Crash Course on Setting Performance Goals

Goal Setting

Setting performance goals is easily one of the most important areas to spend time on. It has a multitude of benefits ranging from achieving organizational goals to better performance appraisals. I’m a huge goal setter and it’s one of the ways I know if I’m improving in areas of my work or even life. I’ve learned a lot about how to use goals effectively to manage my team or myself. I hope this post helps you as I’ll walk you through what I’ve learned.

Why is Goal Setting Important?

For the Manager:

Giving minimum direct supervision would save you and your employee’s tons of time. As a result, it would allow you both to focus more time on achieving the set goals.

Above all, this is a major reason why goal setting is important for the manager. When an employee has a clear idea of what needs or is expected to be achieved, it becomes much easier for them to work without needing constant supervision.

Second, clear goals allow the employee to evaluate themselves throughout the year to see if they are on track or not. They can identify barriers to achieving their goals and create a plan that demonstrates critical thinking and ownership.

Lastly, it makes for a much easier performance appraisal. It causes far less anxiety and makes the performance appraisal process much faster with clear goals.

For the Employee:

As an employee, you probably would jump for joy for clearly stated goals. It’ll help you communicate the value you are driving to the business to help achieve the overall goals. It makes tracking your wins much easier so that you can incorporate them in a business case for a promotion or update your resume for prospecting employers.

I read a book called “Perfect Phrases for Setting Performance Goals…” and in that book, it had four great questions employees want to know:

  1. What do I need to accomplish?
  2. Why am I doing what I’m doing?
  3. How well must I do it?
  4. How am I doing?

Dwell on these questions yourself, and if some are not clear then ask your manager. Some of these might be tough to ask if not positioned well. A way to make it easier for both parties is to outline why it’s important to know these as it relates back to the goals set for you.

Setting Individual Goals:

The first thing when setting individual goals is understanding the organizational goals. Once you have those you can then have a dialogue between yourself and the direct report on what goals make sense for them. As a reminder, goals are not given but collaborated on. Here are some reasons why:

  • Employees know their job the best and know how to contribute
  • Since getting buy-in is important, the employee will need to participate to help dictate and feel complete ownership of the goal
  • Setting goals are important, but even more so, the discussion itself that help create them

To boil it down, performance goals are statements that describe the desired outcome rather than how it should be done.

For example, “Improve conversion rates by 30 bps in paid search.”

The Goal Setting Process:

  1. Preparation – 3-4 weeks in advance you want to share the process of goal setting with the employee as well as the benefits of it. Before you have the goal setting meeting ensure you or the report think of a few ways they can contribute to the goal.
  2. The Meeting – the manager and employee go over the purpose and set goals together.
  3. Action-plan and Follow up – create an action plan and follow up with the progress.

Quick tips for setting performance goals:

  • Make sure to follow up multiple times throughout the year on the progress of achieving set goals
  • Shift your thinking from using goals to evaluate their performance to using goals to aim and guide performance
  • Limit goals to 10 or less and they don’t have to be etched in stone. Modifying or updating is completely reasonable in the process

Post-Goal Setting Process:

Once you’ve set goals and both agreed upon them, you’ll want to think about the following.

  • Meet regularly on goals and progress
  • Go through the employee’s job description and how they relate back to goals
  • Identify problems the direct report has encountered achieving their goals
  • Complete any form or documentation
  • Begin the process for next year

Final Advice on Goal Setting:

There are a few more things that I found helpful to think about as I went through the process.

  1. Take on a facilitative role vs. a judging role – ask questions and enable them to critically think about themselves and what they’ve encountered. It makes the discussion much easier for both and makes you both feel more collaborative.
  2. Keep the focus on the goals themselves and don’t stray off to other areas. It may lead you down an unproductive route and hurt the overall rapport.
  3. Eliminate blame – don’t use language that indicates blame but rather help identify the problem as it relates to achieving the goal. Then collaborate on ways to solve the problem to help achieve the goal.
  4. It’s about the employee first and then you – focus on language that gets you both psyched about how they will succeed this goal and help them grow in their careers. If the focus starts their then there should be less room for you to achieve your own goals as a manager.

A goal properly set is halfway reached.

Zig Ziglar

Sources used:

  • “Perfect Phrases for Setting Performance Goals: Hundreds of Ready-to-use Goals for Any Performance Plan or Review (Perfect Phrases Series),” Authors: Douglas Max & Robert Bacal

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