How to track goals in the workplace: Tips, methods, and tools

Are you a leader in a growth-minded organization? Do you lead a team that’s constantly seeking to be and do better?

Or maybe you lead a team that isn’t doing those things — but you see how badly you need them to start.

Teams and team leaders that focus on growth and improvement (or those who want to start changing their focus in these ways) need ways to measure their efforts. Goal tracking in the workplace is one powerful way to do so.

Goal tracking is the process of establishing goals, determining the steps (objectives) needed to meet those goals, and then measuring progress toward those goals.

In this quick guide, we’ll show you:

  • Why goal tracking matters
  • The benefits of starting to track goals in your team or organization
  • Four proven strategies for tracking goals
  • The best way to track goals as a manager — without micromanaging your team members

Goal tracking: Why it matters

Goal tracking matters because if you want to make measurable progress, you have to aim toward something. You also have to put in the work to measure that progress.

We all want to be better in some ways, and the same goes for the teams we lead and the companies we work for. But people (and teams and businesses) don’t naturally improve without effort. Effort powers everything. Without it, sales don’t increase, team effectiveness and morale don’t improve, and money isn’t made.

But here’s the thing — effort alone isn’t enough. That effort has to be directed at something specific (let’s call it a goal). And depending on the complexity of that goal, raw effort might even need to be directed into specific steps and objectives or subtasks.

That’s where goal tracking comes in. By setting goals, you give yourself and your team something to focus effort on. By tracking progress toward those goals, you create accountability, visibility, and a sense of incremental accomplishment.

As a manager or leader, you also gain insights about who is and isn’t making progress toward goals. This way, you can intervene with coaching, redirection, or reassignment when necessary.

What are the benefits of tracking goals?

It makes sense for managers and individuals to track goals if they want to make progress. But systematizing goal tracking can be a bit of an investment. Is it really worth the time and effort? Do businesses actually see any benefits from tracking goals?

The answer is yes! Tracking goals can create a host of benefits for your team or business, including these:

Creates long-term vision with short-term milestones

  • Increases the likelihood of meeting a goal by 42%
  • Speeds up how long it takes to reach a goal
  • Keeps team members on task and accountable for their work
  • Helps businesses transition to merit-based awards and recognition
  • Facilitates business planning (can reveal future resource allocation needs, for example)
  • Reduces stress (gives your teams the ability to prioritize, reducing the stress that comes from “everything is on fire” levels of urgency)

How to track goals: 4 proven strategies

Tracking goals is something that every manager or business can implement, but doing it well takes strategy. Consider these four general strategies for goal tracking, each of which has helped countless leaders and companies more effectively track their teams’ progress toward achieving goals — as well as progress toward their own goals.

1. Break up overarching goals into incremental tasks

First, some types of goals are simply too large to be tracked effectively as a whole and must be broken down into attainable, achievable smaller steps. This is often true of long-term goals or companywide initiatives.

By breaking down big goals, you turn amorphous, unclear, pie-in-the-sky ideas into smaller specific goals (usually SMART goals), ones that can be measured in a goal tracker or within other tracking tools. From there, you can check in on them to see your progress in clear, understandable metrics.

That’s the primary value of breaking goals down — you turn something overwhelming and inscrutable into a series of achievable business goals.

Ultimately, good goals are the ones that you and your team understand how to meet. That’s the primary value of breaking goals down — you turn something overwhelming and inscrutable into a series of achievable business goals.

When a team member knows exactly what needs to happen to reach a goal or milestone — and feels empowered to do that work — it’s easier for that team member to stay organized and on task. And when the team member reaches each incremental finish line, they achieve a greater sense of accomplishment.

Think of it this way: Which makes a bigger impact on your daily habits?

  • Knowing you need to complete two steps out of 50 toward a clearly defined objective; or
  • Knowing you need to get a bunch of work done to stave off the avalanche of never-ending deadlines

This isn’t a trick question — everyone likes the first one. It’s why you should set goals in the first place, and why you should break the big ones down into incremental tasks.

2. Assign manageable deadlines

If you’re using SMART goals (or a formal project management system like kanban), you’re already setting timeframes for your goals and subgoals. To make your goal-tracking both effective and attainable, make sure you’re setting deadlines that are realistic and manageable.

Seeing that the entire initiative needs to be done by Q3 of next year is helpful to a degree, but it isn’t going to give your team members specific motivation or direction about what to do tomorrow. On the other side of that coin, demanding that a team member deliver something tomorrow that really needs a week’s worth of work isn’t going to work, either.

The key to the best goal setting strategies is to assign due dates that are realistic and manageable after you break down big tasks into smaller ones. Doing this will help keep team members on track without making them feel overwhelmed by the massiveness of the task, or demoralizing them with deadlines no mortal could meet.

Setting manageable deadlines is important, but how do you know what they should be? How do managers like you determine what a reasonable deadline is?

Often, the simplest answer is to ask. Yes, some team members may give inflated task durations, and others may overestimate their abilities. But your team can be a great place to start when trying to determine proper task timeframes.

You can also use a wide range of project management tools and strategies to better measure task durations and plan deadlines accordingly. Simple time-tracking tools can help your team members measure how long they’re really spending on specific tasks, and that data can inform future planning and goal-setting.

3. Review progress and make adjustments

Next, it’s vital to review the progress that your teams and team members make toward both big goals and smaller objectives on a regular basis — that’s the tracking component, after all. Then, where you see that the goals and objectives aren’t working, be willing to make adjustments.

