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Goal Setting with Employees


When it comes to professional goals, most people are working toward a promotion, expanding their education or developing a new skill set. The problem that people run into when setting these personal and career goals is that they lack a concrete plan to achieve them. Goal setting with employees lets you lay out a course of action and increases their chances of actually attaining these outcomes.

Goal setting is a tool businesses can implement to increase employee satisfaction and fulfillment. A good leader makes everybody feel valued and important, so by showing concern for your employees’ personal growth, you can build a better rapport with team members.

Goal setting with employees is also an effective managerial technique. Rather than acting as an authoritarian, you can lay out expectations, make sure you’re on the same page and then collaborate on a plan of how to get the job done. To the worker, this approach feels far more democratic and cooperative than just being told what to do.

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Why is goal setting with employees beneficial?

A person with a goal is often excited and motivated by the idea of their desired outcome. These feelings keep them eager and enthusiastic about the work being done. However, simply having a goal in mind is a bit precarious. Someone with a concrete plan to achieve that goal is far more likely to reach it.

By laying out the exact steps someone must take, a goal setter knows exactly what they need to do to get what they want. Now, they can hold themselves accountable and keep track of their progress. Setting employee goals lets you, as a leader, do this as well. With awareness of what your team is working toward, you can provide support and encouragement along the way.

Goal setting is a method of personal development, and this comes from more than just achieving the intended outcome. The process of strategically working toward something builds soft skills such as perseverance, time management and organization. You can assist employees’ professional development during this time by providing them with resources and opportunities that bring them closer to their goals.

Finally, by setting goals for employees, you can ensure every individual on your team is working toward the shared vision of your company. When you align what individuals are trying to achieve with some greater purpose, it makes the day-to-day functions of the team more productive and meaningful.

The basics of setting goals

People may be interested in pursuing different types of goals. Goals can be defined in terms of what purpose they serve. Here are three examples of goals you often see in the workplace:

  • Process goals include learning new skills and carrying out actions that improve the quality of your work. For instance, learning a new language, mastering new software or pitching an idea are undertakings that may make you a more qualified and competitive person in your field.
  • Performance goals are based on a personal standard. Perhaps you’re not great at an aspect of your job, such as written communication, coding or customer acquisition. The desire to execute these broad tasks better would fall under performance goals.
  • Outcome goals involve winning. Oftentimes, these goals are threatened by outside forces, especially competition. Goals like landing a promotion or being elected to an honor of some sort are examples of outcome goals.

Another way to think about goals is in terms of objectives and tactics. Sometimes goals can be broad and ambiguous, so breaking them down into actionable steps can make them feel more obtainable. Objectives are the measurable steps you take to achieve a goal, while tactics are the tools you use to pursue each objective. For example, if the goal is to become a better public speaker, perhaps the objective is to practice once a week, and the tactic could be enrolling in an online course or committing to a local club as a way of staying accountable.

Maximize the chances of meeting your goals

Researchers have found that some simple tactics can be used to improve the odds of goal achievement. A Gail Matthews/Harvard study found that implementing these three actions into your goal-setting procedures can increase chances of success by 33%.

1. Write down your goals

The simple act of putting your goals down on paper makes you far more likely to achieve them compared to leaving your goals unwritten. Seeing your goal in writing serves as a constant reminder of what you should be aspiring for.

2. Make a public commitment

Tell other people about your goals. Whether it’s just one person or everybody you come across, letting others know what you’re working on can reinforce your commitment.

3. Get someone to hold you accountable

Keeping a record of your progress and sending daily updates or weekly reports or doing monthly check-ins is another tool to keep goal setters on track.

How to guide employees through the goal-setting process

One of the most popular frameworks for goal setting with employees is called SMART goals. This tool has been around since the 1980s and is used to break down personal and professional ambitions into more digestible parts.


The word SMART is an acronym, with each letter representing different criteria within your plan. You can use this outline with your employees when discussing their goals for the first time.

