How to Help Employees Set Better Goals

Goals, in business like in soccer, are a good thing. Setting and accomplishing goals is the surest way to continue growing, both for the company and for individuals. The most effective goals connect individual success with the company’s vision—putting the employee on track to advance professionally while also achieving organizational benchmarks for success.

But employee goal-setting isn’t as simple as writing out a few, vague quarterly or annual goals. Here is a five-step process for how to set goals for employees.

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Define the Company’s Goals

It all starts with your organization’s goals. Defining your company-wide mission will unify the entire team, adding a bigger sense of purpose to each employee’s individual goals. This not only helps to motivate employees, but also improves employee engagement—knowing that their work makes a direct impact on the entire company.

Your organization needs to set quarterly, biannual, or annual goals, present them to employees, and provide progress updates. Every single employee, no matter their level or title, should know what the company is trying to achieve and how they fit within that mission.

Collaborate, Don’t Dictate

Goal setting needs to be a collaborative process between managers and employees. Rather than dictating goals, ask your employees to bring a few developed ideas to a goal-setting meeting. Discuss these ideas, ask the employee to define how they relate to the company’s broader goals, and ensure that each goal is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based.

Employees need to feel a sense of ownership; managers need to provide balance—challenging employees to grow while keeping goals within a realistic framework.

Learn From the Past

Previous goals should always be discussed and dissected before setting new goals. Did the employee accomplish their past goals? Were they accomplished on time? If the goals were not achieved, what lessons did the employee learn? What can be done differently this time around? If the goal was accomplished, is that because it was too easy?

While you do want to hold employees accountable, reprimanding them can be counterproductive—especially if certain obstacles were out of their control. Use this as an opportunity to improve the goal-setting process and ensure that employees have the necessary support resources.

Establish a Plan

You have to take the goal-setting process a step further and actually create an action plan. Break down goals into smaller steps and establish a timeline for completing each step or mini-goal. Be sure to discuss potential obstacles and come up with a plan for how the employee will handle them. Also consider what other team members will be involved in each goal. Set up a team meeting to loop everyone in and discuss roles.


Managers should monitor progress and review goals regularly. You can’t wait until the end of the year to review goals—it’ll be too late at that point. It’s a fast-paced world and unforeseen circumstances will probably require that goals be tweaked at some point. By checking in consistently, you’ll be able to anticipate problems, brainstorm solutions, and provide coaching early on in the process to keep goals on track.

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