Setting goals… it’s easier said than done. When it comes to setting employee performance goals, the road to effectiveness is difficult to map out. According to a 2014 Towers Watson study, only half of the participating organizations say they effectively work with employees to set individual performance goals. If you’re wondering why employees are only reaching 10-20% of their goals, this could be a reason why.

The problem is, there are so many possible reasons employee goal setting isn’t being done effectively by management, it’s hard to pin down just a few to discuss. The problems might come from a lack of top-down transparency, inconsistency in alignment with company values, an overabundance of micromanagement and more. Instead of looking at what not to do, let’s look at what managers can and should do to achieve successful employee goal setting.

Need to learn to set #goals successfully? @ClearCompany has the #PerformanceManagement tips you need! Read more:

#1. Align Employee Goals with Company Goals

Although some employees might think so, managers don’t just exist to help employees reach their own professional goals. While many managers do care about their employees personally, their job is to develop employees for the continued success of the company. It benefits both the manager and the employee when the employee’s goals align with the overarching goals of the organization. This is not news! It might surprise you to learn, however, that more than 80% of managers say that their goals are limited in number, specific and measurable. So where is the the disconnect between managers and their employees?


Alignment can be difficult if managers don’t understand the strengths, weaknesses and intrinsic motivations of their people. One surefire way to familiarize managers with their employees’ wants, needs and goals is to establish open and honest communication. They should try to increase communication to at least once a week, especially during big projects and track each employee’s progress to identify strengths and areas of improvement. Finding the time to personally communicate with each employee isn’t easy, but the benefits are worth it in the long run.

#2. Collaborate with Employees to Set Goals

According to recent research done by Gallup, only about half of employees understand their job expectations and, even more concerning, managers aren’t even sure of what is expected of them! Especially when you consider that among employees who strongly agree that their manager helps them set performance goals, 69% are engaged.

If employees aren’t aware of what they should be working towards, they are just existing, not developing themselves or the company. Managers can combat this too by including employees in the process of goal setting. Discovering strengths, weaknesses and career goals should be a team effort so managers can easily and frequently assess their work, set milestones and think about the big picture. Only 26% of Millennials feel their employers are actually invested in their professional development. Collaborating on goals will help them feel connected and will allow them to plan reasonable, attainable and concrete goals with managers.

#3. Make Employee Performance Goals Challenging, but Attainable

“Shoot for the stars” isn’t really an analogy that works for performance management. Managing employee performance is all about practical, attainable and realistic goal setting. While having ambitious goals shouldn’t be a bad thing, it can negatively impact employee morale and engagement. Moreover, setting goals that are too high can burn out employees. If their goal is “sell as many printers as possible,” eventually they’re going to hit a wall, and productivity will decrease. Micromanagement is also a danger here—of those who had experienced it,  71% said micromanagement interfered with job performance. Once a manager sets a goal for their employee, they must trust that employee to complete it. However, the manager should be available if the employee requests help.

However, goals shouldn’t be too easy. An overly simple goal will leave an employee bored and stagnant in their development. Instead, managers should assess each employee’s strengths and craft goals based off individual development. One thing that should be avoided is expecting each employee to meet the same goals. They are not the same person and goals should reflect that; personalization is key. And always remember to make goals SMART:

  •      Specific
  •      Measurable
  •      Achievable
  •      Relevant
  •      Time-bound

#4. Increase Engagement with Career Discussions

Tying employee performance goals to the big picture plays a big part in engaging and motivating employees to work toward goals. In fact, Gallup’s Q12 research found that, “clarity of expectations is perhaps the most basic of employee needs and is vital to performance.” Take that idea one step further with career discussions. An employee wants to know what’s expected of them in their current role as well as what roles they might end up in, so they know what to work toward.

When assessing and discussing employee performance goals, managers should “feel out” an employee’s attitude toward their current role and see where they hope to be in the near future with the company. An easy way to do that is to schedule a one-on-one chat to specifically discuss career aspirations, or it can be built into the existing performance review process. Keeping employees looking to the future will make goal setting (and achieving) more meaningful and motivating.

Don’t forget to discuss #career paths and goals for your success in #GoalSetting and #EmployeeDevelopment! Get more tips from @ClearCompany:

#5. Recognize Goal Achievement (or Lack Thereof)

Recognizing employee performance goal achievement, or any goal achievement, is another motivating factor to continued goal success. Employees will be engaged and motivated from the above tips, but often times, realizing the success of professional development can take time. Managers can keep employees engaged by recognizing and rewarding them when they’ve met goals. Rewards can come in the form of a bonus, a pay raise or an extra day of vacation. The possibilities are nearly endless. At the very least, managers should take time to personally recognize their team’s successes, whether it’s in one-on-one meetings or in front of the entire company or department. Feedback, both positive and negative, is one of the fundamental building blocks of employee development.

On that same note, managers should work to assess why employee performance goals aren’t being met. Recent research revealed that 54% of employees feel their managers help remove obstacles that prevent employees from doing their job well. That number should be 100%. Just as understanding strengths and weaknesses is critical to successful employee performance goal setting, it’s also important to help employees fix their mistakes or identify areas where management is failing their team. Remember that every mistake is a potential learning opportunity!

In the end, employee goal setting is at the core of planning and achieving organizational goals. This is an area that has been notoriously put on the back burner or not effectively carried out. With the help of these tips, along with the right outlook, managers can start improving how they guide employees in setting performance goals and ultimately, get their organization one step closer to meeting goals. If you need a little help setting, tracking and measuring goals, ClearCompany’s complete Performance Management System does it all. Schedule a demo today to get the details from one of our experts.

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Sara Pollock
Sara Pollock
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As the head of a department in the midst of a sustained period of rapid growth, Sara has spent hundreds of hours interviewing, hiring, onboarding and assessing employees and candidates. She is passionate about sharing the best practices she has learned from both successes and failures in talent acquisition and management.

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