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How Can Organizations Achieve Creative Autonomy Through Better Goal Setting?

In times of global crises, money is shorter than usual. Companies suffer and innovation is crucial to adapt and overcome, in this case, the betterment of what one already has.

In our previous piece, we discussed what effective change management looks like. Now we'll explore poor goal setting as a persistent parasite responsible for HR nightmares, including uncalled for overheads.

Imagine a young fawn aimlessly wandering on a beaten forest path. There are dozens of directions it can choose from. Between every tree, a new path presents itself. While this is a cute story of letting the tide of possibilities sweep you, the hundreds of thousands of failing startups are a wonderful example of why beanbag management doesn’t always work.

On the other hand, organizations with performance-oriented goals tend to focus on a single forest lane, another form of imbalance they can’t afford. The data shows the consequences when an unpredictable event strikes the economy -- Darwin pops a bottle of Moet in the astral realm as his theory is validated yet again.

This is where well-defined, malleable goals come to the foreground. The greatest goal setters and achievers’ motion strikes a balance between the concrete and the imaginable. For those familiar with eastern philosophy, this is our yin and yang moment in aiming and executing.

What Does Poor Goal Setting Look Like?

Goals are influenced by the financial and product-centered vision of the majority of stakeholders and forged by a group of executive directors in charge. Then, the goals are typically sifted down through the hierarchy until they finally arrive at the front-line workforce in the form of incremental objectives.

Executive teams often lack the creative initiative and flexible resources to suit the product vision and performance target. This results in rigid goals on the back of a rigid mindset that is inevitably passed down to the rest of the company. The organization is as strong as its weakest links, yet many forget that the so-called weakest links are a brilliant representation of something that head-office is failing to pay attention to.

Other than a below-par product or service, poor goal setting results in unjustifiable resource consumption high employee turnover rate. Unmet goals, a gradually blurring vision, and thousands, if not millions, wasted.

While goals impact the human architecture, they can't define it -- there's a balance to strike. A product-centered approach to product development is what a human-centered focus is to structuring an organization, and the former doesn't thrive without the latter.

Autonomous Goal Setting via Individual Investment

Imagine a team of two hundred masterminds. Ten are gifted the opportunity to create a flexible, systematic approach to meeting a clear, outlined vision. Since a vision must be divided into subsets of goals, the ten in charge leave enough room for those subsets to cross-over and influence other areas of product development. Right down to the front-line employee, Suzy, who’s responsible for monitoring customer service interactions on the chat desk.

In my native Hungarian, we have a timeless saying: “More eyes see more”. Suzy on the chat desk will have a far better grasp of what is lacking, and organizations are nothing short of problems presented to them.

In fact, this is an autonomous goal begging to be born -- it starts with an individual’s complaint. A complaint is a problem, and a problem is a situation that needs new associations to achieve harmony. It is an opportunity for improvement. If our ten executives created a system that allows Suzy to identify the problem with the live chat experience, she can immediately engage with an autonomous goal-feedback-action-diagnosis (GFAD) approach (as mentioned in the article 'What Constitutes Effective Change in Organizations?').

She can set the goal, get fast, experiential feedback on how to implement what’s needed, and given the opportunity, she can act.

GFAD isn’t a new approach, although organizations fail to apply it on a micro-level. Micromanaging GFAD is a resource black hole, so the solution is an autonomous system.

A complaint is not an attack on upper management on any level. It is an opportunity to create autonomy with which an entrepreneurial mindset is born at several levels of the organization. The costs of such human-centered investments are minuscule compared to the funds spent on disposing of and recruiting ‘weak links'.

The near £40bn UK recruitment industry speaks for itself.

A Human-Centered, Creative Autonomous Network

Deconstructing the details of our instance with Suzy explains this simple, human-centered mindset to goal setting and execution. One that improves performance, and saves money.

Firstly, autonomous goal setting isn’t a passive solution. It is a system of active human interaction in an organization with the aim of achieving self-generated, creative discipline across all cells of the collective. Autonomy comes from individual responsibility as an active cell.

An ideal instance with our live chat example would look like this:

  1. Identifying the Problem: Suzy identifies an issue with how support agents are permitted to handle a recurring complaint.

  2. Setting a Goal: Instead of having to report the problem and wait for days, even weeks, Suzy has a point-of-contact, Damian, in the creative autonomous network whom she works with to generate a solution.

  3. Feedback, Improvement, and Implementation: Suzy’s suggestions are taken on-board by Damian, and feedback is provided with the aim of immediate implementation. This is what we refer to as ‘Inform and Empower’ in our ACM model.

  4. Encourage and Evaluate: Suzy is encouraged by Damian to act and engage when she spots other recurring disruptions, even if the problem seems out of her reach.

Example: Suzy happens to hold an MSc in Advanced Computer Science and notices a feature-related issue with the live chat software that is responsible for a recurring issue around customer dissatisfaction. She flags the observation to Damian, who likewise enters the GFAD loop. The organization calculates the projected losses on the back of this issue, and the technical team finds an alternative live chat solution with little-to-no overhead. Projected profits increase due to higher customer satisfaction.

Suzy’s point of contact, Damian, is not a manager, but a collaborator. They hold different roles with different shades of mutual empowerment. The pairings are endless, and cross-department ‘buddy-ups’ will most definitely become a popular HR solution.

Re-Hiring vs. Re-Training: A Lasting Human Investment

Human resource management suffers from poor oversight. All one has to do is to calculate the average annual costs of:

  • Recruitment and hiring

  • Training and development

  • Projected losses/profit pains resulting from human error, including instances of cross-department miscommunication

The recruitment industry is booming, and organizations are funding the thriving business models. Poorly matched employees to high-specification roles with an incredibly high employee turnover rate.

UK statistics show a:

  • £39.7bn industry-wide turnover in 2019/2020, an 11.2% increase from 2018/2019 - Source

  • 15.9% increase in application numbers from 2018 - Source

  • 46% increase in registered recruitment companies since 2017 - Source

  • 849,000 unfilled jobs in September-November 2018 - Source

Should organizations re-invest the near £40bn into human-centered investments, an autonomous creative workflow is within sight. An empowered, self-sufficient workforce invested in as part of, and not a miserable cogwheel of a greater collective. A balance of human and product-centered drive leads to the new age of exceptional products and services.

In the next article, we’ll focus on a variety of approaches an organization can take to achieve such empowerment down to the individual level.


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