Any successful founder will tell you that setting goals is a critical part of both executive and employee success. Those same entrepreneurs will tell you that getting employees to put thoughtful, well-planned goals to paper is easier said than done. That’s why I was particularly intrigued when I heard that at Creative Nation, a Nashville-based music services company, employees talk about setting goals on a regular basis. A friend of mine works at Creative Nation and mentioned on multiple occasions how the annual exercise helps keep her on track with her work. I asked my friend to set up a couple of interview with her colleagues at Creative Nation so I could learn more.
In regards to setting goals, CEO and co-founder Beth Laird says: “We say right in our mission statement that we’re committed to maximizing creative potential by inspiring people to become the best versions of themselves. Setting personal and professional goals is one of the most powerful tools available to help people both identify and reach their potential.”
Laird’s employees have embraced the process because they’ve seen firsthand the difference outlining and tracking their goals can make. “I’d never done this in my career before,” Creative Director Jeff Skaggs told me. “It’s really helpful. Most of my goals are quantifiable. Others are more qualitative, like what’s happening in our pipeline and what I’m doing to help our team grow. Those are just as important because they are the kind of things that keep us excited about showing up every day.”
Creative Nation’s system is clearly working. With a full-time staff of five and an intimate roster of eight writers and artists, the company boasts more than 60 released cuts – including eight number-one singles – in less than four years. In 2015 alone, they’ve had 30 cuts and 10 radio singles.
Laird shared her six steps for implementing your own employee goal tracking system, setting the program up for lasting success, and – perhaps most importantly – getting the all-important buy-in from your team.
Make It Mandatory
There is much evidence linking the act of physically writing down goals to higher performance, which is one of the reasons Laird suggests making goals sheets mandatory for every employee at the same time each year.
Make It Accessible
Implementing any new employee program can be a challenge, and Laird admits that she didn’t get her goal sheets quite right on the first attempt — especially since they were given not only to the company’s employees but to their roster of songwriters. Even seemingly small details, like the presentation of the questions, can have a huge effect on participation.
“The first form was very complicated and was all business,” she says. “All of the writers were complaining about how many goals were on the sheet and that they couldn’t fill it in without getting overwhelmed. So I narrowed the goals down a bit and had someone on our team design the same questions with different-sized colored boxes and circles around them. Now, when I hand them out people say, “Oh, this looks fun! This is easy!”
Make It SMART
All goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Laird recommends talking to employees about SMART goals before unleashing employees with goal sheets to help set them up for success. Here is a great primer on SMART goals with examples for anyone unfamiliar with the premise.
Make It Stick
Upon the completion of each employee’s goal sheet, Laird prints several copies so they are always nearby. “I want everyone to see their goals on a daily basis so they remember what they are aiming for,” she says.
Her husband and Creative Nation co-founder, Luke Laird says, “I always keep my goal sheet in my bag. Goals are good, both in the short term and the long term. If you always keep your goals in your mind, it will help you retain your focus on a daily basis.” Luke is one of the company’s hit songwriters and is a Grammy-winning producer and the reigning Academy of Country Music Songwriter of the Year.
Make It Personal
In addition to company and professional goals, Beth Laird is a big proponent of including personal and individualized goals for each employee, even if the goal seems only loosely related to his or her job description.
“I’ve always included areas marked ‘personal, family and spiritual goals’ and ‘personal and professional development,’” she says. “It started because I was just curious about what they wanted in their life and how I could help. If a writer says, ‘I want to go on a weeklong family vacation every year,’ maybe I can help by booking a house and a rental car for a week and making sure they know I’m making it one of their priorities.”
The link between happiness and professional performance has been well documented. A recent Harvard Business Review study found that people who are “thriving” demonstrate 16 percent better overall performance (as reported by their managers) and 125 percent less burnout (self-reported) than their peers. Additionally, the same employees were 32 percent more committed to their company and 46 percent more satisfied with their job.
Make It Happen
In order to help other entrepreneurs jumpstart their own goal programs, Laird generously provided the goal sheet she developed for Creative Nation. Click here to download it to use as a template for your own organizational goal-setting and employee development. Laird suggests revisiting (and possibly redesigning) your company’s goal sheet template at least once a year. “I’ve evolved our current version over several years and am still tweaking and changing it every year because we’re trying to get better and better as we go,” she says.
A version of this article originally appeared on Creator.