A guide to setting goals with employees: strategies and tips

A guide to setting goals with employees: strategies and tips

As a manager, you want your employees to succeed. Goal setting can be a valuable strategy to motivate your employees and empower them to be successful in their roles. Not only does goal setting positively impact an employee's professional development, but it can also boost team performance and contribute to an organization's mission. Learn more about how to set employee goals, along with some helpful tips and strategies for setting goals with employees.

Why set goals with employees?

Employees want to know their work matters. You can connect their work to broader organizational objectives by setting goals for them. Goal setting with employees can show them how their contributions make a difference to the team or organization.

Other benefits of setting goals with employees include the following:

  • Establishing guidelines: Clearly defined goals can serve as guidelines for employee performance. You can use their progress toward goals to evaluate their work and conduct reviews.
  • Boosting engagement: Taking the time to set goals with employees shows them you're invested in their career success. It can boost their engagement, leading to a happier, more productive workplace.
  • Guiding their professional development: You can use goal setting to help employees learn new skills or sharpen their abilities, guiding their professional development and helping them improve.
  • Nurturing talent: Goal setting can be an excellent way to nurture the top talent on your team. You can identify the high performers and set goals to help them advance within the organization.

"Goal setting with employees can show them how their contributions make a difference to the team or organization."

How to set goals with employees

For some managers, goal setting for employees comes naturally. Others need some direction on how to work with employees to set and achieve goals. Following specific steps for goal setting at the workplace can make it easier.

Work with the employee

You may have specific ideas about worthwhile goals for your employees. Chances are they also have career goals they want to accomplish. According to recent Gallup research, about 59% of adults under age 65 set work or career goals for themselves.

Rather than telling an employee what their goals should be, collaborate with them to identify meaningful career objectives. You can offer recommendations and provide guidance but allow employees to take ownership of their goals. They're more likely to achieve them if they participate in the process.

Set SMART goals

Not all goals are created equal. Work with employees to set specific goals they're likely to achieve. You can use the SMART method as you set goals with employees:

  • Specific: Establish a specific goal directly related to an employee's job, such as a task or skill.
  • Measurable: Make sure you can measure an employee's progress toward their goal. For example, you may use a specific metric to collect data and monitor their progress.
  • Achievable: Ensure an employee can reasonably achieve the goal so they feel motivated to keep working toward it.
  • Relevant: Choose a goal relevant to the employee and the company, such as its mission or growth.
  • Time-based: Create a deadline for an employee to complete their goal so they clearly understand the timeline.

Create an action plan

Once you've worked with an employee to create a SMART goal, develop an action plan they can use to achieve it. Set smaller milestones they can use as progress benchmarks as they work toward larger goals. For example, if an employee aims to learn a new skill, a smaller milestone might be completing a related course. Discuss potential challenges and how they intend to overcome them as part of an action plan.

Monitor their progress

Setting employee goals is only the first part of the process. It's crucial to monitor their development so you can provide feedback and keep employees accountable. Use the metrics you've identified to measure their progress objectively. Schedule regular meetings with employees, such as weekly check-ins, to discuss their advancement toward their goals.

Provide coaching

As much as you want all your employees to succeed, some may struggle to reach their goals. When necessary, provide coaching. Ask questions to understand the challenges they're experiencing. Then, work together to find ways to address those problems. If an employee fails to meet their goals, meet with them to identify areas for improvement or rework the goal so it's more achievable.

Reward employees

Don't forget to reward employees who achieve their goals. For example, you might treat them to lunch or acknowledge their hard work publicly during the next team meeting. These rewards can provide motivation and show them you value their efforts. They can also inspire other employees to keep working toward their own goals so they can earn similar recognition.

Examples of goals to set for employees

There are many types of goals for employees in the workplace. Understanding the various types can help you find inspiration for targets to set for your team members.

Performance goals

These goals focus on ways an employee can improve their job performance. They usually involve an employee's tasks and responsibilities. Some examples of performance goals include the following:

  • Acquiring new customers or leads
  • Improving customer satisfaction survey scores
  • Reducing customer complaints
  • Increasing sales numbers
  • Developing ideas for new projects, processes, or workflows

Professional development goals

Professional development goals center on an employee's growth in their role. These goals often relate to broader organizational priorities. Examples of professional development goals include the following:

  • Earning a certification or degree
  • Completing a continuing education course
  • Developing a new skill
  • Identifying a professional mentor
  • Growing their professional network

Self-management goals

A self-management goal encourages employees to take initiative and show personal accountability for their tasks and output. These goals usually focus on a specific area of self-management, such as work-life balance or time management. Specific examples of self-management goals include the following:

  • Identifying strategies to reduce overtime hours
  • Improving productivity by prioritizing tasks more efficiently
  • Minimizing downtime or increasing productivity
  • Completing projects by their deadlines
  • Reducing stress levels to maintain professionalism in the workplace

Team goals

These goals can guide employees in improving their collaboration and teamwork skills. They encourage employees to work together, often leading to increased productivity and improved team dynamics. Some team goals may include the following:

  • Completing more projects each quarter
  • Developing new communication strategies
  • Improving team scores for quality assurance
  • Minimizing workplace accidents
  • Learning new tools through a group class or training session

Tips for setting goals with employees

There are additional tips for setting goals with employees.

Align goals with company objectives

When goal setting with employees, provide input on how their goals connect to larger company objectives or business priorities. This approach can show them how their actions influence the company's mission or success. For example, you may help an employee see how becoming certified can demonstrate the organization's proficiency.

Give employees tools to succeed

An employee who doesn't have the time or resources to work toward their goals is unlikely to achieve them. Make sure you give your employees the tools they need to succeed. For example, you may allow them to take two hours each week to complete a course. Employees will be more motivated to work toward their goals when they can realistically achieve them.

Hold employees accountable

Think of yourself as an employee's accountability partner as they work on a goal. Knowing you'll monitor their progress will make them more likely to work hard to achieve their goals. Don't hesitate to step in if you notice an employee struggling. Identify ways you can provide encouragement or offer support so they continue to feel motivated and excited about their goals.

Setting goals with employees can motivate them to boost their performance, advance in their careers, and make a difference within the organization. Use the helpful strategies in this article to set goals with your employees and lead them to achieve new career milestones.

More tips on goal setting with employees

Goal setting can be a key part of ensuring new hires find success on your team.

Do you have performance gaps on your team? Consider using performance improvement plans to set goals with employees.

Upskilling can be a great goal for many employees. Here's how to upskill employees effectively.

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