However, there’s more to setting employee goals than you might expect, and things can certainly go south if the process isn’t handled carefully. It takes a healthy dose of planning and a lot of communication to ensure that employees are on track to reach their goals.
Here’s a closer look at goal setting in the workplace, with helpful tips on how to set employee goals effectively.
Employee goals setting in practice
When done well, employee goals can help improve employee performance, as the practice can increase motivation and provide focus for your workers, leading to successful outcomes for your business.
In particular, setting employee goals for new hires is important, as it can provide structure and help new workers feel like they’re contributing right away. HR strategy consultant Ron Thomas stated that there is “no such thing as setting goals too early in the hiring process,” adding that goals can evolve according to different candidates. That’s a key consideration for businesses that are growing quickly.
For example, Pat Schoof, VP of Human Resources for San Francisco-based solar energy provider SunRun, shared that goal setting is a key part of the company’s growth strategy. When the company increased from 30 to 38 employees in one year, six-month and full-year employee goals were set for everyone in the company, and for the company as a whole.
Adapting goals can also be important for retaining top talent. The Harvard Business Review shared a case study about how search firm On-Ramps allowed a top performing employee to work two days a week in the office while completing the rest of her work hours on evenings and weekends - all so that they could keep her on board while she pursued a master's degree. On-Ramps had plans to check in frequently on what her goals were, and hoped to make a plan for her to continue at the company once she finished her studies.
Most importantly, setting goals can help employees define meaning in their work, contributing to greater job satisfaction and well-being.
5 tips for effectively setting employee goals
There are a number of different strategies when it comes to goal setting. Being transparent about both company goals and employee goals is essential. As Entrepreneur suggests, there’s added value in looking at personal goals alongside professional ones.
No matter what you choose to do, make sure your approach meets your needs and that it’s a good fit for your company’s culture.
1. Start early
As mentioned above, setting employee goals effectively means starting sooner rather than later. Ideally, you should start setting goals with new employees as soon as they’re hired, so that they can start to feel productive as early as possible.
2. Collaborate and communicate with employees
In order to set goals that are appropriate for a given employee, it’s important to spend some time discussing their personal and professional goals and about how that fits in with your company.
It’s important to make your people part of the goal-setting process rather than simply handing down commands from on high. Be clear about what you expect, but also ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Beyond that, take some time to reaffirm the mission of your company and how each employee’s role contributes to its success and achievements.
3. Keep it SMART
While there are certainly other criteria available for setting quality goals, the SMART framework is a great place to start (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound). Providing clear and specific goals is crucial for avoiding confusion and for ensuring that employees know what they’re responsible for.
Similarly, while some researchers caution against setting overly ambitious goals, there are benefits to setting goals just slightly outside of one’s comfort zone, as this pushes your people to achieve more than they believe themselves to be capable of achieving.
4. Be a role model and provide support
Creating an environment that’s conducive to success makes it that much easier for employees to thrive.
Employers should be role models and set the example for goal-setting by having management set goals for themselves as well. It's also key to express support towards employees and reinforce their confidence in their people's abilities to achieve what they were hired to do.
5. Track progress and give feedback
It’s important to make sure you’re tracking progress towards your employee's goals and providing feedback about their work.
One example is to put out detailed monthly reports on how specific departments are doing, but even something as simple as analyzing time and attendance data can be helpful for tracking goals and helping your business grow.
When it comes to feedback, be kind, supportive, and clear about your take on the progress that’s being made. And don’t be afraid to adjust and switch up your employee's goals along the way if needed.