Defining goals helps individuals and teams focus on reaching their biggest objectives. For an individual, this could be a very simple task, but for an organization, it can be the difference between a controlled and optimized strategy and a disorganized and haphazard one. Creating goal alignment across multiple levels of a business can help avoid chaos and ensure predictable success. One of the most popular ways to generate goal alignment is by creating cascading goals.
In this article, we will define cascading goals, demonstrate how to implement them, and discuss their importance.
What is Cascading Goals?
Cascading goals are defined as an organizational structure that aligns a company’s goals across multiple levels. Within this structure, there is traditionally an ascension and descension of roles, tasks, and objectives. All of these goals contribute to the overall strategic direction of the organization. Typically, the main strategic goals are set at the executive level, and those touchpoints funnel down into different levels of management and individual objectives. The objective is to create a system of aligned goals, where everyone is collaborating towards the same organizational objectives to help move the company forward. In order to ensure proper alignment, each level of employees will set goals that connect with the levels above and below them, ensuring each level is balanced and aligned properly.
Why Are Cascading Goals Important?
Creating goal alignment is important for many reasons, but largely, its purpose is to help improve efficiency for individuals and help fuel success in key areas for an organization. There is a reason traditional goal setting doesn’t always translate into results, and it mainly results from a lack of transparency and alignment.
If top-level goals aren’t communicated properly, employees at all levels will share some directional confusion. This confusion can manifest as inaction, misaligned effort, and some employees feeling lost in their roles. Transparency from the top down can give people a sense of ownership over their work and how it impacts the company, allowing them to be involved with something bigger than themselves. Traditional goal setting commonly lacks transparency, especially between multiple levels of an organization, and because of this, it can significantly impact the efficiency and priorities of entire departments.
The other key challenge for goal setting is alignment. Alignment doesn’t always happen naturally, and especially within a larger organization, things need to be aligned purposefully to ensure success. Often when setting goals, people can assume alignment exists when it doesn’t really. This can cause miscommunication and failure of key goals. To ensure goals are met at every level, it’s important that all levels of goals, strategies, and tasks are aligned thoughtfully to stimulate engagement and target high-level goals. Through increased alignment, cascading goals allow teams to translate their goals into results.
After understanding how cascading goals address the two biggest pain points with traditional goal setting, it’s much easier to identify why they’re important to an organization. Aside from goal setting, cascading goals are important for the individuals within an organization as well.
The efficiency of individuals within an organization depends on their ability to target and execute goals, and cascading goals provide an actionable structure to reach those milestones. Creating an aligned set of goals across an organization guarantees that each team member’s individual goals will inherently work towards the shared goals of the organization. This means that when every person is motivated to achieve their individual goals, they are working in tandem to target the overarching goals of the company. By aligning both the macro and micro levels of the business, cascading goals can help increase efficiency across the board.
Setting aligned goals also helps individuals prioritize projects and better understand organizational objectives. For example, if someone is considering a project but sees that it doesn’t align with the management goals above them, they can quickly tell that it is probably a low-priority item and can be completed further down the line. By creating transparent, hierarchical guidelines, cascading goals are able to communicate both the purpose and priority of certain objectives. They help eliminate wasted time and ensure coordinated effort in a specific direction.
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How to Implement Cascading Goals
The most important thing to remember when implementing cascading goals is to make them transparent, achievable, and connected across levels. With that in mind, here are the key steps to take when implementing cascading goals.
Step 1: Establish top-level strategic goals
The first step in creating cascading goals is defining objectives at the top level. This means creating and understanding executive priorities, customer needs, and growth objectives. After determining the overarching values, the next step is translating them into short-term and long-term goals. These need to be specific and measurable to ensure there is a clear route forward, and the goals can be tracked against metrics and KPIs.
An essential part of creating top-level goals is having the executive team spearhead this process. They need to be involved from the very beginning to ensure accountability, accuracy, and alignment for everyone, including themselves. This means they need to also create the key metrics and KPIs that will be used to measure the organizational objectives.
The top-level goals will be the north star of an organization, so they need to encompass everything the company is striving for, both operationally and ideologically. These goals should be achievable, inspiring, and forward-looking. Even though there are a lot of factors that go into building these goals, the fewer, the better. Keeping the business focused and not creating too large a scope is key to achieving the important goals.
Step 2: Create a structure for the rest of the cascading goals
After the highest level goals are set, there needs to be a process of communication and translation at every level of the business. In order for managers and team members to set clear individual goals, there needs to be a transparent flow of priorities from top to bottom.
Individual goals need to have the same level of specificity and measurability as the top-level goals to track success properly. To achieve this, people must develop a keen understanding of the top-level goals and align their personal/team goals with not only the overall strategy but their measurement as well.
