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Setting expectations for employees is the most critical step in any performance management process. A great article by Leigh Anthony describes how this fundamental step provides focus, increases motivation, helps employees to prioritize their responsibilities and offers measurability. Overall, it sets the stage for the coming months. Without setting goals, employees are flying blind, causing a loss in productivity and negatively affecting the company’s bottom line.

But setting goals doesn’t guarantee success. In order for goals to make an impact, they have to be properly set, tracked, measured and adjusted frequently. If not, a lot can go wrong.


Here are 5 Ways that Good Goals Can Go Bad:


1. When Goals Aren’t Clear:

A Gallup study found that half of U.S. employees don’t know what’s expected of them at work. It is staggering to think that 50% of employees aren’t being given clear expectations for their day-to-day work. If goals aren’t outlined in a way that guarantees understanding from both employees and managers, don’t be surprised if there ends up being a disconnect between the end result and what was expected.

The best way to set clear goals is to follow the trusted SMAART Goal Framework where goals are outlined in a specific way, all milestones and measurements are planned, timelines are established, employees understand the bigger picture, and the allocation of resources is confirmed. Setting SMAART goals not only ensures that expectations are understood, but it outlines clear actions and deadlines so employees and managers can monitor progress.


2. When Goals Aren’t Updated:

Employee goals should never be written in stone. It is rare to find an objective that doesn’t shift throughout a twelve month period. Projects can be cancelled, teams and organizations shift, new priorities are set, macro-economic factors influence company targets and focus – all leading to employee goals becoming irrelevant if not kept up to date. It is important that employees and managers revisit goals frequently to ensure goals are kept up to date. Frequent check-in meetings, quarterly reviews, or formal mid-year status meetings are all great ways for managers and employees to monitor the progress of goals and discuss any changes.


3. When Goal Achievements are Not Acknowledged:

Goals that are falling behind or are not achieved tend to suck up most of the attention from managers but it’s important that goal achievements are recognized too. If an employee reaches a milestone or a goal is achieved on time or in advance, employees should be acknowledged. Even a simple ‘nice job’ from a manager can make a world of difference for an employee who has invested a lot of time in a project or goal. A Forbes article by Meghan M. Biro highlights the importance of in-the-moment acknowledgement and feedback, which can motivate employees to keep giving their all in achieving their other goals. Adding context to this can take things even further. If an employee is given feedback on how their achievements have contributed to a larger company goal or objective, the acknowledgement is more meaningful and is more likely to reinforce the positive behavior.


4. When Goals Aren’t Achievable:

Goals look really good on paper but unless the employee has the capacity and resources to achieve the goal, it will do more damage than good. Goals that are not reasonable or achievable set an employee up for stress and failure. Guess what? Employees do not like to be stressed or to fail and that disappointment could send them packing. Train managers to set realistic goals or break large scale goals into achievable sub-goals so that employees feel confident in their abilities to see it through. Goals should always be high and should challenge employees, but if they are so high that they are a star in the sky, eventually employees’ arms will get tired from reaching out.


5. When Goals Aren’t Shared:

Goals that don’t align with overall company objectives result in wasted time and missed opportunities. It is important that company goals are defined and shared with the organization prior to establishing employee goals and that individual goals are being defined and aligned with the larger context of the company. When everyone understands how their job and role plays into the company’s overall success, it is more likely that they’ll work cohesively to achieve those goals.

Effective goal setting and management can make a huge impact on the success of employees and the organization as a whole. Ensure employees and managers aren’t just going through the motions when establishing expectations and that they are aware of the ways that even the best goal can go bad if left unchecked.


For more help setting goals:


Explore emPerform for effective goal setting, tracking, and check-ins. Start your free trial here.

emPerform SMART goals

Looking to set the best goals possible for employees? Make sure that your goals are high but achievable. Here is how to strike a good balance!

How can you tell if an employee’s goals are aggressive, but still attainable? How do you keep things fair while still pushing your team to perform better?

Finding the right balance between ambition and realism is a constant challenge for HR specialists and managers. However, not finding the right balance can undermine an employee’s performance. If you find yourself struggling to find a balance when it comes time in your employee evaluations to set goals, then here are a few things you should consider.