“S” is for specific

What exactly do you want to achieve? Often, our goals are too vague. Instead of using terms such as “improve,” “develop” or “attain,” be extremely clear and definitive about how you plan to do those things. If your goal feels somewhat ambiguous, lay out actionable steps to take in order to reach a particular outcome.

“M” is for measurable

How will you know when you’ve reached your goal? Determine how you will keep track of your developments. Quantifying your plan can make progress feel more tangible. You can, for example, set a specific number of hours you’ll log working toward your goal per week.

“A” is for attainable

Is this goal realistically within your reach? Being ambitious is great, but if you lack the necessary resources or capabilities to get the job done, you essentially set yourself up for failure. Make sure there’s nothing beyond your control standing in the way of you doing what you want to do.

“R” is for relevant

Ask yourself, “Why is it important for me to reach this goal?” Would it make life, present or future, more fulfilling in some way? Then, look at the big picture: How would working toward this goal and eventually attaining it contribute to your team and company goals? It’s useful to align personal goals with the overall mission of your organization to give employees a sense of purpose.

“T” is for time-based

Set a deadline. This provides a sense of urgency that can help keep you motivated. Goals can be short term or long term, depending on how intricate the plan is and how much time and energy must be exerted to fulfill it. How long will it reasonably take to achieve this outcome? Can you set short-term goals that help work toward a long-term goal?

Choosing goals that matter

When choosing a goal with employees, make sure it’s something important to them. Engage in an open discussion about why this matters to them, to you and to anyone else who could be impacted. Having a personal investment in the plan makes the work feel more gratifying and keeps a person devoted and determined.

If a team member doesn’t have a goal in mind, don’t be afraid to tell them exactly what needs to be done. For most people, a great source of motivation is the idea that someone else is depending on them. You and the employee should be equally excited about what they’re striving for.

Monitoring progress

The easiest way to keep track of each team member’s work is to do regular check-ins. These can be daily, weekly, monthly or according to any other time frame, depending on the goals being chased. Some employees might prefer to have these sessions in private. However, meeting as a group establishes a public commitment for each person, amplifying the sense of obligation. Try to incorporate a combination of one-on-one and team conferences to discuss each employee’s goal plans.

When having these conversations, note each team member’s progress. That way, you can reward people for their small successes along the way. Find out if anyone has come to a roadblock in their plans. If so, you can brainstorm solutions, make necessary adjustments or find out if there’s anything you can do to help.

Example of SMART employee goals

Here’s an example of how the SMART goal framework could be used in the workplace.

Janice is a college student who’s employed as a social media intern. She wants to be promoted to a permanent position at the company. This is a common ambition, but the goal setter should be more precise about what exactly they want to accomplish. Here’s how you could guide someone like Janice in transforming a vague aspiration into a SMART goal.


Pinpoint the goal by determining what department she wishes to join or what type of job she wants to have.

With her internet experience, Janice would likely thrive in the marketing department doing something related to the company’s online presence. By narrowing her scope, Janice can focus her objectives and tactics to make her more credible in this area.


Janice will know her goal has been achieved when she receives a job offer from a company executive. In the meantime, brainstorm ways she can measure her progress.


Will Janice realistically be able to achieve this outcome? Does she have the qualifications? What is her competition like? Will there be a position available? What else might stand in her way, and can she overcome it? Moving through this goal-setting step helps the employee realize the goal, no matter how ambitious, is within reach.


Why does Janice want to work at this company? What would employment here provide for her, for the team and for the company?

Janice’s priority may be to make a living wage. However, she may also be passionate about the company’s mission and feel her social media savviness can help the business reach a younger demographic.


Is this a short-term or long-term goal? A general rule of thumb is that anything that takes more than 12 months can be considered a long-term goal. As a college senior, Janice probably wants a job lined up when she’s finished her degree.

After working through the SMART Goals framework, Janice’s goal has become far more specific than the original statement, “I want to get a job.” With a clear end in sight, it’ll be much easier to design a plan of action with Janice, translating her goal into actionable steps and helping her keep track of progress over time.

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