Benefits and Compensation, Talent

Employee Goal-Setting Tips

Setting appropriate employee goals is an important component of keeping the workforce productive and motivated. It can also affect retention since clear expectations are a critical component of employee satisfaction levels. And organizations that opt to implement pay-for-performance programs have an added layer of accountability by putting a piece of the employee’s compensation on the line.

For these reasons and more, HR managers and all employee managers and supervisors have a vested interest in setting appropriate and effective goals for employees. Let’s take a look at a few tips to do exactly that.

  • Employee goals should be in alignment with the organizational goals. Some companies opt for a top-down approach to goal setting that takes each organizational goal and translates it into specific activities at each level within the company.
  • Create goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. This is often referred to as creating “SMART” goals:
    • Specific means the goal should not be overly broad; it needs to delineate exactly what is to be accomplished. The wording should not be ambiguous.
    • Measurable means the goal should have some means of objectively proving when it has been met. This usually means there is a metric associated with it or some other objective indication of what it means to have met the target.
    • Achievable simply means that the goal should not be so much of a stretch as to be unobtainable—which would actually serve as a demotivator in many cases!
    • Relevant implies the goal should be related to the person to whom it’s assigned; it should be related to that person’s job and within his or her realm of influence.
    • Timebound means, as the name implies, that the goal should have a specific time frame for completion and not be open-ended.
  • Ensure the organization has budgeted for employees reaching their pay-for-performance goals and/or other criteria set to trigger a bonus payment. (Not making timely payments of promised amounts can have the opposite effect and will negate the motivational aspects of the goal-setting process!)
  • Confirm that employee goals do not have inappropriate incentives hidden within them. For example, paying a sales force for new sales without specifying profit levels might mean the sales force is incentivized to sell products at low or even negative profit margins—clearly not the intended outcome! Put parameters on goals when necessary.
  • Monitor progress over time. Set up a standard in which employee progress toward goals is continually monitored. In other words, don’t wait until the end of the year to check progress. There should be a mechanism to frequently check progress so adjustments can be made along the way.
  • Don’t change the goals halfway through the time period. This can be a demotivator. However, when presented with extenuating circumstances, consider revisiting employee goals to ensure they’re all still appropriate and attainable. For example, if an extreme weather event affects production, it would make sense to revisit production goals for that time period to ensure employees are not being adversely affected by something outside of their control.
  • Work with employees to set goals to ensure the employees feel a sense of ownership over their position and achievements. This can assist in motivating top performance.

Setting appropriate employee goals and following these tips can help the organization reach its own goals and objectives. What other tips would you suggest to help employees reach their maximum productivity?

*This article does not constitute legal advice. Always consult legal counsel with specific questions.

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