Employee Goal Setting: Focus Areas

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    © Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.
    Adapted from the Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision in Business and Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision for Nonprofit Staff.

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    How to Ensure Strong Employee Performance Management

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    Experts assert that goals assigned to employees should be directly aligned with the goals from the strategic and business plans of the organization, so the reader might benefit from scanning some of the contents in those topics. Many organizations further refine those goals by doing various task and job analyses to identify what competencies (knowledge, skills, and abilities) are needed by the employee to achieve the goals. The results of those activities often are itemized in job descriptions.

    How to Set Relevant and Realistic Goals With Your Employees

    Supervisors — Regardless of Level — Often Lack Understanding of Performance

    Performance is when an employee is achieving a goal in a highly effective and efficient manner and when that goal is closely aligned with achieving the overall goals of the organization. A common problem for new supervisors is having no clear, strong sense of whether their employees are high-performing or not.

    Employees can be very busy in their roles, but that does not mean they are high-performing if their roles are not directly contributing toward achieving the overall goals of the organization. The first step toward solving this problem is to establish clear performance goals. Some people have a strong negative reaction toward setting goals because they fear goals as “the law” that must be maintained and never broken. Some people fear they will never achieve their goals. Others have disdain for goals because goals seem to take the “heart” out of their work.

    Advantages of Using Performance Goals in the Workplace

    Despite the negative views that one can have about goals, they hold certain strong advantages in the workplace. They:

    1. Provide clear direction to supervisors and employees.
    2. Form a common frame of reference around which they can effectively communicate.
    3. Clearly indicate success, and can cultivate a strong sense of fulfillment for those working toward achieving the goals.
    4. Help clarify the specific expectations of the supervisor and employee.

    Employee Performance Gaps, Growth Gaps, Opportunity Gaps, and Training Gaps

    Goals can be useful for specifying expectations and for setting measurements of progress in working to fill four types of gaps:

    Performance gaps

    These gaps are identified during the employee performance management process. Ideally, performance gaps are addressed by performance improvement plans. Performance improvement plans are sometimes a last-ditch effort to help a person improve his/her performance. Ideally, the performance problem is addressed through ongoing feedback and adjustments during regular one-on-one meetings. In these plans, goals are established to improve performance and may include, for example, increased effort on the part of the employee, support from his/her supervisor, and certain training and resources to assist the person in his/her development. Dedicated employees can greatly appreciate having specific performance goals for them to achieve in order to keep their jobs, verify their competence to their supervisor, and accomplish overall professional development.

    Growth gaps

    These gaps are identified during career planning. Employees perceive certain areas of knowledge and skills that they would like to accomplish in order to qualify for certain future roles and positions. Employees often appreciate having clear-cut goals that mark what they need to do to advance in their careers.

    Opportunity gaps

    These gaps are identified when a sudden opportunity arises for the employee. If the person is highly interested in taking advantage of the opportunity, then he or she will appreciate knowing exactly what goals must be achieved to take advantages of the opportunity. Growth gaps and opportunity gaps are very similar.

    Training gaps

    These gaps are identified when hiring a new employee, during performance management planning, or career planning. Gaps are usually in terms of areas of knowledge, skills, or abilities (competencies). Training plans can be designed with clear-cut training goals to give direction to the employee or trainer.
    Whatever the type of goal, it is critical that the employee have strong ownership and commitment to achieving the goal.

    Performance Goals Should Be SMARTER

    You can help ensure that goals are agreeable to the supervisor and employee by ensuring that they are highly involved in identifying the goals. When setting goals with others, strive to describe them to be “SMARTER.” This acronym stands for goals that are:

    • Specific — For example, a goal to generate three types of financial statements, including cash flow, budget-versus-actual and income statement.
    • Measurable — For example, to be able to assess if the three types of statements were generated or not.
    • Achievable — For example, the goal would be irrelevant if the person had no access to the financial information from which to generate the statements.
    • Relevant — For example, the goal would not be useful if the organization has no plans to ever make decisions based on the financial statements.
    • Timely — The statements should be generated by a certain deadline, for example, in time for the Board to review and approve the statements.
    • Extending capabilities — Ideally, the goal involves the person’s learning more than they already knew about generating statements.
    • Rewarding — Ideally, the activities of generating the financial statements would be fulfilling for the person to accomplish. If goals seem insurmountable to the employee, then break goals down into smaller goals, or sub-goals or objectives until they are SMARTER.

    Additional Perspectives on Setting Goals With Employees

    Learn More in the Library’s Blogs Related to Goal Setting With Employees

    In addition to the articles on this current page, see the following blogs which have posts related to Goal Setting With Employees. Scan down the blog’s page to see various posts. Also see the section “Recent Blog Posts” in the sidebar of the blog or click on “next” near the bottom of a post in the blog.

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