Goal Setting for Employees

Goal setting is a leadership performance management strategy for helping employees align their activities with organizational goals to achieve multiple positive outcomes. Goals are signposts on a roadmap to achievement, enabling measuring efforts and determining the contributions to the team and organizational success. That sounds great until it's time to write the goals.

Where does a manager begin? Goals can stretch employees to achieve their best performance, but they can also become demotivating when they are unattainable. In some ways, goal writing is an art form. They drive outcomes and motivate and inspire employees, and in the end, create value for people and your business.

Projections, Inc. has had the pleasure of working with hundreds of companies to reach thousands of employees over the last few decades.  Our team solves employee engagement challenges, and our process always keeps that goal in mind. We create custom eLearning solutions so that you can train employees any time, any where, on any device with an internet connection.

Importance of Goal Setting for Employees 

Andrew Carnegie understood the power and value of goal setting. He said, "If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes." That's an inspirational perspective. Pablo Picasso understood the complex reality of goal setting and achievement. "Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success."

"If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes."  - Andrew Carnegie #goalsetting #settinggoals #SMARTgoals #SMARTergoals

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Putting goals for employees into writing is the engine for setting a motion, a process that helps employees achieve success. Goals developed the right way are essential because they:

  • Motivate employees in the workplace 
  • Improve morale by helping employees understand the value of their contributions to the organization 
  • Promote a sense of belonging in the workforce and organization 
  • Improve job satisfaction  
  • Promote ongoing two-way communication or feedback 
  • Link employees and their leaders in a positive way which promotes positive employee relations 
  • Boost productivity 
  • Link employee performance to business objectives and priorities 

Ultimately, properly developed goals are employee engagement tools. The goal-setting process is a strategy for recognizing employee efforts as much as it is for measuring achievement. 

Types of Goals 

The first step is to understand the two main types of goals you can develop with employees. 

  • Performance goals – Employee performance goals place focus on jointly established goals that are specific, meaningful, and measurable. They identify expected performance (output or achievement), competency (how job responsibilities are carried out), and positive, productive behaviors. Performance goals are directly tied to the person's job responsibilities and are intended to tie personal achievement to the achievement of company goals. 
  • Development goals – Employee development goals place the focus on the individual's learning and career development. The goals should encourage the employee to grow in multiple ways. For example, skills improvement or adding new skills, increasing knowledge, developing networking skills, improving communication skills, overcome weaknesses, increasing adaptability, developing emotional intelligence, increasing team participation, strengthening leadership potential, etc.  

The employee determines the development goals but needs the direct support of management. For example, improving communication skills requires your organization to give the employee access to learning resources, like those Projections develops for potential leadership training.   

The conceptual goals are developed first. These are the high-level end goals that don't specify the process for attaining them. Operational goals are the goals that drive specific processes and behaviors to achieve high-level goals. The operational goals enable the measurement of the contribution of particular employee activities to achieving goals. 

(As an aside, in highly networked flat organizations where departments or functions are interdependent, goal setting is a bit more complex. The reason is that employee goals and performance in one area can impact the goals and performance of employees in another. Setting goals, in this case, requires interdepartmental collaboration.) 

The #goalsetting process is a strategy for recognizing employee efforts as much as it is for measuring achievement. #SMARTgoals #employeegoals #settinggoals 

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How to Write Employee Goals  

The process for writing goals is a collaborative effort between the employee and manager or supervisor. In the past, managers would set goals without much (if any) input from the employee. It quickly led to setting unachievable goals. This is the Proactive Era in which employee relations are changed in so many ways.   

The basic rule for writing conceptual and operational goals is that they follow the SMART goals guidelines for starters:

  • Specific – goals are specific in defining achievement and are not ambiguous; they can include some "stretching" as a motivational strategy. 
  • Measurable – goals are measurable quantitatively or qualitatively. 
  • Achievable – goals are realistic and can be achieved. 
  • Relevant – goals are relevant to organizational goals. 
  • Time-bound – target dates are set for meeting goals. 

Keeping these guidelines in mind, goal setting for employees should be characterized by the following. 

SMART goals

Identify organizational performance goals and development goals. 

You need to identify organizational goals and objectives first because you want to link employee performance goals to organizational goals. Development goals are just as critical. Organizations need to consider more than present needs for filling leadership positions. They should plan to meet changing skills needs and filling a leadership pipeline. Identifying the skills people need is as important as measuring the skills employees possess to meet organizational goals.