While individual goals need to reflect the metrics and strategic trajectory of company goals, they must also incorporate the strengths and weaknesses of a team/individual to be important. This ensures that there is cohesion between the team and individual priorities, and both can develop in tandem. It’s important that people don’t feel completely constricted by cascading goals. As long as people establish their goals in the right direction, there should always be room for individual priorities.
While cascading goals emphasize prioritization from the top down, in order for them to be effective, there needs to be consistent communication from every direction. Cascading goals will not have a positive impact if teams aren’t regularly communicating and adjusting to correct for any potential misalignment. During a big project, there will always be evolving market conditions, changes in dynamics, and a need to shift priorities. Only when this isn’t communicated at all levels will it have a negative effect on outcomes and goals. Communication doesn’t just flow one way, either. Individuals need to be able to communicate with executive teams and vice-versa. Without a two-way flow of communication, cascading goals will never be effective.
Step 3: Check goal alignment
Once goals have been set at every level, there should be a system of checks to ensure they are properly aligned. This is a fairly straightforward system and simply asks to see if each individual can logically ladder straight up to the next level’s goals. If they can, then their goals will work towards the next level, which will eventually work towards the company’s goals. If not, there is a break in priorities, and the goals need to evolve to be more effectively aligned.
These checks should go further than simple alignment and should ensure that goals at every level are actionable, achievable, and measurable. Aside from just being aligned, if the goals aren’t achievable at an individual level, they won’t be effective. It is also important to ensure that each goal has the appropriate means to develop independently, even though it connects with those at other levels. In this way, you can ensure that each employee is individually productive.
In some organizations, alignment is nearly impossible due to large differences in strategy, development, and operations. In these cases, instead of forcing cascading goals to fit, consider using another strategy like SMART goals.
Step 4: Create a follow-up strategy
With the creation of a new goals structure, there should be a structure of incentives and tools to help people achieve their goals. To avoid mistakes and ensure progress, HR and team leaders need to create a structure that enables individuals to succeed in their efforts. Some examples of things that could help are new technology, performance reviews, regular collaboration sessions with leadership, and performance incentives.
Incentives are often overlooked as a key part of finding success with cascading goals. When restructuring the goals of a company, it can be helpful to restructure the management and incentive systems to accommodate the changes in scope, job roles, and strategy. People need to be rewarded according to their work, and if their incentive scale isn’t adjusted for the new set of goals, they can lose motivation to keep pushing forward.
Another important part of ensuring cascading goals will be followed is making them a regular value. Creating daily touchpoints helps reinforce the importance of cascading goals and ensures they’re always present in someone’s workflow. It’s easy to forget that aligned goals require concerted effort, so wherever possible, try to integrate them into meetings and collaboration sessions to reinforce their impact.
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The Benefits of Cascading Goals
Implementing a cascading goals system can have serious benefits for an organization, an individual, and every level in between. Here are some of the biggest advantages of implementing cascading goals within an organization.
- Creates Alignment: The main goal of creating cascading goals is to create end-to-end goal alignment within the organization. Individuals and teams organize their goals in relation to the overarching goals of the company to ensure that alignment is reached on all levels.
- Improves Trust & Transparency: Without transparency, cascading goals will never be impactful for front-line employees. A key part of this strategy is making efforts transparent throughout an organization, which not only helps build an understanding of executive efforts but also helps build trust with employees who traditionally don’t get much communication from the top level.
- Increases Employee Engagement: Having a key set of goals makes employees more likely to buy into their workflow and gives them something bigger to work towards. Instead of just working to finish a project, they can work to move the entire company forward. This increased sense of purpose can help increase individual and team engagement and can provide a sense of purpose to people within an organization.
- Boost Efficiency: Just like cascading goals increase engagement, they also help boost efficiency. By focusing on goals that directly target the main company objectives, you can ensure that individuals are working in the most efficient route possible to reach their personal and shared objectives.
- Reduces Redundancies: By aligning goals across multiple levels, people are able to better organize their workflows to meet goals most efficiently. This leaves less room for redundant work products and will help teams avoid common pitfalls and roadblocks.
Tips for Implementing Cascading Goals Effectively
Understanding the steps to implement cascading goals is only half of the picture. You need to know how to create values that emphasize these goals and how to properly reinforce your goal-creation mechanisms. These are the soft skills of goal alignment, and here are some tips to help implement cascading goals within your organization.
- Encourage regular communication
With common objectives in between, establishing communication channels is a fundamental piece to guarantee the success of cascading goals. For this reason, it is very important that close communication and collaboration be promoted among all the members involved.
In this context, using the right tools is a fundamental part. We recommend choosing those that allow real-time collaboration or facilitate feedback between areas. Online whiteboards are incredibly useful here and help facilitate real-time communication for your team.
