Employee Goals: How to Set, Align, and Discuss Goals That Matter (2024)

Employee goals are at the heart of successful performance management. Goals help align employees with the organization’s mission. They also help employees see how their contributions fit into the big picture and the value they bring to the company.

Goals direct and guide employee efforts, motivate employee performance, and improve performance evaluation and strategic planning.

In other words, without the right goals, performance and engagement suffers.

Employee Goals: How to Set, Align, and Discuss Goals That Matter (1)

Why employee goals are important

Goals help people and organizations achieve more, faster, with less. Goals can be a powerful tool in your organization too. Here are some of the most impressive benefits of employee goal setting.

1. Increased alignment.

Goals unite employees, managers, and leaders around a common purpose. When employees understand organizational goals, they can align their team and personal goals to better achieve and exceed company-wide targets.

2. Clear direction.

Goals provide guidance to employees, including how they spend their time, which projects to complete, and the amount of effort to give their work. Goals encourage employees to take action and spend less time focusing on activities unrelated to their goals.

3. Thoughtful planning.

Goals prompt employees to plan. When employees have a goal to achieve, they are more likely to create and execute a plan to meet that goal.

4. Performance motivation.

Goals motivate, inspire, and fuel higher performance. They energize employees and drive tenacity. When faced with meeting a goal, employees become resourceful, using or seeking out existing knowledge or acquiring new knowledge needed to succeed.

5. Effective evaluation.

Goals help measure success. All future-focused organizations are trying to improve, grow, and succeed. Goals provide a clear path and method for evaluating company success by comparing actual to desired performance.

When managers and employees should discuss goals

Goal-setting is one of many crucial conversations managers must have with their team. But when should managers have those conversations?

Organizational goals should be a routine topic, integrated and woven into your regular conversations with your team. Consistently connecting business objectives to your team’s day-to-day work:

  • Helps keep everyone aligned with the organization’s mission
  • Links their individual contributions to a greater whole
  • Gives managers better visibility to improve performance conversations

It’s important to have regular conversations about individual goals with each of your employees. Sit down and discuss employee goals:

During goal setting meetings.

This one is the most obvious. Most companies set goals during annual or quarterly review meetings. These are good opportunities to take stock of past performance and look ahead to the next quarter or year to identify opportunities for growth. While goal-setting conversations may only happen annually or quarterly, make sure you’re talking about employee goals throughout the year.

At regular check-ins.

Regularly meet with your employees one-on-one to check in on goal progress. Check-in meetings help you gauge how they are doing, review performance, and discuss any obstacles or challenges that may be preventing them from achieving their goals. If an employee’s performance is going off-track, frequent check-ins help you intervene before it’s too late. This allows you to put a plan in place to help your employee get back on track or adjust goals as needed.

When priorities change.

Sometimes business or team priorities change due to evolving business needs, changing markets, or even budgetary changes. Help your employees adapt their existing goals or set new goals that align better with the new direction.

When goals are achieved.

When your team hits their goals, it’s time to set a new target. Sit down with your employees to come up with goals that will help them continue to grow.

How to set employee goals that drive performance

Use the following tips to help your team set goals that will motivate and engage employees and drive their performance year-round.

1. Include employees in the goal setting process.

Employee goals shouldn’t be set top-down. Instead, make goal setting a collaborative effort to get buy-in on employee goals from employees and managers.

Managers have a good bird’s-eye view of team and business priorities, which can help them identify useful performance benchmarks for their team. However, it’s important to bring employees into the conversation and include them in the goal-setting process.

When employees participate in setting goals for themselves, they are more likely to be invested in their performance from the beginning and are more accountable to the results.

2. Set targeted goals for continuous improvement.

If you don’t know where you’re going, it will be difficult to set meaningful goals. What is the ultimate business objective, team vision, or employee development plan? How can your employee’s goals help them get there?

When you sit down with your employees, be sure to give them this important context. When they understand the broader team goals and company priorities, they can set more effective goals that will have greater impact on individual and business performance.

Once you’ve set goals together, make sure to check in regularly on their progress. Goal conversations aren't a one-and-done task. They should be part of a continuous growth cycle.

3. Choose the right type of goal.

There are multiple ways to approach goal-setting. Consider using the SMART method or the OKR method to achieve results.

The S.M.A.R.T. Method

SMART is an acronym. Each letter stands for one of the five criteria of a “SMART” goal. The SMART philosophy holds that when people focus their attention in these five areas when goal setting, they’ll increase their chances of success.

