain managerial consistency.

So who is going to win the World Cup? Probably not tiny Iceland, who are over-achieving just to be there. Alas, and depressingly for other hopefuls, Germany, the most consistent team in World Cup history, are overwhelming favourites to win yet again for a record-equalling fifth time, according to the number-crunchers at UBS bank!

Football aside, do you know how to ensure your employees are the most engaged they can be? Download “Employee Experience: The Overlooked Competitive Advantage” to learn how lead, engage, motivate and retain your workforce in 2018.


Leigh GogginsBy Leigh Goggins

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