Communicate the importance of organizational and SMART goals to employees. 

Communicating to employees the importance of organizational goals and the value employees bring to business success through their efforts is important to employee goal setting. You want to get everyone thinking about their job responsibilities, strengths and weaknesses, personal goals, and career goals. This is a way to build an engaged workforce in which each person feels appreciated and valued.

Employee training at this point can take many forms. For example, it could be eLearning lessons on the purpose of goals, the goal-setting process, and the use of measurements at the organizational and employee levels. You could post custom videos on the business website that discuss SMART goals and how the manager will apply the goals during the employee-leader discussions on performance and development goals. Take advantage of your digital communication system and send inspiring messages via text or social media.

Meet with each employee and establish goals.

The managers and supervisors responsible will meet with each employee for goal setting. Employees are the people who have the most insights into their jobs, so they have the most insights into meaningful goals. The manager or supervisor works with the employee to convert insights into goals that align with organizational goals.  

Many businesses now have hybrid workforces with onsite and remote employees. If it's impossible to meet in person, it's still important to meet online using a program like Zoom or your enterprise web-based meeting system.

When setting goals, encourage employees to think in terms of stretching themselves. Goals that don't present any challenge have limited employee motivational value. In fact, the goal-setting process could seem quite rote over time. Your leaders can learn the skill of encouraging employees to challenge themselves. These are soft skills, like emotional intelligence and active listening. 

Develop measurements for goals. 

Goal measurement is intended to assess the quality of work and effort to meet goals and to encourage employees to pursue goals. They need to be specific and not general. You can measure the quantity and quality of work, but other metrics can support employee success. For example, you can measure efficiency at meeting work goals and successfully completing training and development eLearning programs. Whatever metrics or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are established should focus on improvement.  

Track goals and update as needed.

Goal setting for employees should not be viewed as a means of judging employee behaviors and results. It's a process for helping employees experience success by meeting goals. Goals are not set in cement. The rapid rate of change in the business environment today means goals are likely to need amending as time goes by. Technology, in particular, is having a significant impact on employees.  

It's important to identify the reporting frequency of measurements, so the goal setting and measurement process doesn't get postponed or ignored. Employees need regular feedback, so they know how they are doing while they are doing it.

The World Economic Forum (W.E.F.) The Future of Jobs report forecasts changes in the labor market and employer needs. Employers surveyed said that 40 percent of workers would need reskilling due to the acceleration of technology, and 94 percent of employers expect employees to learn new skills on the job.

Performance goals and development goals can play a critical role in nurturing new skills development, but they can be closely integrated with learning opportunities your organization offers. Goals should support learning flexibility, encourage positive behaviors, support corrective input as a path to improvement, keep skills gaps as narrow as possible and identify and support leadership potential.

goal setting

Feedback Creates SMART-er Goal Setting 

The goal-setting process is a feedback process which means it's also an employee recognition process. Leaders collaborate with their employees to set and update goals. Goal-setting for employees is an opportunity to fully engage employees and strengthen positive employee relations. Feedback flows two ways, meaning the goal-setting process is a learning process for the leadership and the employees. This is a critical employee engagement process. At one time, the feedback mostly went from the manager to the employee, but today it is two-way. This reduces a large amount of the stress associated with the performance review because employees have a voice.

Train My Leaders on Employee Goal Setting

You want your goal-setting strategy to be SMART-er.  If your organization’s managers need help setting goals with your employees, our A Better Leader lesson titled “Goal Setting & Achievement” is just what you need! You can schedule a free demo or sign up for a 14-day trial to get started with your first training today. 

Here's a preview of what this lesson is all about.

Here's what your leaders will come away with when they complete "Goal Setting & Achievement" training from A Better Leader:

  • Why goal-setting works
  • Two different types of goals and timelines to consider when setting them
  • The SMART way to shape goals
  • Helpful goal-setting tips and tricks

In this lesson, leaders learn how to set goals and the achievements along the way that make reaching those goals possible. Your leaders get tips and techniques for timelines, methods for creating S.M.A.R.T. goals, and why these skills are important both personally and as a team. 

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About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is Projections’ CEO and the founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.