Achieving Sense (and Cents) Out of Goal Setting




Setting the right expectations for employees through goal setting can provide a significant ROI as part of an overall performance management system. However, making sense of how to drive a successful process can be a daunting task for employees, as well as for the HR professionals who need to lead teams through the process.

First, to achieve results in the process, there are several factors to understand and apply within your company:

1) Ensure that goal setting is applied to the right things. If your company is using S.M.A.R.T. goal setting (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) to document things that are normal, day-to-day components of people’s jobs, then you’re really using the goal setting method of S.I.L.L.Y. (Situated Illogically Linking to the Lane of Yesteryear). This doesn’t promote progress; wasting time and energy on basic things people know to do impedes innovation and promotes the thinking that just performing at the standard job description level is acceptable. Instead, S.M.A.R.T. goals should be linked to business goals and demonstrate how the individual can provide additional value to the organization and for the roles where this makes the most sense.

2) Apply S.M.A.R.T. goal setting to employee populations that have flexibility in the way that they achieve value for the organization. Employees in leadership and most professional roles come to work every day with a question to ask themselves, "Am I going to just do the standard work to get by, or am I going to look for ways that I can perform highly and add significant value to help bring my company forward?" An employee that processes widgets probably only needs good metrics and productivity goals to get on the road to attaining good levels of performance. The majority of energy for goal setting should be spent in the populations that need to make a choice on whether they will come to work to achieve a work standard or constantly look for ways that they can add extra value and make a real impact on the company’s furthered success.

3) Help employees create a line of sight between their job performance and the company’s direction and goals. Most companies have newsletters and/or forums to relay business priorities to their workforce. However, it’s not often leaders meet with their employees to make sense of the information and help them to link what they do to the business priorities. Many leaders assume individuals can achieve this linkage on their own when many employees need a little priming to do so. Holding debrief discussions on a company’s vision and goal data can have a substantial impact on employee engagement levels and promote higher quality goal setting.

With those factors in mind, here is the general process used to achieve results through goal setting:

1. Begin by sharing (and/or debriefing) information on the company’s direction and goals.

2. Ensure that the goals created at the department level are linked to company’s long and short-term goals.

3. Leaders then share expectations on what teams should aim to accomplish, as well as any expectations on how those results are accomplished. For example, collaboration and working across department boundaries may be a key behavior that employees should expect to demonstrate and be rated upon this coming year.

4. Team leaders meet with each employee to ensure everyone understands the expectations, as well as the part that each person plays in the team’s, department’s, and company’s success.

5. Employees then create their goals and meet with their leaders to ensure agreement, gain clarification where needed, and discuss support or feedback, if necessary.

What is done is as important in the process as how it is done. For example, it’s important that employees drive their goal creation versus having the goals handed to them in order to drive commitment and engagement. Also, as part of moving forward, make sure that feedback is a core part of the overall performance management. At the end of the goal setting meeting, leaders and employees should agree upon the time frame for performance feedback conversations. Then, make sure that leaders follow-through on these agreements to provide quality feedback.

Performance management and goal setting is difficult to perfect. Aim to continuously improve the process every year through data obtained via means such as engagement surveys and discussions with employees. Following these tips and process, employees can make sense of the process and apply it to attain superior results, and companies can generate some real cents from the process too!


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