S.M.A.R.T. goals should be:

  • Specific: The more specific and focused your goals, the clearer your target. Your team’s goals should answer who, what, where, and why.
  • Measurable: If you can’t measure progress, how will you know if you’re meeting your goal? Help employees set goals that are measurable, with clear metrics and milestones for tracking progress and defining success.
  • Attainable: It’s good to aim high, but make sure your employees are also realistic in their goals. Do they have the tools and resources to make it happen? Is the timeframe realistic? Reaching for unattainable goals is a great way to discourage and disengage employees when they fail to meet their goals. So make sure they set goals that stretch them without breaking them.
  • Relevant: Goals should align with broader team and business objectives. Help employees understand those priorities so they can home in on goals that make sense for them and make sense for the business.
  • Time-bound: Goals without a deadline kill performance. Time constraints help drive performance because they create a sense of urgency. However, too much time can slow performance. And too little time can lead to burnout from overworking or giving up on the goal altogether. Help your employees set fair and realistic timeframes for achieving their goals.

The S.M.A.R.T. method is a tried-and-true approach that works especially well with aligning employee goals to organizational priorities. However, it can sometimes focus too heavily on goal-setting and not enough on goal-getting. This can lead employees to essentially “set it and forget it” until the next annual review.

The Objectives and Key Results (OKR) Framework

The Objectives and Key Results framework organizes key results under objectives. An employee, a team, or an organization will typically identify 3-5 objectives with 3-4 key results underneath.

  • Objectives: Objectives are the ultimate desired outcome of your goal. They should be time-bound, actionable, qualitative or subjective, and inspirational. In other words, think BIG.
  • Key Results: Key results are measurable targets or milestones you are aiming to meet as you work towards your main objectives. Key results tell you if you have met or achieved your goal. They should be specific, concrete, measurable, and difficult but not impossible to meet.

Pros and Cons of SMART Goals and OKRs

There is a lot of overlap between SMART goals and OKRs. The main difference is that OKRs focus on setting aspirational goals rather than attainable objectives.

The OKR method helps employees aim high and break down the goal-getting process into manageable, concrete milestones. Where S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting tends to be a top-down practice, OKRs are a bottom-up, employee-led activity. This encourages employees to create inspirational goals that can motivate them more effectively and stretch their performance.

However, OKRs can lead to disappointment if you’re not careful. If the goals are too far out of reach, that can lead to frustration and demotivation among your employees. Additionally, because OKRs are employee-led, there is greater risk of misalignment with team and organizational priorities.

To make OKRs work, managers need to help their employees set objectives that will stretch them without breaking them and provide the needed context around company goals so everyone is on the same page.

4. Align individual goals to business objectives.

The purpose of goals is to propel your business forward. If employee goals aren’t relevant to your broader team and organizational goals, then what’s the point?

Share business priorities and team objectives so employees have context for setting relevant goals. Goal alignment is key because it ensures your employees are working towards results that matter while driving greater engagement.

Organizational goal alignment.

Effective goal alignment not only starts at the top, it sets the tone for the future of the organization. Company goals should inspire team goals, and team goals should inspire individual goals. Showcasing the connection between each level gives each employee a clear sense of purpose.

Team goal alignment.

If the organization isn't clear on its own goals and performance, managers and teams won't be clear on theirs. Aligning goals among teams gives employees the feeling that everyone is contributing to the organization's main goals together, forming stronger team bonds.

Employee goal alignment.

Individual employee performance goals should be aligned with organizational goals. When employees understand how their work contributes to the bigger picture they will be more engaged and motivated to perform.

5. Adapt goals in real-time.

Priorities change, team dynamics or functions shift, and suddenly the goals employees set in January no longer make sense in June. That’s okay! Change is normal and inevitable in business. The key is to adapt with those changes to remain relevant and effective.

Check in with your team regularly (at least quarterly) to make sure their goals are still relevant. Pay attention to factors like company changes, employee turnover, budget constraints or technology advancements that could impact goal alignment. Then adapt goals as needed in real-time so that your team is always aligned with business priorities.

Goal-setting is a powerful and important way to engage employees and drive performance. Make an impact with these employee goal-setting tips, plus 5 Sure-Fire Strategies to Set Goals That Get Results in our ebook.

