The Semco Style 5 Principles to transform the way we work
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Team Members Set Team Goals

Goals employees actually want to achieve.

Growth and profit are a product of how people work together – Ricardo Semler


When goals are set in a top-down manner, they can have unforeseen negative consequences like employees feeling disengaged or no commitment towards achieving those goals. That’s, perhaps, because they feel the goals are unattainable or find it difficult to relate with them, particularly the broad, organization-wide goals. More often than not, employees in a conventional, top-down company don’t feel connected to the goals and don’t engage with them in a meaningful way.

The truth is employees in such organizations don’t necessarily relate the work they do to the overall success of the company. There’s an undercurrent of disassociation that makes people go about their work in a rather egocentric way, hoping and striving for a bonus, a raise or a promotion. However, when a company changes its goal setting process and moves into a bottom-up approach, they will begin to see employees as real people and connect personally with them.

A dialog between the management and employees should be opened up to help people set their own goals. In this way, goals can be tailored to every individual’s strengths. Of course, that doesn’t mean people can set any goal that they feel comfortable with: Instead, it’s a dialog with the management that works towards achieving common ground about the goals and the metrics. And finally, it’s an ongoing, constructive conversation around goals that happens all year long.


Allow employees to participate in the process of goal setting to improve engagement and motivation.


Research has demonstrated people are more likely to achieve their goals when they consider their work to be enjoyable. When a company involves employees in the goal-setting process, they are more inclined to think of the whole exercise as “enjoyable”.

When people set their own goals, they are increasingly motivated to achieve those goals. They feel proud when they achieve the goals they set and continue to do more. They can see how their work impacts the company’s success and health. Simply put, allowing people to set their own goals benefits them as well as the company.



Start at the beginning, but meet throughout the year: At the beginning of every year, managers and their teams should set up meetings to kickstart the goal setting process. When team members are encouraged to set their own goals and determine the metrics with which to measure their success, they become much more engaged and committed to them. It becomes a matter of personal pride to set goals and achieve them, with rewards and monetary gains becoming secondary considerations. For the manager’s part, they need to make sure they meet with their team members at different points throughout the year to adapt and adjust the goals according to changes in the context.

Agree on clear S.M.A.R.T goals: The goals that people set for themselves cannot be abstract or vague. Instead, they need to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timebound. Managers leading the dialogue need to make sure teams are setting specific goals that can be measured, realistic and attained within the year. That said, the managers and the team members need to strike a balance between goals that are realistic, while at the same time challenging.

Don’t rush through the dialogue process: If you’ve just begun transitioning into a bottom-up goal setting process, you need to take it slow and allow your employees time to assimilate the new ideas and expectations. Engage in a dialog where team members propose their own goals and the metrics to measure them and take the time to refine them into what’s best for the team as well as the company. Overtime, when you go through the dialog process, without rushing through the goal setting, you will discover that people set goals that are far more ambitious than anything the management might have proposed. For example, factory employees at Semco became much more bold and confident about setting ambitious goals, after an initial period of hesitation. Once they found the courage to challenge goals set by their managers and discovered that they could achieve the goals they set for themselves every single time, they became much more driven with their work.

Be prepared to listen and empathize: When you implement this practice, it needs to be accompanied by good listening and empathy from the management’s side. When managers enter into a dialog with team members, they need to make it safe spaces for employees to share their opinions, goals and anxieties without fear of being judged. Although it’s the job of the manager to make sure their team members are setting goals that are ambitious enough, they also need to make sure they aren’t unconsciously pushing people to set unrealistic goals. He or she needs to be open to feedback about the goal setting process and needs to reassess their position if there’s an overwhelming sense of opposition from the team members. And, they need to be open and flexible to adapting the goals throughout the year, taking into consideration the current context and employee feedback.

