When the Kansas City Chiefs pro football team played the New York Jets on Dec. 11, the team had one goal in mind: Win the game.

It didn’t work out that way. The Chiefs lost by a fairly sizeable margin, which prompted a headline in the Kansas City Star the next day saying “Jet lagged.” And, it ended up costing the Chiefs’ head coach his job.

Nobody cared that the Chiefs’ error-prone backup quarterback only had one interception or that the Chiefs’ kicker had a 53-yard field goal (although he also had the dubious distinction of muffing an onside kick with the ball only going 2 feet). People just remembered the final score: 37-10.

Sports teams probably have the clearest goals. When it comes to winning and losing, there is really only one number that counts.

Very few people have that kind of clarity in their jobs. Yet, it is important to make employees feel like they are “winning,” regardless of what kind of job they are in. Whether it’s a restaurant, airline or dairy farm, you can instill a winning attitude with the right kind of goals and ongoing feedback.

Goals often misunderstood
While the Kansas City Chiefs had the goal of winning the game, that goal was really the sum and substance of other goals being met or not met. The quarterback achieved his W goal of keeping interceptions to a minimum and the kicker achieved his of hitting a long field goal. But the defensive unit, by giving up 37 points, clearly did not meet its goal because players were out of position or did not anticipate some of the Jets’ plays —most notably, a bootleg by the Jets quarterback where he ran to his left, completely unimpeded, for a 3-yard touchdown. Someone on the Chiefs defense should have been instructed to guard that side of the field.

Goals are the tactics you employ in achieving a favorable outcome.

“Goals are a means to an end,” points out Bob Milligan, senior consultant for Dairy Strategies and professor emeritus at Cornell University. “The end is to have people focused and productive.”

Yet, many people think goals are the end; that is, if you throw out a few goals out for the employees, there is instant clarity and the employees will do what they are supposed to. But that is rarely the case.

Say, for example, the owner of a dairy sets a goal of 5 turns per hour in the milking parlor rather than 4. He should also involve his employees in how best to meet that goal, Milligan says. By giving their input, the employees become invested in the goal, as well. Perhaps the employees and the owner will decide together that they can take an incremental step and reach 4.25 turns per hour by the end of the first month. That creates a realistic goal and gives the employees a fair chance of “winning.”

“One of my clear rules is to make sure they do something that’s attainable,” Milligan says. If goals aren’t attainable, there is frustration.

On-going feedback important
Another rule is to give employees on-going feedback. It’s not a matter of sitting back to see if the milkers achieve 4.25 turns by the end of the first month. The owner or his managers need to give the milkers on-going help and encouragement —for instance, streamlining udder-prep process. A more efficient udder-prep process can then become a goal unto itself.

Milligan says he met with the owners of a dairy farm in early December and the owners committed themselves to having more meetings with employees. The meetings will take place at least once a month and involve one-on-one discussions with each employee. One of the employees has already expressed a desire to learn more about the farm’s crop operation, which will provide an agenda item for the first meeting.

The idea, Milligan adds, is to help employees improve their job performance. “They know where they are and they know they are getting better,” he adds.

Part of a winning process
Goals become part of the process for making everyone better, including the farm owner.

In the best-selling book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” author Stephen Covey presents a time-management matrix with Quadrants I-IV. It is clearly better to spend more time in Quadrant II where a person is dealing with important matters in a non-urgent matter.

By helping employees avoid problems on an on-going basis, there are fewer crises to solve. Often, the crises occur because they employees aren’t sure what they should be doing or where they stand in the overall scheme of things.

“The cause of almost all relationship difficulties is rooted in conflicting and ambiguous expectations around rules and goals,” Covey says. Certainly, this manifests itself in a marriage where the goals are often implicit or assumed rather than explicitly stated.

If people know what’s expected of them, and they have a realistic chance of meeting those goals, then they should come out feeling like a winner.