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Performance management

What You’re Getting Wrong with Employee Goal Management


Employee goal setting might sound like a basic task, but that’s exactly why it’s a crucial aspect of performance management. Done right, it helps individual career growth, team objectives, and to advance the broader objectives of the business.

The problem is that a lot of the time, employee performance goals just aren’t managed well, preventing team alignment with your company mission.

In this article, we’ll look at what makes employee goal management ineffective and how you can mitigate that to create a culture of continuous improvement in your workforce.

What is employee goal management?

Employee goal management is the strategic process within an organisation that involves setting, tracking, and managing individual and team goals. It’s a comprehensive approach to aligning goals with organisational objectives, which fosters employee development and drives business performance and success.

Why employee goal management matters

We’ve all been there: Setting a New Year’s resolution only to never achieve it. Too many people set themselves goals for the new year without giving any thought to how they’re going to manage the goal. And thus, the goal goes unrealised.

Employee goal management is the only way you can ensure that your employee and team set goals with meaningful outcomes.

When you set achievable goals:

How to implement effective employee goal management

According to Bersin by Deloitte, there are three principles to creating effective employee goal management.

  1. Creating goal clarity
  2. Using continuous feedback to ensure goals remain clear and understood
  3. Making goals matter to employees.

Bersin by Deloitte’s research found that organisations that make goal-setting easier for their employees were more likely to perform well, being four times more likely to score in the top 25% of business outcomes. They put forward seven practices to making these three principles of employee goal management work:

  1. Simplify goals
  2. Clarify the goal-setting process
  3. Increase employees’ goal-setting capabilities
  4. Communicate goals clearly
  5. Review goals frequently
  6. Connect goal-setting to career planning
  7. Enable senior leaders to drive accountability for skip-level goal achievement.

Creating goal clarity

When it comes to making clear and specific goals, look no further than SMART goals. These are goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. The “specific” aspect is key here. This makes a goal clear and well-defined so that employees know exactly what the outcome of the goal is when they see it.

Let’s imagine this for a moment: Let’s say a support team member wants to be more efficient. Not particularly revelatory, is it? Let’s try this instead: A specific goal would be for the employee to reduce the time it takes to respond to customer tickets by 50%. It’s much easier to understand, and no one is left scratching their head about the goal’s measurable indicators.

Just remember the goal has to be relevant to both the business (including its mission, values, and strategy) and the employee’s specific role. Not only does this mean everyone knows what they’re working towards and why, but employees can also see how their work directly impacts business strategy.

The perfect way to marry goal setting and business strategy is capabilities. Capabilities are derived directly from your strategy, meaning they come with ready-made performance indicators in the form of competence. Using capabilities to form the basis of employee goal management just means most of the work is done for you—you just have to tailor the measurable aspect of the goal to the employee or team.

Don’t bog employees down in hundreds of goals at once. SMART goals certainly make the process of understanding and tracking goals much easier, but that becomes moot if employees can’t focus. This is where simplifying goals comes into play—limit how many goals employees have, and you:

  1. Increase employees’ ability to prioritise not just the goal, but the work required to achieve it (which can have knock-on effects to how they prioritise their workloads in general).
  2. Clarify and simplify the goal-setting process, thereby making it more accessible. Fewer, more relevant goals will enable more timely communication and messaging, especially when using the right tools and technology.

Providing continuous feedback

Having clear employee goals is a good starting point, but keeping your eyes on the prize throughout the race is crucial. If all you do is set a goal and then release them into the wild to achieve it, it’s all too easy for them to get lost in the weeds.

This is where the “measurable” and “achievable” aspects of SMART goals come into play. They provide guidelines on how to get from point A (where you are now) to point B (the end goal).

Without that, employees flounder. Maybe they’re too overwhelmed by the size of the task, or just don’t feel like they’re making progress because there’s no acknowledgement from managers.

Ongoing communication is crucial here. A huge aspect of performance management failing is irregular feedback, usually in the form of once-a-year performance reviews. For a lot of businesses, those performance reviews also lack transparency or are open to bias, further ruining trust between employees, managers, and the business itself.

There are a few things you can do here to make sure goals are on track:

  1. Tracking progress. It seems like a no-brainer, but we’re talking about tracking during the process, rather than tacking it on at the end. Too often, employees don’t get feedback until it comes time for annual performance reviews, which only tend to focus on past performance instead of future development. This could be via regular check-ins to provide feedback or tracking performance milestones.
  2. Regular check-ins. This isn’t just a means to deliver constructive feedback (although that’s always important). It’s also an opportunity for managers and employees to catch up about concerns, blockers, or feedback about how goals are progressing, meaning they can be adjusted in the moment if needed. When employees review their goals regularly, businesses are 3.5x more likely to score in the top 25% of business outcomes.
  3. Recognise and reward achievements. Addressing areas of improvement is essential for driving continuous improvement, but only focusing on employees’ weaknesses gets old pretty fast. You need to recognise and reward good performance and achievements to let employees know that they’re on the right track. Try a weekly shout out or even getting employees to verbalise a win every check in. Recognising their own achievements is important, too.

Focusing on clear goal communication helps assign accountability for goal-setting. Bersin by Deloitte’s research found that 77% of organisations in which leaders held direct reports accountable for goal success were more likely to achieve better business results.

Making goals matter to employees

Goal-setting isn’t going to make an impact if your employees don’t care enough to achieve them. They need to be motivating goals—that is, they need to align with employees’ own aspirations and development needs as well as the business’s overarching objectives.

