Goal setting for employees is an essential part of planning out their workload. If you don’t set concrete goals, important things go undone or your employees can get overworked with too much to juggle in too little time. When a manager and employee sit down together to set goals, this organizes the work into manageable steps and sets expectations that employees can more easily meet. It also allows the manager to better understand who needs to do what. Whether you’re planning a big project or just need to better organize the coming quarter, make goal setting a priority and use these tips to make your goals more effective.
It’s important to help employees make goals, but you don’t want to go about it the wrong way. Goals should be helpful and improve communication and expectations between employees and their managers, not increase stress. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when creating goals to improve the benefits of goal setting for your employees.
Goal setting is a tool to help your employees coordinate and to give direction to their work. However, excessive goal setting with managers can end up being more burdensome than helpful. For example, if an employee isn’t interested in setting personal goals with their manager every quarter, forcing them to set goals just to look productive on paper can cause resentment and unnecessarily increase their workload.
Sometimes the best set goals fall apart as situations and priorities change. Other times, employees or managers can get overly optimistic about a timeframe for a particular goal, or want to try something challenging to push themselves. Failure to meet a goal isn’t necessarily bad for the company, but it becomes a serious problem when bonuses and other compensation are withheld. When you penalize failure, it puts pressure on employees to only make goals they can easily meet.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t have goals directly related to the job for measuring productivity. Every job comes with certain expectations that employees agree to meet when they take the job. However, goals set by the employee, particularly employee developmental goals, should not carry ‘do or die’ stakes. This will either lead to an overstressed employee or an employee that is motivated to set useless and easy goals.
Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. If you’re not making SMART goals, you’re making goals that are doomed to fail. Be specific in what you and your employee want accomplished. If your employee wants to “be more of a team player” then spell out what that means for this goal. Do they want to use the chat more? Do they want to ask for help more?
To make your goals measurable, put some numbers in there. Does your employee want to spend at least 5 minutes per day in the team chat? Do they want to present in at least 3 team meetings? Making your goals measurable is an extension of making them specific. Don’t say “more” or “less”, put numbers to what you want done wherever possible.
Like specific and measurable, achievable and realistic go hand in hand. Does your employee have the skills required to achieve their goal? Is the goal realistic when you take into account their current workload and their resources? Are there obvious roadblocks, such as budget constraints, that will definitely prevent the success of the goal?
To keep your goals timely, you want to put a time limit to completion. Should the goal be met by the end of the quarter? End of the year? If your goal is a perpetual one, then you likely need to break it down into smaller goals. If your company wants to increase revenue by 5% by the end of the year, what’s a step your employees can take within the next quarter to meet it? Big goals often need to be broken down into smaller goals to keep everything on schedule.
While many employees prefer to make their goals and go for it on their own, everyone needs the support of a good manager. What this looks like depends on the goal, but in general, you should make sure the employee has all the resources they need made easily available. You can also check in to make sure they have enough time set aside for them to work on these goals and that it fits within their current workload. For long-term goals, it can also be helpful to make sure the goal stays relevant over time and make changes with your employee when necessary.
Offering support can also come in the form of encouragement. While you should avoid dangling bonuses or major compensation (that can lead to a dangerous carrot and stick mentality) small rewards for success along the way can help employees feel more appreciated. For example, company calendars and planners are great tools to help plan long term goals, especially for personal goals to help improve job satisfaction. Stylized pens and branded mugs can make great rewards, as well, for completed company and team centered goals.
When creating employee goals, there are different categories most professional goals fall into. These are the three most important and most common professional goal types that you and your employees can make together:
While personal goals are often used to help the employee improve themselves and their performance, many companies confuse these goals with team or company centered goals. Personal goals should first and foremost be for the employee, made by the employee. These goals can be used to help an employee avoid burnout and increase job satisfaction. Examples include goal setting for professional development through learning new skills, or improve work-life balance by utilizing more of their PTO. Maybe they want to make their workspace more ergonomic, or eat healthier while at work. Employers can help with these goals by providing resources, guidance, and clarification of company policies to reduce unnecessary pressure to overperform.
These goals are all about benefiting the team and whatever goals the company wants the team to accomplish. If your team has a certain project to get done, employees can set individual goals to help meet that objective. For example, if your sales team wants to sell 50 vacuum cleaners by the end of the month, each employee could make the goal to sell five. Goals like these are great for keeping everyone working together in an organized way.
Just like team centered goals, company centered goals are all about reaching a larger objective together. However, company goals tend to be long term and more broadly applied than team goals. For example, the company may have a goal to be more customer-centered. To help with that goal, employees can have the goal to check in with customers every 1-2 minutes while they are on hold, or dedicate an extra hour to answering customer emails every day.
While some goal-setting sessions can be something of a time waste (you know, the meetings that could have been an email?) there are some situations where goal setting is essential if you want to keep everyone on task and working together. Here are some of those situations where goal setting for employees is an absolute must.
Once every three months is a good time to stop, look at where you’re at, and do some course-correcting. Every company should make sure managers are meeting with their employees at least once per quarter to make sure expectations are being met on all ends and to make or adjust goals for the next three months. This is also a great time to work with your employees on ways to improve job satisfaction, become aware of any challenges they may be facing, and making a plan. Some teams can also do weekly goal setting sessions, though these should be fairly informal and mostly involve keeping everyone informed of the coming week’s workload.
Most companies will make annual goals, so it’s important for managers talk to their employees one-on-one to clarify company goals and find ways the employees and teams can work toward them. This is also a great time to discuss opportunities for professional growth and raises so that you can better be prepared for your employee’s goals for the year.
Any time you start a new project, such as changing locations, adding a new department, or reducing spending, you need to get together with your employees and make a plan. This is an area where SMART goals are particularly essential so that everyone knows what they’re doing, what is expected, how much time they have to do it, and how they can work it into their already established work load.
Any time throughout the year, things can happen. Weddings, funerals, pregnancies, and other life events will have a major impact on the lives of your employees, and we can’t just pretend they don’t. When major life changes come into play, talk to your employees and discuss their concerns, their goals, and their expectations going forward.
There are also times when your employees simply want to grow professionally, or maybe you want them to do more in your company. This is also an essential time to make plans with your employee about their future and offer support to help them grow professionally. Showing loyalty and support during times of growth and times of hardship will lead to a happier, more productive employee and drastically decrease your turnover.
When you plan your goal setting for employees, it’s important to take an “all in this together” approach. Beyond the basic expectations of the job, goal setting should be a process where you and your employees work together to make positive changes for themselves and the company. Any time you’re asking an employee to give more, you need to bring more to the table for them to work with. In other words, don’t dictate, collaborate.
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