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30May 2014
May 30, 2014

Tip of the day: The Goldilocks Problem with Goal Setting

As data-driven organizers, we all get why we have hard goals. Goals help us build out a plan, set expectations for what we want to achieve, hold people accountable, and ensure that everyone is working towards the same vision in a big organization.

But what do we really know about getting goals right? It’s like Goldilocks. If a goal is too high, people will have trouble getting motivated to take the first step. If a goal is too low, we lose productivity because people aren’t motivated to do more once they achieve the goal.

At Enroll America, we had this problem when we realized early on that there wasn’t an obvious way to set our goals. There are 41 million uninsured people out there and, no matter how good we were, we weren’t going to talk to all of them in our first year. So we reached out to academic experts in behavioral economics and psychology and asked what they think. Here are some of the takeaways we found:

  • Define the type of goal. Are 500 calls a week too much to ask from your organizer? It depends on whether you’re dealing with hard goals or motivational goals. A political campaign has hard goals like getting to 51% of the vote by Election Day. Other types of organizations don’t have a win number. Then the question becomes how you set goals to best motivate your staff on a weekly or monthly basis.
  • Set goals that people will achieve about 50% of the time. Studies suggest that people are most likely to stick with a challenging activity when they are successful about half the time. A  50-50 ratio of hitting goals strikes a nice balance where people get used to stretching themselves without getting burned out.
  • Set goals over a short timeframe. Weekly goals are more motivating than monthly goals. Shorter goals make it easier for people to see positive movement and feel like the goal is reachable.
  • Make goals social. People are motivated to keep up with their peers. Find ways to let people know how they’re doing relative to others. Make sure to share best practices and problem solving tips, both to motivate the innovators by giving them credit and to improve how everyone works.

Have more tips on setting goals? Share in the comments!