Helping Your Employees Set Realistic Goals

Helping Your Employees Set Realistic Goals

Like many other kids, when I was little, I had a goal of going to the Olympics for swimming.

I realized somewhat early that that goal probably wasn't attainable for me—I was no superstar. However, I stayed in the sport and made other goals along the way that were more realistic and still rewarding, such as setting goals of getting personal best times, making it to a finals session at a big meet, or contributing on a team relay.

While the goals we set as little kids are usually a little less realistic, we continue to set goals in our personal lives. Setting goals in the workplace is just as important. Part of a manager's role is to lead, and that means leading your employees in the goal-setting process. Not only is it essential for an individual's performance and self-esteem, but it will also positively impact the company's performance if done right.

Set the Plan

Setting goals with your team members should be a process and a two-way conversation—an email to a team member on a Wednesday suggesting that maybe they should make a goal to do XY and Z probably isn't the best way to motivate someone. 

Set up individual meetings with your team members. Hopefully, you are already doing this, but if you aren't, make it your goal to become a more individualized manager. In your meetings, plan for one of the topics on the agenda to be goal setting. Have a plan to set a few goals that align with the company's core values, long-term goals, and a person's individual career goals. 

If one of your core values is teamwork, and your employee has expressed interest in getting to know their teammates better, make it a goal for them to have one coffee chat a week with a team member outside of their group. 

Company goals are more straightforward—an individual's company goal should be aligned with the company's targets and measurements for the year, or quarter, and should align with the employee's role. If the employee doesn't work in sales and one of the goals is to get more customers, they shouldn't hop on the phone and start cold calling, but with a manager's help, they can figure out how they can help achieve that goal within their purview. 

Personal career goals may be more long-term. Suppose an employee is interested in learning a new coding language. In that case, that could be a goal—not only will the employee gain another valuable skill, but it could also potentially be beneficial to the company. 

Picking the Right Goal And Plan

When helping your employees pick a goal, you want to make sure they can achieve it. For many, that involves following the age-old SMART method—making a specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely goal. The acronym's words speak for themselves—overall, a goal should be specific as opposed to broad. 

Saying "I want to run a half marathon" is a good dream, but when it becomes a SMART goal is when a person decides, "I want to run my town's half marathon in eight months. I'm already a decent runner, I've done 5K's, and I'm in decent physical shape. I've picked out a training plan, and I intend to start it next week." The same type of process goes for work goals. If a team member wants to make more sales calls, they should make sure they have a plan of action. "I want to start making X number of cold calls weekly, which is 10 percent more than what I'm doing right now. I plan on taking a few classes on how to be more efficient at sales calls, and I'm shifting my priority to making these sales calls over other tasks I've been doing. I'm hoping to achieve this number by the next quarter consistently, and then I will re-evaluate from there," sounds a lot better than an employee coming out of a meeting and saying, "I want to start making more sales calls." 

When you and your employee have decided on a goal, they should write it down somewhere and keep it in plain sight, and as their manager, you should also have it written down somewhere where you can find it. 

The Follow Through

The person who set out with the goal to run the half marathon has a great plan. Now they need to follow through. Maybe that means having accountability buddies—people who run with them or cheer them on. The same goes for having a work goal. For an employee to successfully follow through, there should be regular meetings with you, the manager, and an emphasis on measurement. Don’t let the employee with the sales call plan walk out of your office that day and not follow through with it until four weeks later. Frequently ask them if they are making progress,and if there is any way you can help them blow through some roadblocks. 

Lastly, when your employee achieves their goal (or is making significant progress on it), follow through with some form of recognition, however you see fit. As we all know from personal experience, one of the most significant parts of having a goal is the relief and happiness and increase in self-esteem from achieving it—and that should be celebrated.

If your company is looking to make sure they are setting the perfect goals for their employees, employee engagement software such as can help managers find where roadblocks and burnout is happening within their teams. 

While I never became an olympian, I achieved a lot of personal success and learned many valuable lessons by setting the right goals in my sport. Your team members and company can also accomplish a ton of success by selecting the right goals, and the value of achieving them can be priceless. 

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