Start with SMART Goals

If you’re in the HR space, then chances are good that you have heard of SMART goals. If you aren’t 100% sure what a SMART goal is, then here is a breakdown:

S = Specific

M = Measurable

A = Attainable

R = Relevant

T = Time-bounded

You may have noticed that “Attainable” is (literally) at the center of a SMART goal. Another way to think of it, however, is that in order to be attainable, a goal also needs to be specific, measurable, relevant and time bound. In other words, don’t set a goal that is ambiguous, like “be one of the top salespeople.” Instead, say something along the lines of “you need to sell x amount this product by the end of the month.”


Factor in Past Performance

Sticking with the example of the salesperson, if your business has been around for 20 years and you have never had a salesperson increase their sales by more than 10% in one year, then why would you goal someone at a 25% increase year over year? While there are certainly some scenarios in which this may make sense, they would be the exception to the rule. Take a look at past employee evaluations and make sure to factor in an employee’s historical performance along with what other, top performing employees have done in the past, and set your goals accordingly.


Give Them the Tools They Need to Succeed

Goals are only attainable if an employee has the tools and resources needed to achieve them. Does the employee need to take additional training in order to meet a goal, for example? If you are setting ambitious goals, then make sure that you can provide the following:

1.            Regular communication

2.            Milestones and deadlines

3.            Making resources available (human, equipment, and materials)

4.            Periodically review the process as well as the progress

5.            Willingly revise and improve the process when necessary


Final Thoughts

Setting ambitious goals is important for an employee’s performance. After all, if they aren’t constantly challenged, then chances are good that the quality of their work will decline. Both the performance evaluator and employee must fully understand, agree, and sign-off on the goals set down.


If you would like to give managers and employees the tools they need to create and track SMART goals, explore emPerform’s easy-to-use online performance management software suite.

tiny pirate shipAhoy! For those who aren’t aware (including me up until yesterday), September 19th is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. I’m not aware of the significance or meaning but it sounds like fun so I plan to paaaaartake.

I’ve never met a pirate, nor do I plan to but I thought I was one when I was little so I’m basically an expert on the subject. Pirates, just like businesses, rely on their team of shipmates to navigate the rough seas and perform the myriad of tasks needed to reach a destination. The Captain plans the ship’s voyage but it’s the shipmates who work together to get there.

Ensuring each buccaneer is clear on what they are supposed to do, and that all teams are working together towards a common goal, is key. You can’t have everyone focused on the mainsail while the other sails are thrashing. In the pirate world – any under-performing member of the crew can easily be made to walk the plank because there is a port full of willing bodies ready to hop aboard the ship. But in the business world, finding and keeping good talent is vital. The challenge for companies today is organizing teams effectively so each person’s strengths can be used where and when they are needed to benefit themselves as well as the organization. This is much easier said than done and the lack of organizational alignment can cost businesses a lot of loot. I couldn’t find any productivity statistics on pirates, but here are some other numbers that are pretty eye-opening:

  • it is estimated that only 59% of employee work time is productive due to lack of management and clear objectives i
  • at a minimum, turnover costs an average of 25% of an employee’s salary – and this figure can be upwards of 400% of a senior executive’s salary ii
  • the average organization is forfeiting over $1 million per year in untapped potential

So how can businesses run a tighter ship?

Define each job and keep redefining it: Each employee should be clear on what their role is and how it is tied to company success. Each should know what skills they are expected to display and what skills they should be improving on in order to perform their job properly. In the pirate movies I’ve seen, when a storm hits it seems as though every shipmate runs to their post and knows exactly what they have to do.  This is what businesses should be aiming to achieve, not only through dicey weather but each and every day. More importantly, this role description should be dynamic. Just like the tides, roles are in constant motion and ever-evolving. If you stick employees in a box and tell them to stay there, you are likely missing out on some valuable skills and potential that could be used elsewhere.

Breakdown larger company objectives into team goals: Imagine a Captain yelling, “Get me to the Island!” How does the ship then get there? Well, one team plans the course, another ensures they have enough supplies to get there, I imagine yet another is responsible for polishing the wooden legs and feeding the parrots, and perhaps another fixes the boat so it doesn’t sink on the way. Broken down this way, you can see that “Get me to the Island” is the overall goal, however each team should have its own specific objectives. I don’t have to point out the obvious, but the same is true for businesses. Saying ‘”we need to achieve X amount of dollars in revenue,” or  “we must become the leader in our industry,” simply cannot be digested into meaningful action for employees. They need leaders to translate those goals into a set of specific team objectives that are to be achieved in order for the main vessel to stay afloat.

