FAST goal setting is relatively new and getting a lot of attention. It’s a natural evolution of objective setting for a rapidly changing world.

The principle of “Management by objectives” was originally introduced in 1954, by Peter Drucker. He defined a structured approach to setting goals, typically on an annual basis, as a basis for managing performance and people. It was widely adopted and remained virtually unchanged for close to 50 years.

Its only over the past couple of decades that leading companies have started to question this approach and it’s only in the past year or two that FAST goal setting has emerged as an alternative. (Partly as a result of this MIT Sloan article from 2018.)

FAST Goal Setting

FAST goal setting defines 4 core principles: goals should be Frequently discussed, Ambitious, Specific and Transparent.

Frequently Discussed

Most large companies have some form of organization-wide performance management system (Workday or SuccessFactors are examples). You’ve probably experienced it yourself, agreeing goals at the start of the year and document the goals in the system. How often are they referred to again? In my experience, not very often (usually not until the end of the year!).  

FAST encourages ongoing discussion of goals as part of the day-to-day of doing business. Goals should be an integral part of the ongoing discussions you have with your team: in both team meetings and 1-1s.

The benefits:

  1. Ensures that the daily work of the team is closely aligned to the agreed goals, keeping everyone focused on what matters most.
  2. Encourages the team to make decisions more independently, because there’s clarity on the direction.
  3. Allows roadblocks and barriers to be quickly identified by the team and removed.

Ambitious

It’s tempting to set soft goals that are relatively easy to achieve (or at least to argue that they have been achieved!). This gives more control at the end of the year, in distributing pay-rises and bonuses. But this doesn’t drive performance.

FAST encourages goals that will stretch the team. They should be challenging but not impossible to achieve.

The benefits:

  1. Creates a sense of purpose for the team.
  2. Builds commitment to change.
  3. Encourages creativity and innovation to achieve the goals.
  4. Provides important reference for managing under-performers.

Specific

The SMART acronym has been around for years: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. Unfortunately goals aren’t getting any smarter!

FAST defines ‘Specific’ very specifically! FAST goals are expressed using defined metrics and milestones (often known as OKRs). OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. The Objective is the Goal itself, Key Results are how you measure progress towards the objective. It’s a simple but powerful way of ensuring that the FAST goal setting is specific.

The benefits:

  1. Ensures that everyone is clear about how to achieve each goal.
  2. Provides a basis for measuring individual contributions.
  3. Allows progress to be easily tracked, creating opportunities to celebrate success.

Transparent

Do you know your manager’s goals? Do you know the goals of your peers, who are leading other teams that you work with? For most managers, in most organizations, the answer is ‘no’. How can this help performance?

FAST requires that everyone can see each other’s goals, from the top to the bottom of the organization.

The benefits:

  1. Creates visibility and alignment from the top to the bottom of the organization.
  2. Holds everyone accountable for their individual performance, building a culture of performance.
  3. Allows teams to understand each other’s priorities and what’s driving their behavior.

In Summary

FAST goal setting is more than just a different way to think about goals. It provides a strong foundation for creating a high performing organization.

Whether it’s managing under-performers, creating accountability, aligning behavior or creating opportunities to celebrate success, FAST goal setting has a lot of benefits.

Even if your organization is still slow, you can adopt FAST core principles within your team to achieve success.

Useful? Share it with your network.

They'll be pleased to hear from you!