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6 tips on setting effective goals for your employees

Updated: Feb 4

Setting goals for employees is a key responsibility for any manager. By setting effective goals, a manager not only enables improvement in employee productivity but also actively helps strengthen the organisation as a whole and enhance its employer brand.

So you’ve got your company strategy in place for the year — well done. A company without a strategy is a lost company. The thing is, that strategy doesn’t mean much if your team doesn’t have a plan to make that strategy become a reality. This is where effective goal setting for employees come into play.

Here are six great tips to keep in mind on how to go about setting effective goals for your staff:

1. Align them with the company’s objectives

Each employee’s goals should be tied to the company’s overall growth strategy in order to be effective. When employees understand how their individual role and responsibilities contribute to organisation’s growth, they are often more focused and motivated to achieve the goals you set for them.

Consistently communicating the strategic business goals you are looking to achieve and regularly emphasizing the company mission is key to keeping your employees engaged in the work they do.

2. Invite your employees to contribute

As a manager you may have certain objectives in mind for each employee, but you will get more insight on what’s really needed if you ask employees to identify goals specifically related to their individual jobs.

When their suggested goals align with company objectives, you can help develop action plans to attain those goals. Depending on the position, it is usually prudent to centre specific goals around productivity and efficiency. When setting goals with an employee, aim for fewer mistakes on the job and an increase in productivity. For example with a customer-service representative, you could aim at addressing customer issues in a shorter period of time so that they can handle more customers daily.

3. Make them SMART goals

When it comes to setting goals with your team, you can never go wrong with the SMART system. All goals you set should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-related.

Specific: A specific goal should let employees know what is expected, when it’s expected, and how much is expected. The more specific a goal is, the better your employee’s chances of success are. It’s a lot easier to make an action plan for, “increase social media engagement by 30 per cent over the next three months,” than “get more likes.”

Measurable: Breaking your employee’s goals down into smaller, measurable elements helps them to stay on track and lets them know exactly how much more they need to do to achieve their goals. Consider these their goal “milestones” to hit throughout the process.

Attainable: If a goal isn’t attainable by an average employee, it isn’t a reasonable goal. It’s okay for employees to aim high and think big, but working toward an unattainable goal is simply a waste time or resources. Goal-setting sometimes fails when the objective is too ambitious or simply unattainable, given the employee’s skill set and available resources. Burdening an employee with an unattainable goal can lead to frustration with the whole job and a resulting lack of motivation for further improvement.

Relevant: A relevant goal is one that will have the greatest impact upon your employee and the business (as discussed in the first two tips above). This component is especially important when linking employee goals to that of the department — and of the company as a whole.

Time-bound: Every goal needs to have a deadline. These can be linked to review cycles or another schedule, but goals should always have a specific time frame in mind. A goal without a deadline is less likely to be achieved. A time-bound goal offers more motivation for an employee to achieve it.

4. Be consistent with your employees

You should make sure to set consistent goals for employees with similar responsibilities and rewarding them for achieving said goals. Avoid setting different goals for employees with similar responsibilities as this can lead to feelings of unfairness and suspicions of favouritism which are detrimental to morale.

If the goal is for an employee to receive a promotion, it’s important that employees of similar levels are given similar goals. If one employee is required to achieve five tasks before receiving a promotion, an employee of a similar level shouldn’t be required to achieve ten tasks for the same promotion.

You should also refrain from encouraging internal rivalries, as they can lead to lower workplace morale and resentment for managers. Tempting as it may be, goal-setting is usually unsuccessful and can often turn disastrous for your organisation when framed as a contest or competition among employees.

5. Reward employees who achieve their goals

It’s critical to recognise employees who set goals and then achieve or exceed them. Not only does such a recognition (reward, bonus, certificate, or public acknowledgment at a staff meeting) honor that employee’s efforts, but it also demonstrates clearly to other employees that the company values this type of commitment and hard work. It motivates the rest of the workforce to go the extra mile too.

When such hard work goes unnoticed, employees can justifiably feel there’s no point in working so hard for your organisation and may begin doing just the bare minimum or looking for a new job elsewhere.

6. Work closely with employees who fall short

Not every employee will successfully attain their goals, and handling employee failure is what separates the great managers from those who are just good. If the agreed-upon deadline arrives and goals haven’t been met, you should sit down with the employee and have an in-depth discussion about what went wrong, combined with encouragement to try again and address or rework the stated objectives.

Apart from helping the company achieve its objectives, setting effective goals for your employees can boost employee engagement and retention by ensuring that every member of your team understands their role in the overall strategy of the organistion.


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