Employee Goals: How to Set, Align, and Discuss Goals That Matter (2)

Published September 17, 2020 | Written By Kristin Ryba

Employee Goals: How to Set, Align, and Discuss Goals That Matter (2024)


How do you discuss employee goals? ›

Here are six ways managers can help employees set meaningful goals for 2022.
  1. Show employees how they can have an impact. ...
  2. Find common ground between employee and company goals. ...
  3. Consider new possibilities. ...
  4. Give goal setting a new name. ...
  5. Help employees achieve their goals. ...
  6. Show employees the benefit of reaching a goal.
Jan 18, 2022

What is employee goal alignment? ›

1. What is goal alignment? Goal alignment, or strategic alignment, is the process by which you keep your workforce working towards your company's overarching goals. When company-wide goals are set, steps must be taken to ensure that employees are informed about what they should be working on and why.

How can employees set clear goals and expectations? ›

Here are our top 6 tips for how to set expectations for employees:
  1. Set employee expecations early and often.
  2. Keep expectations attainable and realistic.
  3. Make expectations follow the SMART goal framework.
  4. Connect expectations to clear metrics.
  5. Review employee performance regularly.
  6. Be open to collaborating on expectations.
Jun 6, 2022

What are the 5 SMART goals for work? ›

The SMART in Smart Goals stands for stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based. In order to be a SMART goal, the goal needs to meet all five of these criteria.

What are 3 good goals for work? ›

25 examples of professional goals
  • Boost your time management skills. ...
  • Find new challenges in your role. ...
  • Learn a new skill. ...
  • Improve your work-life balance. ...
  • Foster team collaboration. ...
  • Expand your professional network. ...
  • Take on leadership responsibilities. ...
  • Consume content from thought leaders in your industry.
Oct 8, 2022

How do you set goals at work examples? ›

10 Examples of Professional Goals For Work in 2023
  • Take a course to sharpen your skills.
  • Learn a new tool (or 5)
  • Improve your public speaking and presentations.
  • Research other departments.
  • Improve team collaboration and communication skills.
  • Build your network.
  • Research a competitor.
  • Get better at time management.
Dec 19, 2022

How do you align employee interests? ›

Coaching in the Workplace

The process of aligning team goals with organizational objectives involves aligning individuals with their part in the bigger picture. Coaching sessions help employees tap into why they are doing their work and how their “why” connects with your company's mission and vision.

What is the most effective way for you to set goals? ›

First consider what you want to achieve, and then commit to it. Set SMART (specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) goals that motivate you and write them down to make them feel tangible. Then plan the steps you must take to realize your goal, and cross off each one as you work through them.

What is the most important rule in setting goals? ›

1) Setting Goals

Make sure your goals are clear and concise whilst still being realistic. The most important thing when setting a goal is that it needs to mean something to you.

What are the 4 easy steps to setting goals? ›

Here are the seven steps:
  1. Decide what your goals/objectives are.
  2. Write down your goal.
  3. Set a deadline.
  4. List all activities needed to achieve the goal.
  5. Organize your goals into a plan by priority and sequence.
  6. Take action immediately.
  7. Use every day to do something toward achieving your goal.

What could the employee do to improve their performance and goal completion? ›

Collaboration can lead to major benefits in individual employee performance and build trust among team members that can lead to better results in the long run. You can do this by assigning pairs to tackle projects, designating connected sets of tasks or setting up full-team collaboration sessions.

How do you set achievable goals that align with your values? ›

Specific: Write down your goal with as much detail as possible. Measurable: Identify quantitative targets for tracking your progress and results. Attainable: Make sure it's possible to achieve the desired result. Realistic: Acknowledge the practical requirements necessary to accomplish the goal.

How do you set goals professionally and personally? ›

How to set professional goals you can achieve
  1. Gain insight by looking at past successes. ...
  2. Start with your “why." Give yourself space to consider your professional development outside of a vacuum. ...
  3. Take some time for Inner Work®. ...
  4. Write down your goals. ...
  5. You can use the SMART methodology to structure and evaluate your goals.

Why must you align your goals to your values? ›

If your goals aren't aligned with your values, you're likely to feel disconnected and unfulfilled, even if you achieve them. On the other hand, if your goals align with your values, you'll feel more motivated and inspired to pursue them because they will be meaningful and fulfilling to you.

What are the 5 P's of goal setting? ›

There are five basic tools that all goal setters should equip themselves with to increase their odds of success: Passion, Persistence, Planning, People and Positivity. Most of us give up on our New Year's resolutions within two weeks.