Why? Think about the people creating the goals (that’s usually you, or you in collaboration with others). They aren’t perfect, and their work isn’t perfect. Some goals and objectives are good, and others aren’t so good.

Maybe you created goals that you thought were reasonable, but that didn't turn out to be. Maybe your timeframes aren’t right, or maybe certain goals are still too big and need to be broken down further into even smaller tasks.

Here’s a novel thought: Your team members may have better ideas about task order or other aspects of your goals.

There’s also the dreaded change in scope. We all love to complain about scope creep, but sometimes change is necessary. When the statement of work or project charter gets amended, your goals and goal tracking may need to do the same.

For all these reasons, goals sometimes need adjusting after a project plan collides with reality. Be willing to adjust where you can, and remember that the intention of all this goal work is to maintain measurable progress toward an ultimate end goal.

4. Make goal tracking collaborative

Next, bring your teams and team members into the goal tracking process by making it collaborative. You know the key results that your teams must meet, but you don’t necessarily have to dictate every aspect of how your teams achieve those results.

Consider allowing your team members to set personal goals at regular intervals (e.g., new goals for the new year). You stay involved and offer guidance, making sure those personal goals contribute effectively to the bigger picture. But giving team members more autonomy helps to increase buy-in and helps your team build good habits.

You can even make goal tracking collaborative within a team, not just between team members and leadership. One idea is setting up accountability buddies, where two peers check in regularly on each other’s progress (asynchronous check-ins with Range are a great way to do this, by the way).

Integrating goal reviews into team meetings can be effective as well. Within project teams, this can be a highly collaborative process where no bosses are even in the room. Try letting the team start this process. Have them identify the following areas:

  • Which goals they’re doing well with
  • Which goals aren’t getting enough attention
  • Which goals need adjusting (whether it’s because they aren’t realistic, parameters have changed, or some other reason)

Of course, there are plenty of situations where a leader needs to get involved or have oversight. But you might be surprised how often the best ideas surface from the doers themselves — the team members doing the work.

What is the best way to track your goals?

So far, our discussion has stayed general, because the specifics of goal-setting and goal-tracking will vary across industries. But now it’s time to get a little more specific.

We’ve talked a lot about why goal-setting is important and how to go about doing it, in principle. But how do you actually do the tracking? What’s the best method for keeping records of who’s aiming toward what, as well as whether people are reaching their goals and milestones or not?

Hint: it’s not with pen and paper (sorry, analog folks!).

It’s not with an Excel spreadsheet, either.

What you need is a lightweight daily goal tracking app like the one inside Range. Meeting management software like Range makes it easy and fast to set goals and track progress. It even supports collaborative goal tracking, and it’s incredibly effective at doing all of this in an asynchronous format. Even when teams are split across multiple time zones or locations, they can see and track their goals directly inside Range.

Range isn’t a full-service project management tool — and it isn’t intending to be one. Instead, it works as a bridge between projects and between multiple project management tools. Whatever tools you’re using and whatever projects you’re tracking, Range makes goal tracking manageable on a holistic level.

Don’t forget to reward yourself and your team for completing milestones!

One more crucial tip before we go. As you work to transform your team or company culture from one that doesn’t prioritize goal tracking and completion to one that does, it’s absolutely vital to celebrate accomplishments.

Build in (and budget for) rewards when you and your team reach those bigger milestones or accomplish a big-picture goal. Take time to praise team members, pointing out how their rigorous attention to smaller goals and objectives is what got the team to this bigger milestone. And whenever possible, pair something tangible with that praise.

When you can, build in these rewards in advance — and advertise them. Let the team know what they’ll get if they reach a milestone on time, and then be sure to deliver on your promises.

One word of warning: As a manager, you have to learn to read the room. Pizza parties and donuts aren’t the answer for everything. And certainly, in a world full of distributed teams and work from home employees, pizza parties don’t work at all.

You can also encourage team members to do this for themselves on a personal or smaller-scale level. For example, an employee who doesn’t enjoy reading might set a goal of reading five business books this year. Those types of personal development goals might even be a part of the performance review process or some other formal program in the workplace. But the team member can also set personal reward milestones, like choosing a nice lunch out at the conclusion of each book.

Why does any of this matter? Because to be highly effective in their work, people need motivation. For your most motivated team members, the thrill of the work or the goal itself is motivation enough. But others may tend to feel demotivated if they push toward a goal and nothing visible happens when they reach it.

Adding real rewards to goals can be the spark of motivation people need to push harder and work more effectively toward a goal. It also has a positive effect on individual and team morale, which further contributes to the effectiveness of the people on your team.

Track goals and see day-to-day progress without micromanaging your team

Both setting and tracking goals are crucial for organizations and teams that want to see progress and growth. Doing it well takes time and planning, but we believe it’s well worth the investment for growth-oriented teams.

To get the most out of your goal tracking efforts, you need the right set of software tools and apps that can get you out of the old days of pen and paper and help you collaborate better in real-time.

Range is a meeting management platform built for the needs of distributed and virtual teams. Our focus on asynchronous communication gives you the tools you need to meaningfully connect with your team, even when you can’t do so in the same place (or at the same time).

Range is also full of powerful features for goal-setting and goal tracking. With Range, you can easily track goals and see day-to-day progress — and you never have to micromanage your team to do it.

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How to track goals in the workplace: Tips, methods, and tools
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