Goal Management: How Employees Can Evaluate Their Progress

A happy employee is excited about accomplishing a goal.

Employees should manage the goal process to determine what worked, what needs improvement and what possible changes need to take place.

In this series about goal setting, we've talked about how to help employees create relevant goals and how employees should regularly monitor them. As you can see, this isn't a once a year activity. In fact, it's probably best to think of them in terms of process. Employees create a goal, watch their progress and then, finally, evaluate their work.

At some point in the process, employees should assess their progress to determine what worked, what needs improvement and what possible changes need to take place.

How to Properly Assess Goals

Here's a two-step process that employees can use to evaluate their progress. This should be done regardless of whether the outcome was achieved.

What went well?

Always answer this question first! Even in situations where the outcome has gone very wrong, there can be some bright spots to celebrate. Some people might be tempted to launch into the negative and it's very difficult once the negativity has started to get back to the positive. So, start with what went well.

What could be done differently?

Notice this question doesn't ask what went wrong. It's possible that the goal was accomplished, but there are still things that could have been done better, faster or more economically. Goals present learning opportunities. The activities discussed here should help employees in the future, not be an exercise in placing blame.

One activity for managers to consider when it comes to assessing a goal is having the employee answer these questions as sort of a debrief — but let the employee answer the questions first. What went well? What could be done differently? Employees might be hesitant to share the positives and the manager can use it as an opportunity to provide some positive coaching. Additionally, employees could be hard on themselves and managers are in a position to provide the needed support.

Hopefully, after the employee provides their assessment, the manager has very little to add. They can support the employee's comments. This transforms what could have been a negative conversation into a more supportive one.

Closing the Goal Loop: Modifying Existing Goals

Once a goal has been properly assessed, the work isn't over. New goals need to be set. Old goals need to be changed or modified. Some goals need to be abandoned. To figure out next steps, focus on these two areas: people and process.

When it comes to people, goals need to be set and supported by the right people. It may be tempting to not invite "Debbie Downer" or "Stick in the Mud Steve" because they will just groan and whine, but the reality is that goals need people to push back every once in a while. Goals need people to ask the tough questions.

It's also worth noting that when the right people aren't given an opportunity to listen and buy into a goal, they can unknowingly undermine the goal's success. Simple statements like, "Oh, I don't know anything about that … " or "I wasn't invited to the meeting … " can send the message that everyone doesn't support the goal. That creates confusion and division within the team.

The second area of focus is process, meaning getting the right information so goals aren't created in a silo. Goals are typically made based on a set of assumptions. When a goal is changed or modified, organizations need to confirm that the assumptions are still accurate. The business world is changing all of the time, and so is the data in it.

If for whatever reason, the assumptions change, or the data doesn't look as favorable as it was previously, organizations need to be prepared to stop pursuing the goal. This is a big decision. The achievement of goals can be attached to compensation, promotion and even a person's ego.

Modifying goals involves having the right people in the room looking at the right information. It means everyone is making decisions in the best interest of the organization, knowing that those decisions impact them as well.

Mastering the Goals Process Is a Skill

Being good at setting goals is only one step in a long process. Goals should be monitored, assessed and ultimately updated or changed. Employees who have all the right skills should be able to create self-awareness and self-learning opportunities for themselves.

Organizations should make an investment in giving employees the skills to be exceptional at goals. Not just accomplishing them, but really making sure that employees can drive their own performance.