Setting Compelling Goals

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Up until now, I've been talking about letting up on the brakes, freeing people up to be themselves, to make their contributions to the workplace. Now I'd like to talk about motivating people to work really hard, motivating them to take the risks of teaming and learning. A lot of managers start to worry at this point. They get it, they see how psychological safety helps learning and helps teamwork. They want people to speak up. But does that mean they have to back off a little on excellence? Do they have to lower their standards? No, it's not actually a trade off.

It's an additional dimension to manage. And this is the dimension of motivation. It starts with aiming high, articulating compelling goals that are clear, meaningful, and just enough of a stretch. Examples of compelling goals are achieving 100% patient safety at a children's hospital.Or rescuing 33 trapped miners 700 meters below ground in Northern Chile. If you don't do either, then that's the apathy zone.

But if you just worry about psychological safety, well yes, that might in fact create the comfort zone. But what if you only focus on motivating excellence? On setting high standards and you don't make it psychological safety? I call that the anxiety zone, and it's a very dangerous place for people to work. They're unwilling and unable to ask for help. They're unwilling and unable to talk about the ideas they have, to point out the mistakes that they see and so on. So finally, if you can lead in such a way that motivates excellence and makes it safe, then that's the high performance zone.


When you're in the high performance zone, it's not that fear goes away. No, in fact it's okay to be afraid of the competition. It's okay to be afraid of missing a deadline. It's okay to be afraid of not making a difference in the world. But it's not okay to be afraid of the boss. It's not okay to be afraid of your teammates. There's just too much at stake. So are the goals that you're setting foryour team compelling? Have you articulated them clearly? How meaningful are they? Are they motivating? And would your team consider them to be a stretch? What are you doing to get your team into the high performance zone? How can you work to create psychological safety and set compelling goals at the same time? Make it safe, aim high.

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