Could Your Goal-Setting Be Smarter?

I bet I wasn’t the only one who watched the recent Olympics, then immediately set about revising my list of goals. But where should I even begin planning to become the oldest-ever skateboard medallist?

“SMART” I hear you shout!

I love a clever acronym as much as the next person. And SMART is certainly a memorable one – you would be hard-pushed nowadays to find an adult who can’t reel off what has become the universal goal-setting chant (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound, for those who don’t remember much from school).

But should we as cutting-edge leaders and managers still be blindly using this one-size-fits-all technique and encouraging our teams to do the same? For the answer to this question, we must look to the smartest. In the case of goals, this is two academics called Locke & Latham, who formally set out their goal-setting theory in 1990.

Locke & Latham recently revisited their theory in a paper called The Development of Goal Setting Theory: A Half Century Retrospective. Okay, it might not be the simplest thing you read today, but the effort will be worth it if you want to give yourself an edge on the competition in this critical area.

Performance v Learning Goals

One of the main ways effective goal-setting is more sophisticated than SMART suggests, is understanding that there is a difference between setting ‘performance’ and ‘learning’ goals. Each of these types of goal should be set only in appropriate contexts.

Specifically, factors like knowledge, ability, commitment, and perceptions of task complexity should be assessed before identifying which of these types of goal to set.

Leadership and Management Training - Impellus

A damaging consequence of setting a performance goal where a learning goal would be more appropriate is that the goal can lead to stress, anxiety, pressure, unethical behaviour and perceptions of failure. If this is the case, motivation could drop dramatically, even though great progress in terms of knowledge and self-improvement may have been achieved.

So maybe you should think about setting your new salesperson the learning goal of successfully being able to handle a commonly encountered objection, before even thinking about setting them the performance goal of hitting the £150k per month target that your most experienced salesperson achieves.

There are, of course, several factors involved in determining whether you achieve your goals. Fortunately, there is another fantastic model that has been developed for this – keep an eye out for a future blog article on this. For now, I’m off to ask my skateboarder niece what an Ollie is…

Impellus is a UK-wide provider of management, leadership and core commercial skills training. See our relevant courses:

Managing & Appraising Performance

Managing Performance & Efficiency

Myth: The return on investment in training cannot be measured

Reality: It depends on how you choose to view and measure it …


The challenges around calculating the ultimate benefit of management training – return on investment – are nothing new but are likely to be coming into sharper focus over the next few years as organisations face the challenges of improving productivity and the economic challenges of Brexit.

A recent report¹ suggests that 72% of CEO’s believe the next three years will be more critical for their industry than the last 50 years and that over 50% report significant skills gaps in key business functions.

Yet it’s not uncommon to hear that business leaders find it difficult to know where to start when measuring the returns to be had from management training.

However those who can set clear and simple objectives and evidence measures can generate and measure excellent returns on investment. These can have long term positive financial impact.

So here’s an Impellus guide to calculating the return on investment of your management and leadership training.


How to assess the value of management training

Business leaders and HR directors can assess the financial impact, value and benefits of  management training from qualitative evidence (this can be gathered by simply walking around the workplace) as well as other metrics accessible from quantitative records.


Here’s where to look to discover how the return on your management training investment is manifesting itself:


1.      Managers

Some behaviours which should be more prominently displayed by managers who have undergone leadership skills training:

  • Flexibility and agility when change management strategies are introduced within the organisation
  • Confidence to take the business and their team forward
  • Eagerness to apply new skills in the workplace to achieve targets
  • Strong relationships and empathy with their line reports and the passion for their teams to deliver on KPI’s
  • Readiness to conduct performance appraisals and set individual’s objectives in line with the organisation’s mission, values and goals
  • Enthusiasm for their line reports to undertake personal development training and willingness to introduce succession planning
  • Understanding of conflict situations that may occur within their teams and assertion to quickly resolve any that may arise
  • Readiness when it comes to new organisational/inter-departmental challenges
  • It could be argued that all managers should display these behaviours but few will consistently without formal training.


2.      Teamwork

Team members headed up by a manager who has been trained in leadership skills should be more likely to show a willingness to develop themselves or display improved working initiative.  Observation of these teams often reveals:

  • A harmonious and/or fun working atmosphere
  • High employee satisfaction scores in the annual employee/pulse survey
  • Excellent communication skills between one another and with other colleagues throughout the organisation
  • An increase in efficiency and productivity ratings compared with those prior to training
  • Higher than the organisation’s average customer satisfaction ratings, if they are a client facing team
  • Eagerness to get involved and support in organisational challenges, CSR/charitable fundraising, etc.


