The 5 Keys to Setting Effective Goals for Your Team

Gallup, the leading organization studying employee engagement worldwide, reports that only 33% of employees are actively engaged at work. This means two-thirds of the workforce is simply putting in their time for a paycheck without actively investing in their work or the success of their organization.

This number is staggering, especially when the cost of those disengaged employees is more than $350 billion in the US.

While organizations are founded on deeply rooted missions and lofty visions, they are built by goals. When it comes to managing a team, goal setting is the driving force behind employee engagement and, ultimately, results.

However, not all goals are created equal. In order to actually equip employees for success and drive action, they must have 5 key qualities.

Ignite enthusiasm.

At their core, goals are a tool to motivate employees. Just as a coach at halftime uses strategy adjustments to equip players for the next quarter, effective goals give employees actionable steps that show them a clear path toward success. Similarly, in the way that a quarterback would never be coached in a way that doesn’t serve the greater team, it is also important that goals tie an employee and his or her contribution to the business as a whole. This sense of belonging and connection to the “bigger picture” ensures that the entire organization is working toward a shared vision that every employee is a part of.

Provide clear direction.

When everyone is not speaking the same language, misunderstandings are inevitable; therefore, a goal is only as effective as it is clear. Ambiguity in expectations and performance objectives leave room for employees playing “defense” on what they are truly responsible for. Rather than a simple review of the job description and a Nike-style “just do it,” effective goals should be structured and communicated clearly. Evaluate each goal using SMART criteria. Is it…

  • S: Specific?
  • M: Measurable?
  • A: Achievable?
  • R: Realistic?
  • T: Timely?

Goals that meet SMART criteria provide clear direction to the employee and clear criteria to management for monitoring achievement.

Foster ownership.

The most powerful goal setting happens when a two-sided discovery takes place. Rather than goals simply being “handed out,” a conversation between management and employee creates “buy-in” on behalf of the employee. After all, there is a much greater sense of accomplishment in achieving goals when you believe that they are your goals, not simply the ones you have been told to achieve. A sense of ownership creates a sense of personal accountability, preventing the mindset of “I don’t own this goal, so it’s not so bad if I don’t achieve it.” Managers should include employees in the goal-setting process in order to instill in them a confidence not just that they can achieve the goals, but that they are worth achieving.

Paint a vivid outcome.

The famous saying “people don’t buy products; they buy better versions of themselves” keys us into a very powerful human motivator: results. If we don’t care about the outcome, we don’t care about the process. This is critical to remember in goal-setting: the outcome of achieving a goal has to mean something to that individual in order for it to matter to them. When developing goals for a team, begin with the end in mind, and ensure that end is communicated clearly to the employee. By doing so, you answer the deep-seated “What’s in it for me?” question that every employee must understand in order to be truly motivated to reach new heights in their role.

Consistently review.

Goals are always set with the best intentions but can often be left by the wayside in the midst of regular business operations. It is no surprise, then, that goals that are not given regular attention are far less likely to be met. To prevent this, it is critical to build milestones and review cycles into goals. Many achievers are very visual people; when they understand the roadmap to success and the milestones that will indicate their progress toward the end goal, they can maintain momentum across the entire timeline of the goal, rather than waning quickly after the initial discussion. Not only that, but regular goal reviews allow managers to provide support and course-correct when necessary, ensuring the employee has everything they need to succeed.

Good goals – the ones that help employees, teams, and organizations see success – are not just handed down from the top and “turned on.” Rather, they are developed as a result of collaboration and communication at the employee level, creating a shared sense of vision and direction that every individual is contributing to. By using these steps to set effective goals, leaders foster employee engagement that serves the organization from the bottom up.