Leadership: Setting intelligent goals

A post by:     Thomas Sampers
Executive Board Member
Last updated: 2024-02-21

As a manager, one of your daily tasks is to set goals for teams and employees. As obvious as this may sound, it is often the realisation of this part of leadership that is lacking. As a member of the Management Board, I have made it my mission to further strengthen the leadership culture at RENOLIT. This article is an impulse for intelligent goal setting.

Why I write about goal setting

I usually really appreciate the direct, unvarnished feedback from our employees on the online platforms for employer reviews. Especially because RENOLIT is regularly above the industry average. 

However, a critical comment recently made me think: "Instructions are issued without talking to people about what advantages and disadvantages they would have - and then perhaps they are improved. Everyone would then benefit more." 

Communication with superiors could be improved, according to the sober summary of further assessments of the platform.  I would like to take this as an opportunity to address the topic within RENOLIT. This article is part of it.

Leadership is changing

Leadership in the world of work has changed incredibly in recent decades. The time of the basta bosses is thankfully over, hierarchies are being questioned more and more.  

People today are used to communicating at eye level and questioning things. It is not only Generation Z that is paying more and more attention to the deeper meaning of work (I recommend reading my fellow board member Karsten Jänicke's article on Generation Z). 

All of this is also increasingly reflected in the way managers delegate tasks and set targets. Employees are so much more than just robots that carry out instructions.

Intelligent goal setting is the essence of successful leadership

The quality of goal setting is therefore an essential part of the success of leadership today. With intelligent goals, managers not only create orientation, but also increase commitment to both the formulated goals and the company. They help people to focus on the essentials. This makes them an important element for growth - both personally and for the company.

The most important basics of smart goals

When it comes to the phrase "intelligent goals", many people will have thought of the familiar SMART goals. However, I would like to go far beyond these in my basic principles and also include the context of goals in particular. In my opinion, this is often neglected in the usual formulation of smart goals. These are my most important principles:

1. Give meaning to goals

Employees must be able to understand the context in which goals are placed as well as possible. Why are these goals being formulated? What purpose do they serve? Why is this work so important? Incidentally, I make no distinction here between hierarchical levels. It is important to me that the significance of objectives is clear from the machine operator to the management level.

2. Clearly formulate requirements

A classic mistake when setting goals is formulating requirements that are too vague and imprecise. Goals must be crystal clear. This is where many of the SMART goal categories come into play: goals must be specific, measurable and clearly timed. Put simply, it must be clear exactly how the goal is to be achieved. The more precisely and concretely this is formulated, the better.

3. Create transparency about framework conditions

It is not only the overarching significance of goals that is important, but also the immediate environment in which they are to be developed. Under what conditions do we work? For example, are there external time constraints that put us under pressure or financial bottlenecks? What are other teams from similar areas working on and how does their work relate to ours? These are just examples - every goal has different framework conditions. If we as managers create as much transparency as possible, we gain the support of our employees.

4. Continuously request feedback

Yes, this is about asking for feedback, not giving feedback. We managers would much rather evaluate others than be evaluated ourselves. However, I think it's incredibly important to motivate our employees to keep giving us feedback on the goals we've set. Only if we know how our team assesses the objectives, whether they see contradictions, errors or unrealistic targets, can we take countermeasures and thus ensure the success of the entire team. Employees should have the courage to speak up and make it clear when something is going wrong and they need help. This should not be seen as a weakness, but as a strength. However, this also means that we as managers must empower our employees and not be tempted to micromanage. Today, many companies still too often have a management culture that does not see this as a matter of course. That has to change.

5. Enable independent implementation

Setting goals does not mean prescribing their realisation one-to-one. We need to empower our employees and teams to realise them independently. This means two things: as managers, we must not control every small intermediate step and should trust our employees to manage these well and correctly themselves. At the same time, however, we must also demand that our employees take real responsibility for implementation.

6. Leave room for creativity

As clear and specific as goals should be, we must always leave plenty of room for creativity. We should enable our employees to boldly recognise and exploit opportunities to the left and right of the set goals. Only then teams are truly successful.

7. Show recognition and appreciation

In my own career, I have often had the experience of putting all my energy into a project and successfully realising goals - and my superiors at the time simply took it for granted. Motivating is different. For me, this is therefore the final and particularly important foundation: if employees do not receive recognition and appreciation from us managers for the work they have done, future projects will certainly not be nearly as successful.

Strengthen leadership culture

RENOLIT employs several thousand people worldwide. I can't say which of them were dissatisfied. But I am convinced that we are well on the way to developing from a rather conservative traditional company into a modern and innovative technology company. Also in terms of leadership. However, this also means constantly scrutinising ourselves, which I personally do time after time. The topic of goal setting and leadership is very important to me and I have made it my mission to drive this forward at RENOLIT.