Goals can do more than guide organizations and individuals toward success. Employees who set goals are 14.2 times more likely to feel inspired at work and 3.6 times more likely to be committed to their company, according to research from 2021. Plus, employees with goals are 6.5 times more likely to recommend their organization as a great place to work.
But what’s the right cadence for goal-setting? We recommend quarterly goals because they break up your company’s annual vision into more feasible objectives, while still giving your employees enough time to see meaningful results.
In this article, we explore what quarterly goals are and why the three-month timeframe is perfect for driving organizational success. We’ll also share examples of quarterly goals and a step-by-step guide so you can set your own.
What are quarterly goals and why are they important?
Quarterly goals are short-term business objectives that typically span a three-month period. Because of this time frame, quarterly goals help break down larger team, department, and business goals into smaller realistic targets. This can give companies more agility and flexibility to adjust objectives as priorities and resources change — while ensuring progress is tracked and made throughout the entire year.
Quarterly goals are usually set as close to the start of a new quarter as possible to give employees ample time to work toward and achieve these goals. There are four quarters in a year, so remember to update your goals every three months:
- Q1: January, February, March
- Q2: April, May, June
- Q3: July, August, September
- Q4: October, November, December
How do quarterly goals relate to OKRs?
Objectives and key results (OKRs) are a popular goal-setting framework composed of one large goal and two to five measurable outcomes of said goal. OKRs are a great fit for quarterly goal setting as they can increase transparency, help with strategy implementation, improve prioritization, and boost team focus. If your company uses OKRs for annual goal setting, using the same framework for your quarterly goals can help your departments and teams align their contributions with overall business success, giving employees a clear understanding of how their work benefits the company.
When setting OKRs, you don't have to choose a single goal-setting timeframe. In fact, we recommend most businesses take a hybrid approach by using an annual cadence for organizational goals and a semi-annual or quarterly cadence for departmental, team, and individual goals. This gives employees a clear understanding of company priorities in the coming year, while allowing for more flexibility across the company’s lower levels.
If you opt for annual company OKRs, you’ll still want to review them every quarter. “Independent of the goal cycle, we still leverage every quarter as a meaningful moment to review, evaluate, adjust, or set new goals,” said Lattice People Strategy Group strategist Matthew Raskin. “Quarters are still the foundation of almost every goal program we run, but the activities surrounding the quarter change based on the approach.”
Benefits of Setting Quarterly Goals
Here’s a brief look at a few of the benefits of quarterly goals:
- They break down annual goals into manageable objectives. Annual goals can be intimidating and grand. Quarterly goals, on the other hand, break these aims down into more manageable objectives.
- They can support employee focus and motivation. With clear and measurable quarterly objectives, employees know exactly what they need to achieve in the quarter.
- They allow employees to see how their tasks contribute to larger goals. Cascading goals allow individuals to understand exactly how their day-to-day work moves the needle on organizational success.
- They are less likely to change between goal-setting sessions. Internal and external factors can often derail long-term objectives. Luckily, quarterly goals give your business the flexibility to more frequently reevaluate and readjust targets.
- They give managers visibility into team progress. Short-term goals make it easier for managers to stay on top of goal progress, as well as identify and resolve any issues that arise during the quarter.
6 Reasons Why Workplaces Should Set Quarterly Goals
Here’s a closer look at the many advantages of quarterly goal setting for businesses:
1. It keeps companies agile (but not too agile).
Goals aren’t set in stone. As much as we’d like to plan them a year in advance (and successfully follow through), life has a knack for disrupting even the best-laid plans. Setting goals on a quarterly cadence offers teams the right balance between accountability and flexibility.
I consistently advocate for organizations to capitalize on quarters as pivotal moments to reflect and align on their focus, progress, and priorities.
“Quarterly goals allow for the ability to set clarity in shorter-term measures or outcomes while giving businesses flexibility so as things shift, they can recalibrate,” said Raskin. Still, that isn’t to say you should set or adjust goals too frequently. When it comes to goal setting, more often isn’t necessarily better — for most companies, monthly goals might distract from the actual work being done.