Employees want to learn and develop, with 80% of Gen Z workers saying they want a job that allows them to develop multiple skillsets. So, if performance goals are linked with career management goals, they’re more likely to be motivated to achieve them. Having employees help create their own goals is important here, because not only will that mean they’re more invested in completing them, but they’re also more likely to develop strategies to attain those goals.

This is where capabilities—and the competencies they’re measured by—are important. Capabilities explain what needs to happen for company growth and are aligned with business strategy. When you set goals according to your business capabilities, employees are more likely to be engaged as they’ll understand how their work contributes value to business priorities.

Consider the other talent or capability-based initiatives goal setting can support. Succession planning, for one, addresses a greater business need while aligning individual goals with professional development. It’s also another way to engage your high-potential employees, who by nature are always looking for additional ways to challenge themselves.

Leveraging technology

We know, we know. We said there were only three principles for effective employee goal management. But we’d like to offer a fourth principle: Technology enablement.

Even today, a lot of organisations manually record and manage performance management and goal setting, and that stops them from being truly strategic about performance improvement. The key to true organisational transformation is to create incremental changes in employee behaviour, and that isn’t possible if you’re having to update and sort through a million documents. It becomes another job in itself—which means you’re likely neglecting more important responsibilities.

Utilising technology like a performance learning management system (PLMS) helps businesses record, manage, and track progress on employee goals in one central location. That means you can focus on delivering relevant and timely development plans to individual learns, while the system manages all the tedious work of assessing and storying performance data.

Employee goal management is also easier with a streamlined workflow builder like Momentum. It automates and centralises goal setting and review management and allows users to define the associated performance milestones, making it easier to track how goals are progressing. The idea is that it takes the pain of manual tracking out of the process and frees time for more important tasks.

Where employee goal setting goes wrong

As we’ve mentioned a few times now, goal setting isn’t always smooth sailing. There are a lot of common pitfalls and challenges within the organisation and with goal management itself which can prevent employees from meeting their desired objectives and key results.

1. Lack of clarity and alignment

 Goals that are ambiguous or misaligned with organisational objectives can confuse or even demotivate and disengage employees. This is because employees:

2. Lack of milestones and timeframes

Employees need milestones and performance measurement indicators to guide goal progress. They also need to have a set deadline to work towards or they just won’t work towards the goal at all (we’ve all been there at some point in our lives, right?). In other words: Not using SMART goals prevents goals from being effectively met.

If you have no milestones attached to your goals you’ve essentially cut out what makes a goal SMART, and it becomes less of a goal and more of a baseless claim. This might communicate:

  1. That learners don’t need to engage with the development initiatives provided to them—goals or otherwise.
  2. Your organisation doesn’t care all that much if the learner does achieve the goal, given there’s no accountability.
  3. That leaders don’t have to think about regular coaching and training for their teams.

3. Emphasising quantity over quality

It’s easy to get lost in the weeds when it comes to the numbers that look good on paper. But just because the numbers are big doesn’t mean they’re actually good. Focusing on quantity over quality drives short-term results in terms of quantitative metrics, but doesn’t provide the long-term growth and development that employees (and the business) really need.

Let’s say you focus on getting as much traffic and clicks on your site as possible. It looks and feels great to show off those big numbers, but how much of that traffic is actually converting into leads? If you aren’t developing employees to drive meaningful impact for your business, then you find that vanity metrics quickly disenfranchise employees and, down the line, lead your organisation astray (and it’s much harder to get your business model to change course than it is a single employee).

4. Lack of resources and support

Maybe it’s inadequate staffing (both overstaffing and understaffing cause problems just like hiring underdeveloped talent does), budget constraints, outdated technology, or a lack of relevant training and follow-up. Either way, if employees don’t have the resources they need to achieve their goals, well, they won’t achieve them. It also means that your employees’ goals were doomed to fail from the start.

5. Resistance to change

Resistance to change is a pretty common obstacle when it comes to change programs. Maybe it’s resistance to training, DE&I initiatives, or even goal management itself. If a business has been following certain processes and practices for a while, then people—like employees, managers, and leaders—become accustomed to it.

Change can be daunting, which is why there may be pushback or an unwillingness to engage in the cultural shift and process changes that implementing effective employee goal management requires. If that’s the case, then effective employee goal-setting has hit a roadblock.

6. Rigid or inflexible goals

This may seem like a strange one at first, but we’re not talking about moving the goalposts here. We mean goals that are so rigid or inflexible that they don’t account for changing circumstances or company objectives.

All businesses have to adapt to the times at some point, whether that’s due to new technologies or processes, or changing industry standards. The goals a copywriter would have set in the 90s are completely different to the goals a copywriter would set today, simply because they’re working in vastly different environments.

If the goals set today are set in stone, then there’s no leeway when those stones are no longer considered suitable building materials. That means your employees won’t be able to adapt to change, won’t be able to develop innovative ideas, and development itself may not be addressing the right needs.

Key takeaways

Employee goal management is a crucial aspect of performance management. Done right, it helps to drive employee development and performance improvement in the workforce.

The important thing to remember is that for employee goal management to work, employees actually have to care about taking part in it—and investing in achieving goals isn’t solely on employees. Managers need to do their part in selling goal setting and management to their direct reports and holding them accountable for their progress, otherwise goal management has no tangible impact for anyone.

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