Adjust course mid-way: If the path to success were straight and narrow, this world would be a much different place. Just as Captains must adjust their course to avoid storms or re-dock for supplies, businesses cannot set their ships on cruise control and then be shocked when they miss their target. Even though most managers have a heavy workload of their own, if they neglect to monitor and adjust the actions and performance of their reports, the ship will steer off-course quickly. Employees need timely feedback and coaching from their leaders in order to keep their sea legs. You savvy?

Luckily organizations in this century have some help which allows them to align their people and track the motherload of milestones that are being met. Using technology to track goals, identify potential, monitor performance and provide almost instant feedback & acknowledgement is possible. It take a little planning to get started but once you set sail, it’s clear skies ahead.

Since 2004, emPerform has been helping companies better align, develop, reward & retain a top-performing workforce – capable of even the most ambitious of journeys. Start your free trial here.



targetGoal setting is a powerful process that has proven to increase professional results and employee satisfaction. Now is the time to create a plan, establish powerful goals that have a direct impact on company success, and begin the New Year with a clear motivation to turn a future desire into a present reality.

Join CRG emPerform and host, Dawn Kohler, President of The Inside Coach, as we explore:

  • How to create the right goals for the right reason
  • How to word motivational goals
  • How to make a goal a reality
  • How to adjust a goal for greater impact

Who will benefit?
Managers, supervisors, team leaders, HR managers, or anyone else who would like to set effective goals for 2013. Sign up for this powerful and informative webinar today!

Registration for the live event is no longer available but fear not! The video has been archived and is available for download here.

changing impossible to possibleIn an ideal world, the hiring process would be so flawless and efficient that every employee would be perfectly suited to their position and would have a complete understanding of their role from day one. Growth within the company would happen naturally, and as an employee gained the trust and confidence of his/her superiors, their responsibilities would increase at a proportional rate.

In reality, employee growth often happens in fits and starts, with a vast increase in one area often accompanied by stagnant skill acquisition in another. The pace and direction of an employee’s contributions can vary, and some of her greatest contributions can be among the most difficult to measure. Just like the evaluation process, the goal setting process is best approached with a dose of common sense and an understanding of the flexibility of human nature. As long as managers and employees keep the process meaningful and realistic, goal setting can be vital to employee growth and company productivity.

Here are a few common circumstances that can derail realistic goal setting. If you see these things happening, take control of the process and steer it back on track.

Employees are being compared to an unexamined standard. Employees need to meet and exceed expectations. But how are these expectations established? What is the gold standard, how is it measured, and how often is it reviewed and changed?

Employee resources are not being considered during the evaluation and goal setting process. Are employees working with limited tools under circumstances that undermine performance? If the answer is “I don’t know”, find out. Goals are realistic only when resources are taken into account.

Employees are being compared to each other, and nothing else. What productivity measurements are standard for the industry? Your geographic area? Research this before putting goals in place.

Performance is excellent but growth is slow, or vice versa. Often the most productive employees don’t Read More

emperform menYou asked – we listened. In our last Webinar, CRG emPerform presented a framework for Conducting Painless Performance Evaluation Meetings. During the webinar Q&A, we noticed that many of you had questions related to effective employee goal setting. Because effective goal setting drives success at every level within an organization, we decided to devote an entire session to presenting best practice goal setting insights and advice.

When: Tuesday, August 30th, 2011 2PM EDT

Where: IHR Virtual Conference

Register: click here to register*

Are you and your employees really SMAART? Specific, measurable, and attainable performance goals are the most effective tool managers can use to help employees achieve outcomes that support the organization’s goals. Yet, very few managers are able to craft goals that are motivating to employees and are clearly aligned with the organization’s objectives.

One of the most frustrating parts of being a manager is seeing employee performance fall short of expectations and not knowing why or how to fix it. Likewise, employees often say that they are unclear of what their manager really expects in terms of performance.

Marnie GreenJoin emPerform and host Marnie Green, in this one-hour webinar where we will explore why there is often a difference between what managers expect and what employees deliver. Tools for writing clear performance goals with employee input will be offered. In addition, other practical tools for involving employees in the expectation-setting process will be presented.

If you manage the work of others you won’t want to miss this practical and tool-driven session.

What will participants learn?

1) Why there is often a gap between manager expectations and employee performance

2) Tools for writing clear performance goals

3) Four kinds of performance goals

4) How to effectively involve employees in the goal setting process

5) Practical examples of best-practice performance goals

*This webinar has been archived and is available for free download here.