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cascading goals

How cascading goals create alignment and boost engagement

Reading time: about 8 min

You've done all the right things to build a successful business. You've dreamed big, set goals, and implemented strategy. So why aren't you getting results?

Many leaders do a great job thinking about big picture goals, but they don’t always think about how those goals will get translated into action at every level of the company. Senior leaders fail to communicate their vision to the teams below them, and teams and individuals feel lost, struggling to connect their daily tasks and initiatives with the larger effort. 

A recent survey revealed that a mere 14 percent of employees understand their company's strategy and direction, which tanks morale and leaves many employees feeling lost or directionless. 

Failing to transparently and clearly communicate high-level goals to employees at all levels of the company limits employees' creativity, collaboration, and sense of community. The result? Employees do inefficient or redundant work—or, worse, they work hard on the wrong goal. People fail to see how their work contributes to the organization or how their work is connected to the larger whole.   

So what can be done? How do senior leaders translate goals into meaningful action at every company level and help employees and teams align their work with this shared vision?

Simple. They can implement cascading goals—a practice that builds transparency, engagement, and employee morale and brings employees at all levels into alignment with a common goal. 

How cascading goals benefit an entire organization

Goal cascading is the process of translating high-level company goals into goals at every level of the company, from teams to individuals. Senior leaders set goals at the highest levels of the company, then clearly communicate them to project managers, team leaders, and everyday employees. 

These goals cascade down through the rest of the company, guiding lower-level employees to make goals that align with the company's bigger vision. 

Lower-level goals then reflect and reinforce the executive-level goals, allowing the organization to effectively achieve its highest aims. 

Benefits of cascading goals 

Cascading goals do more than simply shepherd along company goals. They also improve the organization in myriad other ways.

Transparency and alignment

Most people want to work hard while they're at work, but they often don't know how their work adds up to results in the bigger scheme of things. Cascading goals allow each employee to understand what senior leaders are working on, which helps them see how their specific work can contribute to long-term results. 

It also prevents employees from working hard in the wrong direction or replicating work that's already being done elsewhere. With cascading goals, work at every level of the organization is structured and integrated, which means that when one person or team succeeds, the whole organization gets closer to its goal.

Increased sense of purpose 

Cascading goals also create a shared purpose throughout the organization. When employees see how their work contributes to and affects outcomes that would otherwise feel remotely connected to them, they feel empowered and motivated to do that work. 

Being able to see how their work fits in with the work of other teams increases the likelihood of collaboration as teams break down silos to help other teams on shared objectives. This visibility creates a positive feedback loop where meaningful work leads to happy employees that produce more meaningful work—wherever they fall in the company's hierarchy.

Employee engagement

It's not surprising that a happy employee is an engaged employee—and that's precisely the conditions that goal cascading creates. Studies show that nearly three-fourths of employees who work with managers to set performance goals are engaged at work. 

And cascading goals not only help employees and managers set performance goals—they also help align those goals with company-wide objectives, which increases engagement even more.  

How to implement cascading goals

You believe in the vision of cascading goals, and you're ready to reap the rewards. But how do you start implementing the practice? 

As with any structural change to company culture, cascading goals will take time and effort to achieve and will require people to think in new, more collaborative, ways. However, in the long run, the process will save time and energy, allowing everyone to do the most effective work in the most efficient ways.

Here are five tips for implementing cascading goals throughout your company.

1. Set the right goals

The most important goal in a cascading goal set is the top one because it determines the direction and effectiveness of all the others. And when it comes to choosing big goals, less is more—and clarity is key.

If possible, choose just one top-level goal to guide your company for a certain amount of time. This will reduce the necessity of having multiple cascading goals, which can quickly become unmanageable.

The big goal should meet three criteria:

  • It should align with the company's values and vision.
  • It should be clear and achievable.
  • It should be bold enough to inspire coordinated collaboration and action. 

After you decide your big goals, decide how far each goal needs to cascade down the ranks and who needs to be involved in making the short-term goals that ladder back to the long-term goal. 

2. Break down goals and communicate each team's responsibilities

Once you've chosen your top-level goals, it's critical to create a process for communicating those goals to people at every level of the company and getting people on board for the long haul. 

Host a series of department-wide and team-level meetings where you explain the power of cascading goals, communicate the company-level goals and visions, and answer any questions that people may have.

Inspire people to create goals that align with the big picture and that are equally specific, inspiring, and achievable. Set up check-ins with managers to see how daily individual and team goals align with and further company goals. 

Remember to ask for and consider feedback from managers and lower-level employees, so everyone remains clear on the goals and feels part of the company's success.

3. Help employees align individual goals with company goals

There's a big difference between setting a standard for cascading goals and actually setting those goals for the people below you in the hierarchy. Cascading goals should empower team leaders and individual employees with the information and direction to make their own goals and exercise their judgment and creativity to further company-wide objectives. 

Remind teams and employees that they have the power to harness their unique strengths and skills to achieve the big vision, then check in with them regularly to make sure they feel empowered and aligned with company goals. 

Check to see that there are clear and direct lines between the big-picture goals and daily team and individual goals and tasks. Individual goals don't have to directly link to the company-wide goals, but every goal should link to the one right above it, keeping the whole aligned.

Keep as many people as possible looped into higher-level conversations, so there is a 360-degree feedback loop between senior leaders and lower-level employees. This way, everyone has the clarity to contribute to the common cause.

4. Track and reward progress

Every work system benefits from tracking employee progress and keeping everyone accountable to their goals. But tracking progress is especially critical when using the cascading goals system because it depends on alignment between employees at every level. 

Start by choosing KPIs that will help you measure both productivity and alignment, then use performance-management tools so senior leadership can see what team leaders are up to and team leaders can see how individual goals and tasks are adding up to the ultimate goal. This allows managers to quickly spot when priorities and goals are starting to drift out of alignment and to reinforce the goals and behaviors that align with the company-wide vision without interrupting workflow with constant meetings. 

Performance software also allows people to see how employees in other parts of the organization contribute toward a common goal, which breaks down silos and fosters collaboration.

But it's not enough to simply change your goal system. To inspire and reward employees, you should match new expectations with compensation, changing their pay structures to reflect their new levels of responsibility. This is key to building employee engagement into employee retention. 

5. Make goals part of daily meetings

Even if you have perfect alignment on goals, people won't achieve them unless they remember them. That's why it's critical to make these aligned goals a part of daily work life. 

After you decide as a team on group and individual goals that will further company-wide goals, managers should check in regularly to make sure they're actually happening. Aligned goals should be incorporated into performance reviews, one-on-one meetings, and in continuous feedback. This ensures that every person's individual contribution moves the entire company steadily forward. 

Adopting a cascading goals structure can be a big shift for many companies, and require a lot more transparency, communication, and creativity than existed before. But the rewards are worth the work, and will allow your company to make and meet bold, inspiring goals while also driving employee satisfaction and engagement. 

cascading goals

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