How to Handle Different Goal-Setting Systems


At my last job, I was directly managing seven people, each of which committed to and progressed toward goals in different ways. Even if I wanted to, it would be difficult to force everyone to set the goals using the same goal-setting system (OKR, V2MOMs, SMART, etc). The intent of these goals is to help them grow in their careers in a way that aligned with the mission of our business. It was critical to work with each person to identify goals that were important to them, that they would commit to, and would complete by an agreed-upon time.

Actions taken

Everything starts with genuine understanding. To have someone commit to a particular goal-setting system, a manager needs to understand why that system would work best for someone. I would work with each individual person to find the goal-setting system that works best for them. As a manager, I am responsible for helping them find the right system that aligns with their career path and organizational goals, ensuring that they will deliver on their commitments and perform up to the expectations.

That can be a bit contentious because the business commonly has its own company-wide goal-setting system. As might be expected, the business wants to force every employee into it for the purpose of consistent tracking and reporting. However, I firmly believe that people deliver at their best when given a chance to choose the system that resonates with them. Accomplishing the goals is more important than aligning on the goal-setting system.

This might mean a little more work for their manager, to translate the goals and results from a system agreed upon with their report to the company’s system. At the end of the day, it is nothing but a list of things to be done, and the only real difference lies how you can get people to commit to, progress toward, and complete their goals. Choosing one system over the other is often a matter of convenience, and as managers, we have to be flexible in welcoming different systems.

The essence of every goal-setting system is not its outward form, but a means to a result. In my last job, one of my more rebellious reports hated the idea of conforming, or having someone else responsible for their destiny, but was very committed to GTD. So I conformed to them, and we both found success in them completing their goals. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I had someone who came prepared every meeting to proudly present the progress they made toward their goals that followed the company’s system to a T.

Lessons learned

  • When people join my team, I want to learn about their career paths and work with them to identify and commit to goals that align with both their path and the mission of the business. Every person is different, has their unique personality and habits, and we have to listen, learn and understand how they work and how they systematize their goals, and hold them accountable to completing these goals on their terms.
  • A quote by Simon Sinek, “A leader’s job is not to do the work for others, it’s to help others figure out how to do it themselves, to get things done, and to succeed beyond what they thought possible” serves as a great inspiration to this day. Helping people set their goals correctly and have them commit to the system that resonates best with them is one of our fundamental responsibilities as leaders.

Originally published on Plato