“Regardless of your organization’s chosen goal-setting cadence, I consistently advocate for organizations to capitalize on quarters as pivotal moments to reflect and align on their focus, progress, and priorities. This intentional quarterly pause facilitates the assessment of progress and fosters adaptability and accuracy as we work, learn, adapt, and adjust to the realities of our year,” Raskin added.
2. It fast-tracks recognition.
Praise and recognition are essential elements of engaged company cultures. According to a 2019 survey, 82% of employees say recognition is an important part of their happiness at work, and nearly two-thirds say adequate recognition would dissuade them from taking a job elsewhere.
Meeting and exceeding goals is one of the clearest catalysts for recognition. But setting goals six or even twelve months in advance pushes these opportunities out, giving managers and peers fewer opportunities to acknowledge a job well done.
Quarterly goals give your business a natural reflection point, allowing you to look back on how far a department, team, or individual has come in the last three months and honor their success. This goal-setting timeframe can come in handy for companies building a culture of recognition, as it enables peers to highlight their coworkers' contributions. Technology helps facilitate this process. For example, Lattice Praise integrates with Slack, making it easy for managers and peers to broadcast kudos to the whole company.
“There’s an opportunity for recognition of success, but also reinforcement of great behaviors,” said Raskin. Tracking goal progress throughout the quarter allows teams to take note of what’s working and recognize the people behind these achievements. “It’s not just about achieving the goal at the end of the quarter, it presents ample opportunities for recognition throughout the period,” Raskin explained.
3. It makes for better managers.
While quarterly goals give employees the chance to reflect on performance, they can give managers the context they need to coach and develop their teams. Long-term goals, on the other hand, can feel out of sight, often causing ongoing development conversations to be neglected or lack specificity.
“Quarterly goals are so popular among managers because it gives them a clearer view of employee progress,” said Jake Smith, managing director at Absolute Reg, a personalized license plate company. The quarterly cadence also allows managers to check in at least once a month on goal progress during one-on-ones, allowing employees to course-correct if needed.
“It's difficult to see change when we're trapped in the day-to-day routines of our work. Short-term quarterly goals, on the other hand, include a natural stopping point, allowing us to check in and evaluate how much we have or haven't progressed,” Smith said. He added that quarterly goals also lessen the chance employees might be caught off guard during their semi-annual or annual employee performance review with their manager.
4. It even works in specialized cases.
As discussed in Lattice’s ebook People Program Models, your industry and pace of business dictate your approach to HR focuses like employee engagement surveys, performance reviews, and goal setting. “Quarterly goals become highly effective for an organization when they precisely align with the practicalities of its operations,” Raskin noted.
While companies may opt to run quarterly, semiannual, or even annual reviews and surveys based on their day-to-day reality, quarterly goals can work for most businesses.
For large publicly traded companies, for example, quarterly goals align with financial reporting requirements — making them as intuitive of a choice as they’d be for private startups. “For companies like these, quarterly goal setting gives you enough room to adapt to sudden changes in the market, which are more and more common nowadays. It's the best mixture of data and timespan for making outcome-driven goals,” said Nate Tsang, founder of stock market research company WallStreetZen.
5. It helps set smart, realistic goals.
Goal setting requires balance. Overly ambitious and unreasonable goals can demotivate your team if they feel they’ve been set up to fail, while goals that are too easy to obtain can leave team members bored and unfulfilled. When it comes to finding that balance, you have to be SMART.
The SMART goal-setting framework requires objectives to be strategic, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. An example of a SMART goal for a salesperson might be, “I will increase my monthly sales revenue by 15% over the next quarter by identifying and targeting high-potential clients and upselling additional products.” Because the goal includes all of the SMART criteria, it will be easy for the individual to evaluate their success at the end of the quarter.
Now, if you’re wondering whether you should use the SMART or OKR framework for your quarterly goals, the choice is up to you. These two frameworks for setting actionable and attainable goals can co-exist within organizations, but feel free to pick the one that best suits your needs or preferences.
Examples of Quarterly Goals
Now, let’s explore quarterly goals in practice. Here’s what they might look like for a human resources team at the department, team, and individual levels.
Department Quarterly Goals
- Conduct an employee satisfaction survey with a 90% participation rate.
- Increase overall employee engagement scores by 10% in the first quarter by implementing new employee recognition, wellness, and mentorship programs.
