Goal Setting with Employees -- What Should Employees Work On?

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How to Set Relevant and Realistic Goals With Your Employees

Additional Perspectives on Setting Goals With Employees

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Experts assert that goals assigned to employees should be directly aligned with the goals from the strategic and business plans of the organization, so the reader might benefit from scanning some of the contents in those topics. Many organizations further refine those goals by doing various task and job analysis to identify what competencies (knowledge, skills and abilities) are needed by the employee to achieve the goals. The results of those activities often are itemized in job descriptions.

How to Set Relevant and Realistic Goals With Your Employees

© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD

Supervisors -- Regardless of Level -- Often Lack Understanding of Performance

Performance is when an employee is achieving a goal in a highly effective and efficient manner and when that goal is closely aligned with achieving the overall goals of the organization. A common problem for new supervisors is having no clear, strong sense of whether their employees are high performing or not.

Employees can be very busy in their roles, but that does not mean they are high-performing if their roles are not directly contributing toward achieving the overall goals of the organization. The first step toward solving this problem is to establish clear performance goals. Some people have a strong negative reaction toward setting goals because they fear goals as “the law” that must be maintained and never broken. Some people fear they will never achieve the goals. Others have disdain for goals because goals seem to take the “heart” out of their work.

Advantages of Using Performance Goals in the Workplace

Despite the negative views that one can have about goals, they hold certain strong advantages in the workplace. They:

  1. Provide clear direction to supervisors and employees.
  2. Form a common frame of reference around which they can effectively communicate.
  3. Clearly indicate success, and can cultivate a strong sense of fulfillment for those working toward achieving the goals.
  4. Help clarify the specific expectations of the supervisor and employee.

Employee Performance Gaps, Growth Gaps, Opportunity Gaps and Training Gaps

Goals can be useful for specifying expectations and for setting measurements of progress in working to fill four types of gaps:

Performance gaps

These gaps are identified during the employee performance management process. Ideally, performance gaps are addressed by performance improvement plans. Performance improvement plans are sometimes a last-ditch effort at helping a person to improve his/her performance. Ideally, the performance problem is addressed through ongoing feedback and adjustments during regular one-on-one meetings. In these plans, goals are established to improve performance, and may include, for example, increased effort on the part of the employee, support from his/her supervisor, and certain training and resources to assist the person in his/her development. Dedicated employees can greatly appreciate having specific performance goals for them to achieve in order to keep their jobs, verify their competence to their supervisor and accomplish overall professional development.

Growth gaps

These gaps are identified during career planning. Employees perceive certain areas of knowledge and skills that they would like to accomplish in order to qualify for certain future roles and positions. Employees often appreciate having clear-cut goals that mark what they need to do to advance in their careers.

Opportunity gaps

These gaps are identified when a sudden opportunity arises for the employee. If the person is highly interested in taking advantage of the opportunity, then he or she will appreciate knowing exactly what goals must be achieved to take advantages of the opportunity. Growth gaps and opportunity gaps are very similar.

Training gaps

These gaps are identified when hiring a new employee, during performance management planning or career planning. Gaps are usually in terms of areas of knowledge, skills or abilities (competencies). Training plans can be designed with clear-cut training goals to give direction to the employee or trainer.
Whatever the type of goal, it is critical that the employee have strong ownership and commitment to achieving the goal.

Performance Goals Should Be SMARTER

You can help ensure that goals are agreeable to supervisor and employee by ensuring that they are highly involved in identifying the goals. When setting goals with others, strive to describe them to be “SMARTER.” This acronym stands for goals that are:

  • Specific -- For example, a goal to generate three types of financial statements, including cash flow, budget-versus-actual and income statement.
  • Measurable -- For example, to be able to assess if the three types of statements were generated or not.
  • Achievable -- For example, the goal would be irrelevant if the person had no access to the financial information from which to generate the statements.
  • Relevant -- For example, the goal would not be useful if the organization has no plans to ever make decisions based on the financial statements.
  • Timely -- The statements should be generated by a certain deadline, for example, in time for the Board to review and approve the statements.
  • Extending capabilities -- Ideally, the goal involves the person’s learning more than they already knew about generating statements.
  • Rewarding -- Ideally, the activities of generating the financial statements would be fulfilling for the person to accomplish. If goals seem insurmountable to the employee, then break goals down into smaller goals, or sub-goals or objectives until they are SMARTER.

Additional Perspectives on Setting Goals With Employees

The Goals Grid: A Tool for Clarifying Goals & Objectives
Writing Good Work Objectives
Goal Setting and Goal Achievement
Setting Goals
Objectives Setting and Performance Evaluation
Goals and Change: an Exercise
Setting Objectives
Value Creation and Navigating the Changing Work Place
How to Get Employees to Care as Much as You Do
How to Set Goals for New Employees


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To round out your knowledge of this Library topic, you may want to review some related topics, available from the link below. Each of the related topics includes free, online resources.

Also, scan the Recommended Books listed below. They have been selected for their relevance and highly practical nature.

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Recommended Books

General Information About Supervising Other Individuals

Leadership and Supervision in Business - Book Cover Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision in Business
by Carter McNamara, published by Authenticity Consulting, LLC. Provides step-by-step, highly practical guidelines to recruit, utilize and evaluate the best employees for your business. Includes guidelines to effectively lead yourself (as Board member or employee), other individuals, groups and organizations. Includes guidelines to avoid burnout -- a very common problem among employees of small businesses. Many materials in this Library's topic about staffing are adapted from this book.
Leadership and Supervision With Nonprofit Staff - Book Cover Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision With Nonprofit Staff
by Carter McNamara, published by Authenticity Consulting, LLC. Provides step-by-step, highly practical guidelines to recruit, utilize and evaluate the best staff members for your nonprofit. Includes guidelines to effectively lead yourself (as Board member or staff member), other individuals, groups and organizations. Includes guidelines to avoid burnout -- a very common problem among nonprofit staff. Many materials in this Library's topic about staffing are adapted from this book.

The following books are recommended because of their highly practical nature and often because they include a wide range of information about this Library topic. To get more information about each book, just click on the image of the book. Also, a "bubble" of information might be displayed. You can click on the title of the book in that bubble to get more information, too.



Also See

Human Resources -- Recommended Books

Leadership -- Recommended Books

Management -- Recommended Books

Personal Development -- Related Books

Training and Development -- Recommended Books

Facilitation and Teams -- Related Books






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