Have a transparent dialog: For the goal setting dialogs to succeed, everyone needs to come to the table with an open mind and integrity. Employees should keep in mind that it’s not an opportunity for them to take advantage of the system and set goals with the sole hopes of reaping unproportionate rewards. The goals they set should not just be measurable, but also clearly strengthen the company – whether it’s in terms of overall savings, increased profits or sales. When team members set goals that benefit the company, they automatically reap better rewards. So they need to be encouraged to challenge themselves, with managers making sure the bar isn’t set too low. The goals need to be co-created with a sense of balance, openness and safety.

Be flexible and adapt to external forces that affect goals: The goals set in the dialogue process cannot be inflexible because external forces can shift and render goals unrealistic or even entirely irrelevant.Goals need to be renegotiated whenever necessary for the company to collectively adapt and cope with the challenge of changing external forces. Usually, employees in a company that’s in crisis will be more concerned with the security of their jobs or whether they’d receive their bonuses. But when employees set their own goals and make the connection between their work and the success of the company, they will be much more willing to harness their energies constructively and help the company survive, or even thrive, in a time of crisis. The dialog process is particularly relevant in times of crisis because it will help the company make a collective decision about what its next steps should be and how the crisis can be averted or overcome.

Level to implement



Enter into a goal setting dialog with your employees

Be flexible and adapt goals according to changes in the external context

Encourage open and transparent conversations between managers and employees about goals

Be empathetic when deciding the metrics for each goal and seek common ground

Place the company’s interests ahead of any individual or departmental benefits

Focus on coming up with a maximum of 3-5 goals that are achievable


Set goals in a top-down manner

Rush or accelerate the goal-setting dialog and process

Overcomplicate or create very sophisticated processes to set the metrics

Come up with too many goals and lose focus

Set goals that are too easy to achieve and don’t contribute to the company’s growth

Be egocentric or focussed on rewarding yourself while setting goals


Tailors goals according to individual strengths and expertise

Improves employee engagement

Boosts motivation to achieve set goals

Improves sense of ownership

Helps people develop pride in their work

Promotes increasingly ambitious goal-setting


Can be time-consuming to align goals between different individuals and departments

If there’s a big gap between goals proposed by employees and the consolidated goal for the company’s growth, employees may need to be prodded to be more ambitious

Might intimidate people who are used to being assigned goals and targets

People may feel anxious about setting their own goals and achieving them, especially if they come from traditional backgrounds or mindsets


In the past, Brazil was often an unstable country, economically and politically. Top-down decisions made by the government could business operations across the country.

In 1990, the-then President, Fernando Collor, made a lot of authoritarian decisions that affected people all over the country. Often these decisions were implemented with little notice and without any concern for the consequences. Plano Collor was one such notorious governmental decision, which placed nearly 80 percent of people’s bank savings on a freeze. One day people had their lifelong savings in the bank and the next day their money was inaccessible. The savings freeze remained in force for 18 long months. The decision was made to combat the astounding 48 percent of inflation, for which the government also levied astronomically high inflation taxes from the people. The situation was ridiculous.

Plano Collor was announced over the weekend and was in effect by the following Monday. That meant, people across the nation had no time to prepare themselves for the blow dealt by their government.

The decision impacted not just the general public, but also all businesses. At Semco, all employees and business units got together to discuss openly what their strategy should be and how they’d operate the business in light of Plano Collor. In that situation, the metrics focused less on the individual and more on what was relevant for the collective – the whole company. The sense of belonging and ownership that Semco employees felt in that moment was decidedly higher than what employees in other traditionally organized companies felt.

Had Semco been a conventional, top-down company, the Plano Collor moment would have played out very differently. Employees would have been mostly worried about their job safety and if they would receive a bonus that year. They wouldn’t have concerned themselves with the company’s goals or the survival of the company in the crisis. However, Semco employees were able to negate any egocentric attitudes because they felt their individual goals were connected to the company’s overall health and success.


Expert avatar

Borges, Ian

Co-founder at LeadWise | Partner at Semco Style Institute | Entrepreneur | Lifestyle Strategist | Digital Nomad

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Portuguese, English, French, Spanish

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