Team Quarterly Goals
- Increase participation in professional development programs by 25% by introducing new learning opportunities and personalized training plans and by promoting a culture of continuous learning.
- Improve new peer-to-peer recognition software adoption through training sessions, email announcements, and reminders to boost participation to 80%.
Individual Quarterly Goals
- Develop and launch a new internal training program around our new company values.
- Improve employee recognition software participation to 80% in Q1 by hosting three training sessions, sending bi-weekly spotlight emails, and partnering with managers to increase adoption.
While all three levels are related, the individual goals have the most detail for day-to-day operations. This gives employees a clear understanding of what they need to accomplish in the quarter, while tying their individual contributions to broader team and department success.
How to Set Quarterly Goals
Ready to dive into your own quarterly goal planning? Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you set effective and ambitious goals this quarter:
1. Determine your larger objectives.
Before putting pen to paper, you’ll need to step back and take a look at the bigger picture of what you are looking to achieve. This could be reaching a particular revenue target for sales, creating a specific number of customer case studies for customer marketing, increasing production output by a particular percentage for warehouse staff, or whatever makes sense for your team.
The easiest way to get your big picture is to look at organizational goals and determine where your department can help. From there, your employees can break down these larger goals into more manageable quarterly objectives at the team and individual contributor (IC) levels. This cascading goal-setting can help with employee motivation since individuals can see how their contributions impact overall business success.
2. Create your goals.
Once you’ve established the organization-level goals your department will support, it’s time to break things down and develop an action plan. While the larger departmental goal might be to increase revenue, what does that mean for your teams or ICs? Think about how different roles can help achieve this objective. For a salesperson, for example, that might be reaching out to X number of existing clients this quarter to upsell them on the company’s new products or reaching out to Y prospects a week to generate new business. Work with your teams and employees to set their targets and objectives and be sure to document these goals somewhere easily referenceable.
3. Plan weekly milestones.
Once your teams and employees have their marching orders, it’s time to execute! Establishing weekly or bi-weekly milestones can help your teams understand goal progress and visualize whether they're on track to hit these goals or trailing behind. Your business or department can even use goal-tracking software to keep key stakeholders updated on goal progress every step of the way. Think of these progress trackers as your department’s roadmap to success. This visibility also ensures no one is surprised at the end of the quarter and your teams have enough time to pivot and experiment if results are falling short of expectations.
4. Communicate progress.
Things don’t always go to plan, but communicating and collaborating on potential solutions may help your department get closer to achieving its goals than expected. Scheduling frequent syncs for key projects or cross-team collaboration efforts can ensure key stakeholders stay updated on progress and are aware of any roadblocks or resource limitations. This also helps hold everyone accountable for their personal goals, as well as larger team and departmental objectives.
5. Stay flexible.
One benefit of quarterly goal planning is the flexibility it gives your business, particularly the ability to revisit and readjust goals every three months. That said, change happens when it happens. If your business decides to update its priorities and suddenly your department's, team’s, or individual contributors’ goals are no longer relevant, it’s time to pivot. You can have employees update the verbiage for existing goals, scrap irrelevant ones, or create new ones, depending on the degree of change and which levels were impacted. Just try not to change goals too frequently in a short time span as this can confuse and demotivate employees.
6. Review and reassess.
Lastly, it’s time to review and reassess. Using goal-tracking software or even just a Google Doc, your department and teams can track goal progress and readjust targets as needed. If employees are reaching targets halfway through the quarter, it might be time to increase objectives. Falling short of expectations? Make a note of what factors limited your team’s success so you can set more realistic targets next time.
Accelerate your quarter-over-quarter progress with Lattice.
You never want to bite off more than you can chew, especially when it comes to goal-setting. Fortunately, quarterly goals break down company strategy into manageable, bite-sized pieces for your departments, teams, and individual contributors.
This dynamic goal-setting framework empowers businesses and employees to swiftly adapt to shifting priorities, changing resources, and evolving landscapes. Keep chugging away at your quarterly goals and you’re sure to find success at the end of the year.
Looking to align your team around what matters most? Learn how Lattice OKRs & Goals can help your organization accelerate growth by connecting individual achievement to organizational success.