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R is for Relevant

by John Courtney on September 6, 2017

calculator_mathematics_math_finance_calculate_technology_office_symbol-681897-1.jpg!dRemember Algebra homework? Or maybe your kid’s algebra homework?

When I think back to those days, there is one exasperated question that always comes to mind…

“But when am I ever going to use this stuff again?”

If you think for a moment about how you would answer that question from your teenage self or teenage child, you might just already understand the importance of the next component of SMART goals.

R is for Relevant, and it is the second “commitment modifier” we've talked about. Think of commitment modifiers this way…

You start a new project and you’re totally gung ho, then things starts to get hard and the little voice inside your head says, “this is impossible” or “this is stupid.” That little voice is reducing your commitment to the goal because it isn’t achievable (impossible) or isn’t relevant (stupid).

The goal researchers Locke and Latham say "When goals are easy or vague, it is not hard to get commitment, because it does not require much dedication to reach easy goals. When goals are specific and hard, the higher the commitment the better the performance."

So once we've crafted a difficult and specific goal the job is not over, we have to continuously maintain commitment to it if we want to keep performance high.

Back to the algebra homework, when the little voice inside our head was telling us that algebra is stupid. At this point a good leader, maybe a parent or a teacher, can help bring relevance to the goal by showing us why it matters. For example, “If you want to be an architect (or something else we feel is important) you’ll need to know algebra.” Or “You’re right, as a NFL player you might never use Algebra, but if you want to play in college you’re going to need to get good grades.”

One of the most important things to remember when creating goals for your team is that relevance is not intrinsic to the goal itself. People can find different relevance for the same goal.

Completing an algebra assignment could be relevant for one child because understanding and improving in math is important in its own right, while the same assignment for another student might only get completed because they seek the approval of their parents, and a third student may only do it because they’ve been threatened with expulsion if their grades don’t improve.

One of the most common mistakes managers and business leaders make when setting goals is thinking that a good goal is crafted on the page. They think, let me Google “writing good goals” and then take an hour to scribble down the team’s goals. What you can't write down is the relevance to each team member. The relevance the goal has for you is probably obvious -

“If we increase our Q4 numbers 10% I will look amazing to the boss and I will be in a good position for that promotion I want.”

- but you have to remember that those things might not be relevant for everyone on your team. The algebra teacher might assign the night’s homework because “my students need more practice before they are ready for next week’s lesson.”

Meanwhile the students are doing the assignment for totally different reasons, or maybe they don’t have a good reason and aren’t doing the assignment because “it’s stupid.”

So while you might set the same goal for every person on the sales team, you may need to use several different techniques to create relevance.

Something I often hear is “because I said so," that should be relevance enough. That is true to a point, although over time your team’s commitment will start to slip if they don’t have more.

Our favorite goal researchers have a lot to say about this. From Motivation Through Conscious Goal Setting, “There are many ways to convince a person that a goal is important. In work situations, the supervisor or leader can use legitimate authority to get initial commitment. Continued commitment might require additional incentives such as supportiveness, recognition, and rewards.”

So get out there and spend a few moments with each member of your team, talk about the goals you set and help each of them find the relevance they need to succeed long term. Some will be motivated by the success of the company, others by personal power and riches, and a few may just want to avoid getting fired. Whatever it is everyone needs their own relevance or the positive impacts of your well crafted goals will quickly start to fade.

    

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