One old adage of management theory is whether you motivate someone by dangling a juicy carrot in front of his nose (money, promotion or vacation time) or beating him with a stick (pay cuts, firing or being publicly lambasted for failing to hit sales targets).

Lots of ink has been spilled on this subject and it turns out that both carrots and sticks can be effective ways to motivate employees to invest in business goals. On the other hand, both methods are fraught with danger. Rewards work well the first time they're given but they're too expensive to be sustainable, and the use of individualized rewards can cause resentment among the people whose contributions go unrecognized. The stick approach is counterproductive if people rebel against their treatment and leave.

A better solution is to create an inner commitment - so-called intrinsic motivation - to the goals you're setting from each and every employee. In other words, you're going to have to think about how each of your business goals plays out in the context of an employee's personality, if you're going to get your staff to buy into them.

Here are some suggestions for tackling the issue.

1. The "Why" Versus the "What and How"

Some personalities, notably Intuitives, are driven to look under the hood and ask "why" you're setting the goals that you're setting. If the "why" is not there, then every goal you set for this individual will hang in the air. Why should we develop a product for this sector of the market? Why should sales be increased by 30%? Why does this goal even matter? If you can't answer these questions, your Intuitives will not buy into your goals.

Sensors, by contrast, prefer practical, down-to-earth goals that are clearly delineated. They like to know what's going to be accomplished with the goal and how it will be achieved. So, you'll need to clarify the nitty-gritty detail if you want a Sensor to pay attention. What is to be achieved? How will it fit into the rest of my work schedule?

2. Stretch Versus Comfort Zone

Another thing that may divide your Sensors and Intuitives is the concept of "stretch" goal, or goals that are novel, ambitious and a bit out of reach. At least on paper, your Intuitives will enjoy stretch goals as they are challenging and inspirational - simple goals are just too obvious for "N" types. If the purpose of a goal is to go beyond what's been done before and lift the team to a higher level, this will fit right in with an Intuitive's modus operandi of reaching for the moon.

Sensors prefer goals that are simple and attainable. Ideally, there should be enough challenge in the goal to motivate, but not so much that it's beyond reachable. Sensors pay attention to the practical realities of goals. You must show some tangible evidence that the goal can be achieved before a Sensor will buy into it.

3. Focus Versus Flexibility

You're probably familiar with SMART goals - ones that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Bound. SMART goals work well for people with a Judging preference and especially those with the Sensing-Judging combination: ISFJ, ESFJ, ISTJ and ESFJ. That's because SMART goals are focused and unambiguous, which marries well with the SJ's need for structure, schedule, and control.

Generally, Judgers don't need much motivating to work towards goals. Goal accomplishment is a natural part of their work process; every day they'll create a new list of objectives and cross items off their list. When goals are explicitly defined in the SMART format, Judgers will get on with tackling them.

Goal setting for Perceivers requires a very different thought process. Perceivers approach the world in a spontaneous, flexible and adaptive way. This means that goals are always emerging - it's enough for a Perceiver to worry about the rough direction of goals without having to comply with a strict methodology.

While most Perceivers would agree that you need goals to motivate, the best goals are merely guidelines that are open to reevaluation at any given time.

4. Structure Versus Free Space

Another way to increase employee buy in is to consider what measures are necessary to achieve the goal. Are you prescribing the process, or is the method of achievement up to the employee? If an employee's (SMART) goal is to make 10% more sales by the end of the quarter, is it up to him how he does it?

Generally, who leads with goals should not micromanage. It's a manager's job to agree the who, what and when, but not the how. Many personalities will enjoy having a level of creative freedom in the delivery process since it gives them direct ownership of their own investment in getting the job done.

There are, however, a couple of personalities who may be overwhelmed when given too much process freedom. ISFPs, for example, don't articulate much and avoid confrontation. Be sure to check in with ISFPs regularly and provide constant reassurance they are doing things the right way. You might also suggest some rudder changes if things are running off course. 

Put Employees in the Driving Seat

When different employees have different preferences, setting goals is something of a balancing act. The trick is finding that Goldilocks sweet spot - goals that are focused but not inflexible, ambitious but not so stretched that they never get achieved. What's the best way to go about that?

The best option is to put your employees in the driving seat and have a series of meetings to establish:

Short-term goals that can be accomplished in a few days or weeks. You can keep these goals hyper-focused - with a short deadline, there's only a small risk that unexpected events will throw the goal off course. Setting short-term goals provides an opportunity for your focus- and process-driven employees to enjoy small wins, build confidence and introduce the idea of making progressively bigger and bigger goals.

Longer-term goals. These goals should be much broader in scope and not fixed down to the last detail. They're characterized by adaptive planning which means they can react flexibly to unforeseen and unpredictable events. Intuitives and Perceivers will enjoy heading up these goals. You can then break the broad goal into small, SMART and achievable sub goals to stop Perceivers from procrastinating.

While the Thinking and Feeling dichotomy has less relevance in the context of goal setting than Sensing/Intuition and Judging/Perceiving, it is nonetheless important to consider the people side of business goals. Holding periodic goal planning meetings and regular update sessions to discuss and review your goals should reassure your Feelers that goals are being set in a fair-hearted, subjective, people-first manner. Feelers need to believe that your goals reflect what's best for everyone.

Thinkers, by contrast, need to run a proposal through an extensive thought process before committing to a goal. Goals must represent the best possible future state, so allow Thinkers plenty of planning time to think about the possibilities ahead of the meeting.

A monthly cycle is usually about right for these sessions, but it really depends on the goals and the team.

Summing It Up

The best goals in the world can fall absolutely flat if they don't align with personality differences. Be sure to involve the team and enlist their support in the goal-setting process. Strike a balance between SMART versus stretch goals and above all, trust your employees to achieve goals their own way. If you do these things, your goals will soon have check marks next to them, with minimal effort.

Jayne Thompson
Jayne is a B2B tech copywriter and the editorial director here at Truity. When she’s not writing to a deadline, she’s geeking out about personality psychology and conspiracy theories. Jayne is a true ambivert, barely an INTJ, and an Enneagram One. She lives with her husband and daughters in the UK. Find Jayne at White Rose Copywriting.