Business in Cartoons

Using Individual Goals in Times of Crisis

individual goals

September 11, 2001, represented a crisis. The global financial meltdown of 2008 was a crisis. However, as we write this book mid-2020, we’re experiencing perhaps the greatest economic shock/crisis ever unleashed on the world: the global COVID-19 pandemic. The spread of the novel coronavirus has forced many millions to shelter in place and perform their jobs from home, as workplaces around the world shut their doors. This mass migration of workers from offices back to their homes brings with it many challenges: balancing work and pressing family demands, avoiding the temptation to work constantly even if just for the sake of distraction, and missing the social element provided by our “normal” work environments, to name just a few. We believe individual level employee goals are crucial in times of great crisis such as COVID-19 or whatever we may face in the future. Outlined below are our reasons for suggesting this.

  1. Individual goals provide a link back to purpose and strategy
    When we’re isolated from our normal working environment, it’s easy to quickly lose perspective on what’s strategically important to the overall organization. Lacking the regular cadence of team meetings on priorities and spontaneous hallway chats with coworkers on business issues, we may adopt tunnel vision on simple tasks and lose sight of what matters most. Assigning individual goals provides a mechanism for managers to ensure the strategy and purpose link is maintained as workers are unmoored from their normal circumstances. Before assigning the task to an individual employee of creating a goal, a manager must first outline the business’s current priorities, and it’s likely these have changed dramatically in light of a crisis. This conversation ensures there is understanding at the team member level of what is at stake and how their personal contribution is necessary to help the entire organization work through its present challenges.
  2. Emotional support is provided
    In times of crisis, we want to know that our leaders, both political and organizational, have our back and are in our corner. Setting goals offers a forum for leaders to provide the emotional support many employees are craving. We recommend that managers check in with their employees once a week on the individual’s goals. That may place an administrative burden on the manager in the short term, but the benefits far outweigh the bureaucratic cost. During these check-ins, leaders have the opportunity to go well beyond an evaluation of their charge’s goals, and can provide much-needed support. Employees working from home may feel confused and isolated, and these conversations can allay some of those issues as managers share their own concerns, stories, and coping mechanisms. Empathy can be a powerful tool in a time of crisis.
  3. Goals ensure focus is maintained
    When disconnected from our office routines, it can be difficult to determine what we should be working on in order to continue creating value for the organization. Answering emails, hanging out on company slack channels, and keeping up to date on social media can easily fill the day, but in the end, is that the best use of our time? By asking individuals to create goals, you’re challenging them to determine, even in times of relative chaos, the most strategic actions they can take. If you’re a manager, and assuming you’ve followed the advice already provided, you’ll also use the opportunity to lend much need emotional support to team members and provide detailed updates on the company’s priorities.

The jury remains out, and likely will for some time, on whether individual-level goals are right for every organization. However, times of crisis represent uncharted territory and we need all the help we can get navigating an unfamiliar and unsettling landscape. Individual goals can help bring a welcome and comforting source of the “normal” in what is decidedly an abnormal time.

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