Goal Setting hero illustration

The magic of goal setting: A simple framework for managers and teams

Main illustration: Kelly Carpenter

How can you make sure, on a Monday, you’re doing the right things all week long – not just as an individual, but as a manager, across your team and organization? How do you help your team focus and make meaningful progress, so that at the end of the week, you go home knowing you spent energy on the most important work?

Finding the answers to these questions and putting them into practice is critical to scaling your impact as a manager and individual. This is true especially now, while we’re all still navigating through a rapidly changing world, and maintaining focus at work can be incredibly challenging.

At the individual level, the impact of goal setting is positive but limited, but put into practice team-wide, good habits ensure companies avoid seeing talented teams chase work rather than drive outcomes.

Focus on the right work across teams

We all know that as an individual, it’s easy to procrastinate the hard, important work and focus on those tasks that give a dopamine hit instead. As a manager, it’s even harder to support outcome-focused work on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. Fundamentally, it’s tough to course-correct how other people prioritize their time before it’s too late. Organizationally, work divided across individuals and teams is hard to drive; the goal – the contribution to the business and customer experience – all too easily gets lost in the shuffle.

“There’s a shockingly simple method we use at Intercom to ship fast, quality product”

Fear not. There’s a shockingly simple method we use at Intercom to ship fast, quality product. No fancy tools or training required. You only need to allocate five minutes on Monday and five minutes on Friday. You already have everything you need to create a team habit that will increase your output, alignment, and satisfaction.

First, take five minutes on Monday

Open up Google Docs and create a doc for each functional team (this works especially well for Product, Design, and User Research. We typically track engineering goals in slightly more purpose-built tools.) You’ll need the names of your team members and three columns, “Goal”, “Hit?”, and “Comments” by week. Our template looks like this:

Have each team member add their goals for the week — regardless of reporting structure or time zone (this includes you!). Try to get them in by noon. This creates immediate transparency and accountability. Imagine, every PM can see what every other PM is trying to achieve that week at a glance, should they choose to scan the goals of the broader team. We create distinct docs for each functional team and even one for leadership teams. That’s right, all the directors in our product organization and our SVP share goals weekly via this doc. This ensures we build great habits around weekly results.

Give feedback and manage through your team’s goals

We care a lot about the difference between a task and a goal. “Interview three people” is a bad goal. You already have it on your calendar and it will likely happen no matter what. A good goal should be something you have to push to make happen. You’ll likely need to carve out time to make it a reality. For example, “Make a new PM ladder and get feedback from directors” or “Deliver an inspiring, clear message on our strategy and the evolution of our teams at All Hands” might fit the bill. We’ve written more about setting effective goals here.

“These five minutes set your team up to do the right work all week long”

Set aside time on Mondays to review your team’s goals. The time you spend reviewing your team’s goals and giving feedback on relative priority, what is missing, or how something is framed is incredibly high leverage – these five minutes set your team up to do the right work all week long. If reports don’t hear from you about their goals, they are implicitly approved.

Second, take five minutes on Friday

At the end of the week, everyone marks Y/N against their goals, sometimes adding comments as to why the goal was missed or linking to supporting documentation. Looking back, this makes it easier to remember what everyone set out to do and whether they were able to achieve it.

Remember, this isn’t a “top three” to-do list – this is a list of the most important outcomes each person believes they can and should achieve by the end of the week. It’s intended to be simultaneously attainable and ambitious. Individuals are responsible for adjusting their calendars, setting up the right conversations, and doing “whatever it takes” to hit their goals. This empowers you and your team to make your week conform to your will by explicitly allocating time to goals.

Impact through transparent team goal setting

Sometimes you have to see it to believe it. Take a look at this illustrative, scrubbed list of goals. Every team member can see their manager’s goals for the week, too!

The power of this framework is in its simplicity – that is what makes it easy for everyone to adopt into their weekly rhythm and creates natural transparency and accountability. Good team habits, after all, are the foundation of strategic, high-impact work, and determine the long-term success of every organization.

Avoid the task trap. Help your team step off the hamster wheel and focus their energy on what really matters.

Do you want to do high-impact work every week? We’re hiring, and we’d love to hear from you.

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