There’s been a critical Paris climate change summit taking place with a key difference to previous ones which fascinates us. We hear a number of observers excited about a major and material change to the process of agreeing targets. And crucially it impacts on motivation…

Target monkeys

In previous summits, world leaders gathered to try and agree an overall target, then who should do what and then pressure individual countries into achieving them. Sound familiar? It’s like a leadership team setting the growth number and setting targets around it, or a government setting a reduced expenditure target, and then trying to get everyone to agree to the individual targets. Everyone just becomes target monkeys.

The power of owning goals that are owned!

This time, countries were asked to come to the summit with their own targets and their own plans for achieving them. Suddenly the whole dynamic is changed and the motivation is way different. We know that when there is more autonomy in setting and using goals then there is more empowerment. There’s more motivation to work towards the goals and less measuring and chasing by someone else (who’s the real owner of the goal).

An alternative view

Where goals were set for themselves by countries, many were more ambitious than previous targets that were set for them. Goals were designed to give a number of benefits: to provide direction, to help overcome obstacles, to provide a way of measuring progress and to encourage innovation. Very often the overwhelming focus is just on the third of these four (see rule 12).

Often, ridiculously, more effort is put into trying to get people to buy into other people’s goals than helping people to set and use goals effectively for themselves as a superb performance tool (rule 16). When goals are owned and used by the people who set them the actual behaviour is much more likely to lead to the benefits described: greater focus, greater effort, more innovation.

Natural selection

What the climate change summit showed was that the old way has not been working well. And with the new way, many countries’ objectives and plans exceeded everyone’s expectations anyway! Many people are inherently motivated to want to grow, learn and stretch themselves.

So if what you’re doing isn’t working, you’re not highly motivated to achieve your target or you’re finding you’re spending a lot of time trying to motivate others, maybe a change of process, like in Paris, is needed. Try a different approach, try setting your own goals or invite the people you lead to set their own and to share them with you.

Imagine a world where things are recalibrated. As an employee you set your own goals (and you empower yourself to do this!) As a leader you employ people who want to do a good job, who are capable and want to take pride in their work. You provide direction and leadership and encourage them to use the performance tool that we call a goal to stretch themselves, grow and ultimately improve results. Owning your own goals is a key ingredient to getting this working well. You never know…