3.      HR

In the HR department, the effectiveness of training can be measured in statistical forms, as follows:

  • Absenteeism among engaged, ‘trained’ teams is most likely to be less than among those that are not motivated by their manager
  • Employee retention rates rise where training and personal development is experienced by staff, so this should be visible in the relevant teams
  • Succession planning and internal promotion is an attractive motivator to those who develop their skills and knowledge – the advancement of ‘trained’ employees should be easy to track compared to their colleagues who have not been given the same training opportunities
  • Over time the two metrics above (increased employee retention and internal promotion) will be reflected in a drop in the resource and cost involved in recruitment – a significant saving for the organisation.


There’s a huge opportunity for organisations to unleash the power of their people and deliver the financial benefits that come with that. There will be many signs as to the effectiveness of the investment in training; business leaders just need to look for them behaviourally and qualitatively before understanding the impact on the balance sheet.

¹ Unlocking Potential by, 2016-2017 Learning Benchmark Report – over 600 participants provided detailed information for this study.

10 top tips to improve your staff appraisals

Do you love doing appraisals?

If not, it may be because you find them a little awkward and uncomfortable.  Not knowing what the employee is likely to say can lead you to be nervous of what issues might come up.  You may also be aware that you have to deliver news that the employee won’t be happy with and you will be worried about their reaction.

My first rule of appraisals is to separate them from pay discussions.  Read more

Ethical behaviour comes from the top

We have all come across many examples of good, honest, hard-working people frustrated in their organisations by those in authority who do not work with the best interests of the business in mind.  I came across one recently where a senior manager was convinced that the MD (who was in charge of two sites) was happy to let the one he was involved in collapse because it was in difficulties.  While the MD, of course, would still have his position at the other site, many others would be out of a job if it failed.  His apparent lack of interest in the business’ long-term future was undermining the work of all the other staff who were trying their best to make it into a success. Read more

I’m right and he’s wrong!

The original source of every argument lies in the certain knowledge that I’m right and he’s wrong.  ‘Of course I’m right, I can prove it.  And what’s more, there’s logic behind my point of view.’

Been there? Of course we all have.

The really annoying thing is though that the other person is thinking exactly the same thing.  Read more

4 things to do in the quiet of August

If you are holding the fort while others are away on holiday in August it can be frustrating that everyone you contact is away, decisions can’t be made and everything seems to slow down.  But just as in the natural pause around Christmas time, it is as well to embrace the quiet period that happens in August.

So what can a business leader do to make best use of this time?  Rather than turning into a ball of frustration, why not take time out, break your own habits and do something different?  Here’s some suggestions: Read more

Leaders – The things you shouldn’t know…

Dear leader.  Please remember that you don’t know everything about the way your business is run.  The knowledge lies with the company as a whole.

So when you discuss issues with your senior team you should not be telling them what to do, because in their area of expertise they should be the expert – not you.

Take for example a situation I saw recently where a company had a sudden and urgent need to change a software platform.  Read more

6 steps to a great plan

It is remarkably common for businesses to organise an event or plan a process and find at the last minute that a major factor has been forgotten or missed in the planning process.  We all recognise that moment when people stand and stare, and think “oh how did we miss that!”.  Thorough planning involves more than a quick 5-minute meeting and a “let’s get on with it” rallying cry.  And yet when you are sitting in a room making decisions it is easy to miss those finer points unless you have a process to follow which will flush them out.

So how can you avoid this scenario? Read more

Doing what you’re told

Do your staff do what they’re told at work?

My daughter does what she’s told.  She’s very good.  I ask her to clear up her books and she does it.  I ask her to wash up her dirty pan and she does that too.

But here’s the rub – if I don’t ask her, it doesn’t get done.

A good employee is one who does what they’re told.  A great employee is one who sees what’s coming and does what’s needed before you’ve even thought about it.

At that point you know they are thinking for themselves.

Bent out of shape

A tree branch bent too far will break.  It has some flexibility, but when pushed beyond that it will damage irreparably.

Our British view of democracy and governance has been bent increasingly out of shape by the constant drive for closer union in the EU and its unwieldy bureaucracy.

The Conservative party has been bent out of shape by the strong differences of opinions about the EU.

Whatever your view about Brexit, Read more