Effective Employee Goal Setting: Part I

Employee celebrates

It's time to help employees get better at goal setting. Here's how.

The beginning of the year (either calendar or fiscal) inevitably leads to conversations about goals. But the reality is that we create, monitor, adjust, accomplish and even fail at our goals all the time. Goal setting is an important activity for organizations, which makes it an important activity for employees.

Often, our goal processes have a direct impact on whether or not we accomplish the goal. In part one of a three-part series about goals, we're going to talk about five ways to help employees create individual goals. Feel free to bookmark these posts as a guide you can use to train employees during one-on-one or department meetings.

1. Share Organizational and Department Goals

This might seem obvious, but there are many organizations that simply don't do it. Even if you have some super-secret goals and it's too early to share, organizations typically attach some goals to their budgeting process. They might involve increasing revenue, decreasing expenses or putting a program in place. Create a cascading goal process where the organization's goals are the department's goals, and the department's goals are the employee's goals. This means sharing goals with employees.

2. Give Employees Time to Think

Once employees know organizational and department goals, give them some space. It took weeks (or months!) to come up with those goals. Asking employees to create good goals on demand isn't realistic. Build a week or 10 days into the process for employees to think about the goals and how they can contribute to them. Word of caution here — don't give too much time because you don't want to send the message that this isn't an important activity or create a situation where employees procrastinate putting their thoughts together.

3. Don't Overwhelm Employees With Too Many Goals

Employees might come to a follow-up meeting with lots of ideas. In fact, they might come with too many goals and ideas! It's part of our role as HR or management to help employees commit to a reasonable number of goals. Additional goals can always be added later. Employees will enjoy the goal setting process more when they accomplish their goals. That doesn't mean goals need to be easy, but they do need to be realistic in terms of the time it takes to accomplish them.

4. Structure the Goal

Not all goals are created equal. Relevant goals have structure. That means they're actionable, accountable and measurable. Two popular ways to structure a goal include the "ABCD" and "SMART" methods. ABCD is an acronym that represents audience, behavior, condition and degree. The SMART acronym represents specific, measurable, actionable, responsible and time-bound. Both are practical ways to ensure everyone buys into the goal, success metrics are established and a realistic time frame is set.

5. Consider a "Stop Doing" Goal

We talk all the time about goals being things we need to start doing, but what about goals for things we need to stop doing? It's possible — as part of the organizational and departmental goals — that employees need to stop doing some things. That change can be challenging. Don't simply say, "Stop doing this." Give the task the respect it deserves and turn it into a goal. It places importance on the need to stop doing an activity and allows for conversation between the manager and employee about ways to break normal habits or routines.

Ultimately, organizations want employees to be excited about their goals. This is an opportunity for them to learn something new. Push their knowledge, skills and abilities. Maybe they can add a new experience to their resume — all things that make the employee a better performer and connect them to the organization's bottom line.

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