The Importance of Shared Goals in the Workplace

Creating common ground through shared goals is not easy at work. We understand this, with our experiences of working with a variety of clients over the years. It's especially true today as the workforce is reshaped in many ways, with some changes starting long before COVID-19 and others triggered by the pandemic. But any experienced negotiator will tell you that overcoming differences and achieving success begins with finding common ground, and that's one of the essential functions of an organization's common goals.

These shared goals inform your team about the organization's journey, both where it's going and how it plans to get to the destination. Your managers are the leaders who ensure every employee understands the meaning of their work and effort within the context of the shared goals. This is how you create a "we" workplace. 

Recognizing Change as a Shared Goal 

Your leaders face enormous challenges today but are still expected to create a "we" workplace in which a diverse group of employees and a reshaping workforce define reality. Some employees now work remotely all or part of the time. Job responsibilities are frequently changing as technology becomes even more deeply embedded in operations. Rapidly retiring baby boomers are being replaced with millennials and Gen Z, who have different ideas about work and the role of employers. Diverse employees bring new life experiences and perspectives to their jobs.

Strengthen Employee Engagement by Managing Change

Add in the fact that your leaders are expected to strengthen employee engagement during tumultuous times, and clearly, there must be new ways of connecting with employees. During a ProjectHR podcast, Brian Kropp, Group Vice President and Chief of HR Research at Gartner, discussed that COVID-19 accelerated workplace changes are not expected to happen until 2025. Organizational leaders must evolve quickly to the new normal lead into the future. Your leaders, he says, must develop more emotional intelligence and interact with employees in a human and understanding way. This is important to creating common ground based on shared goals because your employees must trust leadership, and trust is built on transparency, authenticity, and positive employee relations

You can successfully manage change as a top-tier shared goal because you need your employees to consistently help the organization adapt and transform to remain successful. Finding common ground first requires leaders who are skilled communicators and are trusted. As Chris Craddock, President at Projections, discussed, employees, are more likely to be motivated and successful when they trust their leaders. 

individual vs shared goals

Individual Goals vs. Shared Goals 

Individual SMARTER goals are important to organizational success, but they are actually a component of shared goals. You want employees working towards meeting their personal goals within the context of the organization's goals. This alludes to keeping employee effort in alignment with the organization's goals to drive long-term competitive success.

These goals are the collective aspirations of employees that promote a sense of shared destiny with others. They define the shared purpose of a company based on the values and mission, giving employees a guide as they pursue individual goals and complete daily job responsibilities. For example, the product development team has a SMARTER goal of developing a new product feature by the end of the year. The work is completed with the knowledge that product enhancements must meet the company's mission of enhancing consumer well-being through quality products. The final product was developed in a way that meets a shared goal. 

Shared goals are critical to managing and operating through change. They are developed at the organizational level and within departments, functions, and teams. Once the workforce embraces and understands your company's mission and values and the organizational-level goals, your leaders can develop shared goals at a sub-level. It's a cascading process. 

Developing Cascading Goals 

Developing the organization's shared goals is not easy. There are basically three levels of shared goals.

Mission

The mission is the ultimate organizational purpose that drives everything the business does. For example, Patagonia's mission is to "Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis." 

Strategic Goals

The SMARTER strategic goals are derived from the mission and offer a value proposition for the business to move the business towards the mission. An example is, "Reduce the company's carbon footprint by 5 percent within three years."

Tactical Goals (Team and Individual)

The SMARTER tactical shared goals drive specific outcomes of individuals or teams. The shared goal for the R&D team could be, "Increase the recyclability of existing products X and Y by the of the year." Individual team members would have specific goals established that helps the company meet shared strategic goals and supports the mission.  

At this point, when the cascading shared goals are in place, everyone in your organization is in alignment and working on common ground. It's tempting to establish shared goals in a bit of a vacuum. By this is meant, as an example, one department sets shared goals based on a personal understanding of the company's mission and doesn't collaborate with any other department. The goals are shared within the department, but what if the understanding is faulty and the department's shared goals are not helping the company stay on track as a whole? The "we" is only in the department, and that's not the intent.  

Best Practices for "We" Goals Setting 

It's easier to develop shared, "we" goals by adhering to some best practices.  

  • The mission statement is communicated to all employees – remote and on location - and kept visible in various ways, i.e., company website, employee apps, hung on walls, periodically sent via the enterprise digital communication system, etc. 
  • Remote and on-location employees actively and purposefully contribute to developing the goals at the organizational level because goal setting is a collaborative process. 
  • Shared goals at the department and individual follow the SMART model, which ensures the goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound 
  • Common, "we" goals at the department and individual level are made SMARTER by adding evaluation and readjust. 
  • Collaborate with employees to guide strategic goal development at the department, function, and team level to help employees see how their work contributes to organizational success. 
  • Leaders establish priorities in terms of the most important objectives but allow employees to use their creativity and autonomy to meet the goals. 
  • Complete regular check-ins with employees by using various tools, like pulse surveys, requesting and giving feedback, holding employee meetings, etc.  
  • Leaders establish milestones to measure and assess progress, working with employees to identify problems that came up, unexpected challenges to overcome, change issues that lead to new or revised goals, etc. 
shared goal setting

People are driven by goals with a clear definition and an overarching purpose that fulfills the mission. Employees working with a common or shared purpose, supported by shared goals, work as "we." Accounting understands its goals are different from marketing's goals, but both departments understand their shared goals are propelling the business forward by helping the company meet its mission. Another important concept to keep in mind is that some departments are co-dependent, like marketing and sales, and so share some common goals.  

Employees working with a common or shared purpose, supported by shared goals, work as "we." This idea helps different team members work together to propel a business forward. #sharedgoals #workplacegoals #goalsetting

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Shared Purpose Executed Through Shared Goals   

The importance of a shared purpose can't be overestimated. A PwC survey of 540 employees across industries and companies and found that employees struggle to feel connected to their company's purpose. You can set shared goals, but without an understanding of the purpose of the goals, employees still won't be motivated and engaged. The survey found: 

  • 28 percent reported feeling fully connected to a shared purpose 
  • 39 percent could clearly see the value they create 
  • 22 percent said their jobs allow them to fully leverage personal strengths 
  • 34 percent believed they contribute to company success 
  • 46 percent felt somewhat passionate about their jobs 
  • 44 percent were somewhat motivated 

The survey also found that employees considered shared purpose to be twice as important as traditional motivators like compensation. There is a huge lost opportunity to improve employee engagement and productivity in many organizations by making shared goals an element in the employee experience.  

A survey of 540 employees found that employees considered shared purpose to be twice as important as traditional motivators like compensation! #sharedgoals #commongoals #workplace #goalsetting

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The shared goals are critical to executing on the shared purpose. For example, Lego's shared purpose is "the development of children's creativity through play and learning." Implementing that purpose would lead to goals that include designing blocks that can be assembled in various ways and developing initiatives that engage customers in new ways. The goals help employees understand why they come to work. 

Keeping Goals Aligned 

Keeping shared goals in alignment at the organizational, team, and individual level is important. Just as necessary is mid-manager leadership training on things like the purpose of the organization's goals and communicating progress towards companywide goals, supervisor training can address leading groups of employees pursuing department-level goals. Your employees depend on their managers and supervisors to support their efforts to be successful.

Projections, along with our partners at A Better Leader, have decades worth of expertise in developing customized employee training courses and digital communication processes and can help any organization engage employees in the shared purpose and shared goals. The quality of your communication with employees will determine the level of employee engagement. 

About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is Projections’ CEO and the founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.