Book Review – Setting Goals (from the Harvard Business Press Pocket Mentor series)

Setting Goals by Penny Locey and Linda A. Hill is one of the books in the Harvard Business Press Pocket Mentor series. This book has some crucial information on goal setting important for small team leaders which is I’m reviewing it. As this blog is now focused on curating information for small team leaders (those that manage between 1 to 10 people), this book will definitely have useful information for them.

The book itself just like others in the series is small with just 77 pages of content. But don’t let the size deceive you. I have found that the content in these books has just what most small team leaders need without burdening them with too much information.

The book is divided into two distinct parts. The first part titled, Setting Goals: The Basics, covers the main information about goals, while the second part is titled, Tips and Tools. This section has some tips and tools to help remember the content in the first section and to also help you with goal setting.

Now let’s go into each section for a brief review.

Setting Goals: The Basics

This is the main section of the book with all the reading content. It is split into 7 sub-sections. Each sub-section is briefly reviewed below.

What Is Setting Goals About: This sub-section aims to give us a big picture view of what goal setting is and how it works. To do that the authors introduce the different type of goals which are unit and individual goals. Then they move on to discuss goal alignment, which is about unit and individual goals aligning to an organisation’s strategy. Prioritization of goals is discussed from the perspective of time frame and importance of different types of goals. In terms of how goals are set within organisations the concept of top-down and bottom-up goal setting is touched on.

 “SMART” Goals: The aim of this sub-section is to describe 5 criteria for defining goals effectively. The 5 criteria are captured by an acronym called “SMART”. So what makes a goal “SMART”? The 5 criteria for a “SMART” goal are that it must be:

  1. Specific
  2. Measurable
  3. Achievable
  4. Realistic
  5. Like-minded

It is also important to think about the distinction between quantitative and qualitative goals. There is some information here to help you differentiate the two.

Defining goals for your unit: Two steps to define unit goals are discussed. The first one is to identify potential unit goals by bringing the team together to brainstorm and identify areas where goals need to be set such as goals that support the organisation’s strategy. The second step is prioritize and select the right goals. On the final page in this sub-section is an overall summary of how to identify and prioritize unit goals.

Defining goals for individuals:  In contrast to the section on unit goals, this part of the book deals with setting individual goals. Three topics are discussed:

  1. Clarifying individual goals.
  2. Ensuring successful achievement of goals.
  3. Setting goals for yourself.

Maximising goal success: Goals are much easier to set than achieve and this part of the books gives some advice on how to create the kind of environment that helps people to achieve their goals. One way to do this is to establish a sense of ownership by involving team members in goal setting. It is also important to ensure that goals are achievable, but at the same time challenging.

Other ideas to help maximise goal success discussed are:

  1. Focus on targets that are specific and don’t feel too difficult to achieve.
  2. Set really clear performance metrics.
  3. Be clear about who is responsible for hitting what target.

Accomplishing your goals: This section outlines some key strategies that can help to achieve goals. Breaking goals into smaller tasks with clear outcomes, milestones and having clear deadlines is helpful. Also anticipating and then managing any obstacles which can stand in the way is important. It is also necessary to continually monitor and communicate progress as people work towards achieving the goals.

Evaluating goals you’ve set: This is the last section in this part of the book and it expands on three to evaluate goals:

  1. Reexamining goals midstream ensures we check to verify that the goals we are working on are still realistic, currently important and still relevant.
  2. Assessing goals after reaching them to understand whether anything different needs to be done when working on similar goals next time. This involves looking at how the goal was reached, whether the expected impact was achieved and what you would change of you did it again
  3. Lessons learnt to apply to future goals.

Tips and Tools

This part of the book provides some extra resources to help with goal setting.

  • Tools for setting goals are a set of five templates that aid goal setting.
  • Test yourself is a quiz to help you review what you read from the previous section.
  • To learn more provides references to more developmental information on goal setting.

While this is a small book, the information in it will help you set, monitor and achieve goals in a competent manner. Reading the book is well worth the investment of time and money.

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