When working under a role scheme, it is important that no one feels ignored or in a lesser position, so listening to your employees becomes a vital part of the plan. Employee feedback tools are usually a great communication channel that is also worth keeping in mind.
- Make the plan visible
One of the most common problems organizations seek to solve when implementing Cascading Goals is the fact that very few employees get to truly know their overall goals.
One tip to ensure proper alignment is emphasizing transparency. Creating public roadmaps and distributing goal-oriented strategy documents within your organization can help increase transparency, trust, and understanding among people at every level.
- Monitoring within everyone’s reach
The uncertainty in this type of methodology is usually an aspect that is rarely talked about, but it is of vital importance to achieving a calm and organic development of objectives. Because of this, consistent monitoring is important to remove uncertainty at any level and document any need for change along the way. This can also be a result of miscommunication, but this is also less likely with more consistent monitoring.
- Commit to the goals
Instead of creating short-term goals that provide a focus for a brief stint, strongly committed to the goals and values set for the entire organization. Cascading goals will only work if everyone through an organization is completely on board, and that starts front the very top. Commit to the goals, values, and metrics set forth, and use that as an example for the rest of the company.
This commitment goes further than just an initial sprint. All cascading goals should be measured, analyzed, and reviewed to ensure they’re functioning properly. The commitment doesn’t just come in the very beginning; it must follow all touchpoints in the follow-up strategy.
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How to Evolve Cascading Goals to Flow Both Directions
Creating cascading goals can be very helpful for a standard, hierarchical organization, but there can be difficulties implementing it in its traditional sense. Cascading goals downwards isn’t always the most effective route for a company to take, and it can create some challenges. Below are a couple of potential challenges traditional cascading goals can create.
- Less Autonomy: Traditionally, along with communication and individual alignment, cascading goals is a top-down approach. In the modern workplace, employees are often afforded more freedom to create and achieve their own goals while working simultaneously towards the goals of the team. This can harm the morale of workers who need more autonomy to function at their peak efficiency.
- Rigid Structure: The cascading structure typically functions one way, which can make it more of a list of demands than a goal structure. If communication doesn’t flow in both directions, this structure can collapse and won’t be effective. Additionally, it requires everyone to narrow their scope to a predetermined set of goals. While this can increase efficiency in some teams, it’s a rigid structure that doesn’t benefit everyone.
- Administrative Pains: Because the structure of cascading goals is so rigid, it requires constant upkeep, analysis, and organization. This can turn into massive administrative pains if the process needs a lot of upkeep, which can detract from the overall purpose of creating cascading goals.
These pain points are obviously a frustration for organizations trying to implement cascading goals. In order to make cascading goals more democratic, they can be altered to cascade upwards as well as downwards. Traditionally, the goals flow from the top down, but this is obviously not a viable solution for everyone. In cases where it doesn’t work, you don’t need to fully abandon the idea of cascading goals, but it simply needs to be evolved to fit your needs.
Cascading goals upwards, as well as downwards, looks like a mix of strategic objectives. At the top, executives will outline the biggest strategic markers for the business, but these won’t directly determine the actions of employees. Employees will analyze these goals and determine objectives to meet based on how they think they can most effectively reach the company milestones. When setting individual goals independently, people are known to be more engaged and motivated to complete them.
By aligning goals from an employee level up to the executive milestones, organizations can save time from forcing a rigid top-down structure onto their teams. This goal-creation method saves time, is much more simple than an extensive cascading structure, helps create individual ownership, and provides a deeper understanding of company objectives on an individual level.
For an upward cascade to work, however, there are a couple of key requirements. These are listed briefly below.
- Goals must be translated: Firstly, the overarching goals must be set in a way that is digestible and relatable to each individual. The language must be familiar, and it has to be grasped by everyone in the organization. If it isn’t, then people won’t be able to set accurate and effective individual goals.
- Employees must understand goal-setting requirements: The second requirement for people to set effective goals is they need a framework that explains how to set effective goals. While they can still determine the objectives themselves, they need to be measurable, pertinent, and achievable. Without this understanding, people will end up setting goals that are, for lack of a better word, pointless.
As long as these two items are crystal clear, cascading goals upwards as well as downwards can be an extremely effective method of goal creation and is very viable for an organization to implement. While cascading goals have been popular for a long time, this evolution of cascading both ways might be the next step in moving your organization forward.
If you need to create a structure of goals within your organization, cascading goals are a perfect structure to implement. If you want to check out how IdeaScale Whiteboard can help implement and enforce cascading goals, check out our free online whiteboard tool today. Additionally, if you want to explore some of our cascading structures, check out our unique strategy choice cascade template.