What are the 5 R's of goal setting? ›

Avoid simply focusing on setting resolutions and turn your attention to the “five Rs” of resolutions: results, reasons, reflections, resources and responsibilities.

What are the 3 P's of goal setting? ›

A huge step towards the achievement of your dreams is to set goals on a long-term basis.

What are some examples of employment goals? ›

Experience career stability.

Short-term goals: Hone skills that support stability in your role, build time management skills, build strong work relationships. Long-term goals: Earn a specific salary, get a job with strong benefits, practice work-life balance, build a strong reputation at work.

What is a good professional goal? ›

Professional goals (or work goals) are objectives you set for yourself in order to grow over the course of your career. You might set short-term professional goals like finding a mentor, networking with leaders in your industry, or acquiring a certification in your field.

What are examples of goals? ›

27 More Examples of Personal Goals
  • Find a career that you love.
  • Find a life partner.
  • Become an expert or leader in your field.
  • Go for a walk every day.
  • Become a better listener.
  • Buy your first home.
  • Save X number of dollars for retirement.
  • Give back to your community in ways that matter to you.

What are the 7 Aspects of good goals? ›

Feed Your Mind
  • However, what kinds of goals? ...
  • Specific – A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal. ...
  • Attainable. ...
  • Measurable. ...
  • Written. ...
  • Realistic – To be realistic, a goal must represent an objective toward which you are both willing and able to work. ...
  • Accountable. ...
  • Deadlined.
Apr 18, 2016

Which goals are most important to an employee? ›

For employees, a successful goal should be a specific one for which progress can be measured and achievable on time. Measurable goals will help everyone evaluate the results and help them know what was effective.

What is a SMART workplace goal? ›

A SMART goal is a goal that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based. Goal setting is a necessary component for success in the workplace. Goals go beyond simply boosting employee productivity: They give us purpose and help us turn our aspirations into reality.

Why should you align your personal goals to the goals of the organisation? ›

By aligning goals across the organization, you can create an even greater sense of connection to a higher, organizational purpose that can work concurrently toward the larger end, rather than cascading the projects and stalling performance and unintentionally lead to isolation.

Why should HR align with organizational goals? ›

Aligning HR with business strategy can boost employee satisfaction and performance, ensure teams are aligned to help the business achieve its strategic objectives, and increase their influence and decision-making power across the organization.

Do employees agree with organizational goals? ›

The same source (Gallup) said that only 44% of employees strongly agree that they can connect their own goals to the goals of their organization.

How do you align people to common goals? ›

Here are five ways to help encourage better team alignment in your business:
  1. Communicate your purpose and strategy from the top down. ...
  2. Tie people's individual contributions to the overall business objectives. ...
  3. Encourage peer-to-peer collaboration over competition. ...
  4. Celebrate team wins. ...
  5. Use a collaborative planning process.
Jul 7, 2021

Why is it important for employees to set their own goals? ›

Goal Setting is an easy way to keep your employees motivated in your workplace. Having no specific goal to work on can lead to lower morale of the employee, and ultimately affects the productivity of work. On the other hand, achieving goals keeps them motivated and improves their confidence and job satisfaction.

How do you align employee performance with business strategy? ›

Align performance management with business strategy in 5 easy steps
  1. Identify your business targets. ...
  2. Cascade the goals. ...
  3. Remember to be SMART. ...
  4. Monitor and review frequently. ...
  5. Turn performance management into an everyday activity.
Nov 18, 2022

Why it is important to always align IT is strategy? ›

IT-business alignment helps ensure that the organization gets the right technology at the right time so it can meet its key performance indicators and reach its business transformation goals and objectives -- whether those are improving customer service or developing new revenue streams.

How do you align your work? ›

Five simple steps to achieving alignment at work
  1. 1) Get regular updates from even higher in the organization. ...
  2. 2) Understand what affects you, what to share, and what's confidential. ...
  3. 3) Report on important developments for you or your team. ...
  4. 4) Tell your boss about current and anticipated issues.

How do you best align with other leaders in the organization? ›

Here are the six important steps for ensuring alignment within a senior leadership team.
  1. Establish alignment on the "why" behind the organization. ...
  2. Define the culture necessary to support the "why." ...
  3. Agree on a shared vision and the results that need to be achieved. ...
  4. Define what winning looks like.
Aug 29, 2016

What does it mean to align your values? ›

Values alignment means making sure that everyone has the same values and understands how their goals help the organization to succeed.

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