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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.

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.