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Performance
6 Min Read

Improve Your Goal Setting Process With These Best Practices

Nicole Klemp

The beginning of the year is typically a time that is heavily focused on goal setting. Of course, having goals is important. But perhaps more important is the way we set those goals. Without clarity, process, or support, it will be hard to turn goals into outcomes. Read on for some best practices around goal setting this year.

Support from leadership is an absolute necessity

When implementing a new or revised goal-setting process, getting executive buy-in is the first thing that needs to happen. 

Company leaders (and sometimes board members) must decide where they want to be in the marketplace and create a general roadmap of how the business will get there. With that in hand, you can then help develop realistic goals and metrics for the organization. 

What if our leadership team isn’t bought-in?

When trying to implement a new company wide initiative and get executives on board, it’s important to speak the language of business. 

Explain how people are wasting time working on the wrong things because they don’t have clear goals. Be specific when telling leaders what impact your proposed goal-setting process can have on productivity. Show them how these goals can map back to the company objectives and help move the business forward.

You can also set an example by starting a goal-setting process for your own team. Show them how much more productive and successful a team can be when they have a clear roadmap. 

An engagement survey can also help make the case for a better goal process by providing you with solid employee data you can share with executives. For example, if your survey results show employees are scoring low in role clarity, this can be a sign that they aren’t clear on what is expected of them and what their objectives are — something goal setting can fix.

Hard goals vs. soft goals

When developing OKRs, you’ll find that Key Results are typically what some call “hard measures” (e.g., total sales, number of leads, etc.). But you can also consider “soft measures” when it comes to evaluating how someone is tracking toward a goal. 

Soft measures can be things like how often an employee contributes in meetings, how much of a team player they are, or how highly their colleagues think of them. 

While soft measures are nuanced, you can still find creative ways to quantify them. This is especially helpful for employees in support roles that don’t have as many metric-based goals. 

Things like peer evaluations, how often the employee gives training presentations or takes professional development courses, etc. can be considered when looking at soft measures. 

In these situations, it’s especially important for managers to have a regular feedback loop with an employee, so they understand if they’re meeting expectations and are recognized for the work they’ve done.

Incremental goals and celebrating small wins

In their Harvard Business Review article, The Power of Small Wins, Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer suggest that small wins can boost work-life tremendously, with what they call the “progress principle.” 

The progress principle states: “Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.” 

People want to see that they’re making progress and their contributions are appreciated. This is essential to employee engagement. From a goal-setting perspective, this means we need to set small, incremental goals and celebrate each victory as it comes.

Goal-setting missteps (and how to avoid them)

As an HR leader, developing and rolling out the best goal-setting process for your team is a journey, and you can almost always expect a few pitfalls along the way.

Here are a few common missteps you can help your team avoid:

  • Setting too many goals. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Stay focused on the most important goals and make sure they’re clear and specific. 
  • Making decisions in a silo. HR can’t own goals completely; the entire org needs to be involved, from the executive team to managers to employees.
  • Not being flexible with goals (or being too flexible). As we saw in 2020, unforeseen circumstances can occur that create the need to change or update goals. It’s important to be flexible with goal-setting, while also not allowing goals to be changed too frequently, which can be confusing for employees. 
  • Confusing goals with strategy. Strategies and tactics are the things a team does to achieve goals. Leaders should be setting goals but not working down in the weeds telling people how specifically to achieve them. That can feel like micromanagement and stifle engagement and creativity.
  • Not communicating the why. Rolling out a new goal-setting process should be a positive experience. Communicate to employees why having clear, documented goals is important to the business and how it can help them be successful in their own roles. 
  • Not getting cross-functional alignment. There are points when friction can happen if goals aren’t created with cross-functional work in mind. Where are the handoffs between teams? Are different teams’ goals aligned or working against each other? Help teams work together to develop goals that aren’t in conflict with one another.

Achieving goals as a team

Think of those big, overarching company goals set by leadership as your north star. Whether it be to increase annual sales, improve customer retention, or launch a new product line, those things shouldn’t change (at least not very often). 

It’s up to team leaders and managers to then figure out what needs to be done on their teams to chip away at that work, and set team and personal goals accordingly. 

Goal-setting is a team sport. Everyone from executives on down needs to know the playbook and understand how they’re performing toward their goals. OKR conversations should be happening regularly and the team should know when goals aren’t going to be hit (and celebrate together when they are). 

Peers can help each other reach their goals by holding one another accountable, sharing ideas, and offering help. Teams should talk about progress regularly and check in to see what blockers are keeping people from hitting their goals.

As an HR leader, you can be instrumental in removing organizational barriers, providing resources for employees’ emotional wellbeing, and helping to limit the number of distractions people are dealing with, so they can focus on achieving their goals and doing fulfilling work.

Watch the 2022 goal-setting webinar on-demand

We recently gathered a panel of experts to share their best practices and insights into the process and psychology behind goal-setting, along with actionable tips for rolling out your own goal-setting process.

Hear from Jeff Smith, VP of Strategic Initiatives, 15Five; Lindsey Wegman, Executive Advisor, Engagement, 15Five; Praveen Mantena, Coach, Trainer, & Consultant for Transformation Services, BURST Forward; and Sage Catlett, Senior Manager, Transform Coaching & Delivery in this lively and helpful conversation.

Watch the recording >