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Readiness for Objective-Setting in Elite Sporting Organizations

Before diving head-first into the exercise, sporting leaders must pause and ask themselves: are we ready as an organization to set objectives?


As the start of season nears, it’s only natural to feel the urge that now is a good time to set objectives for our team.

Equally, as sporting front offices continue to grow in headcount and increasing specialization, gaining alignment across the organization has become exponentially more difficult than in the past - made even more challenging by remote working norms post-Covid or the inherent structure of certain sports where staff are dispersed across geographies.

Taking a page out of the corporate playbook, many sporting leaders have quickly turned to Objective-Setting in order to obtain buy-in and alignment, logically at the start of year. However, in our experience, high performance organizations are not immune to the rules of gravity - “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Sporting leaders should always ask themselves first if their organization is indeed ready to set objectives, because defining goals as a team is not the cure-for-all. The organization must be ready where culture is the prerequisite, and know that it’s okay to wait for the next year before implementing goals and KPIs..

Below, we outline the 2 categories of questions for sporting leaders to consider in order to understand the readiness for and timing of objective-setting for their organization.

1. The Leadership Situation

  • Is the newly hired General Manager an external hire or an internal promotion?

  • Did the GM hire his / her own staff?

  • Is the new GM taking over an underperforming organization in desperate need of a reset? Or is the organization already on the right trajectory? Or is the organization already successful and the GM is tasked with sustaining the success?

2. The Culture of the Organization

  • Do we observe a consistent set of actions and behaviors across the organization?

  • Does everyone within the organization know what is expected of them on a daily basis?

  • Do the players, staff, and coaches know what is not tolerated?

  • Do the players, staff, and coaches feel energized walking into work everyday?

  • Do we still have any cultural terrorists or brilliant jerks in the organization?

  • How do we treat our players, staff, and coaches after trying something new but failed?

Rushing into objective-setting without firstly understanding the leadership situation and the culture of the organization is setting the organization up for failure. From our experience, achieving goals inherently require group contribution and cross departmental collaboration. If I don’t feel comfortable that my teammate will hold up to his / her end of the bargain, setting objectives is just creating greater dysfunction and greater distrust.

Instead, spend the first 12 months as the GM setting expectations with the group early on to make them understand and give people time to adjust their actions and behaviors to what we believe in and what we do not tolerate. Raise the bar and, more importantly, raise the floor. Strictly enforce these organizational values - those who do not fit within the defined actions and behaviors of the organization must be let go. Keeping these toxic individuals rots the very foundation high performance is built upon.


Finally, it is okay to wait. Sports compels people to work harder, to do more, and take action today. However, it is infinitely more powerful and beneficial to have the patience and wait for the ripe moment to set objectives as a team. As a GM, don’t let culture eat your strategy alive before you even give it the light of day.


By Darren He


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