The past couple of years have been challenging, to say the least. And as we embark on a new year, HR teams are setting goals and strategies in incredibly demanding times, with little precedence to guide them. In a chat with crowd-funding platform Kickstarter’s Chief People Officer and author of the new book Come into My Office: Stories from an HR Leader in Silicon Valley, Mai Ton, we discussed what steps People leaders can take to set goals for their teams, how to get executive buy-in, and the importance of forging a new path for their companies and employees alike as we head into 2022. Here’s what she recommended.

6 Steps for Setting Effective Goals for Your HR Team

1. Determine the right goals.

Today more than ever, People leaders have found themselves taking on additional responsibilities in their organizations, and that — combined with a constantly evolving landscape — can make for an extremely challenging environment in which to set future goals and strategies. The key, said Ton, is focus. 

“Don’t boil the ocean,” she said. Instead, focus on two or three measurable, specific items that can anchor the team and the company, and deemphasize the rest. Without that narrowing of focus during your planning process, there’s no way to set a clear direction. And when everything is a priority, then nothing is. 

While there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy, there are a few common metrics that can serve as a starting point when it comes to goal-setting for almost any company regardless of size, industry, or product or services. These essential elements are:

  • Hiring: Setting hiring goals ensures that you’ll find the talent needed to execute any roadmaps across the organization.
  • Engagement Scores: Having target engagement scores is an effective way to check the pulse of the company. Achieving high engagement scores indicates that your employees are highly engaged at work. And when employees love and thrive at work, Ton pointed out that they give you discretionary effort, which is effort that goes above and beyond.
  • Turnover: Minimizing turnover is important because companies spend a lot of time hiring and training people. Focus on your highest performers and what motivates them to succeed.

2. Leave room for adaptability.

If there’s anything we’ve learned from the pandemic it’s that anything can change — quickly, unpredictably, and not always for the best. Resilience and adaptability are essential traits for all People leaders and leaders of the future, Ton said. Being able to pivot goals and strategies and adapt quickly is going to be crucial for People teams to be able navigate that change.

As we’ve learned all too well during COVID, you can only control so much — so spend your time on those areas and focus on your own team. Set and communicate clear team goals and expectations, which will help your team stay anchored on the right things, even if there are a lot of other competing projects and initiatives that come up. Whether you’re in growth mode or stability mode, limit the number of goals, and also know that some of them may shift or be reprioritized throughout the year, Ton said. You’re not going to get it 100% right from the start, but be confident that as a leader, if you’ve clearly articulated what you care about and your expectations, you can at least minimize any unnecessary back and forth.

3. Consider both short-term and long-term planning.

It’s really difficult to plan for the next six months, let alone the next year, two years, or beyond. To tackle this problem, Ton recommended doing both short- and long-term planning, and finding a balance between the two. Here’s her two-pronged approach:

  • Think in bite-sized nuggets. Plan in six-month intervals, thinking about what you can do now and how you can get started to execute quickly.
  • Think about what you need for the long term. Taking a step back, look at your team and what they’ll need in the future, and compare that to what you’re already missing today. That could mean more resources or recruiters to support growing headcount, for example, so that’s something you can start planning for.

4. Focus on engagement and turnover.

In a recent Lattice survey of over 700 HR professionals and leaders, the top priorities reported by People leaders for the next 12 months were employee engagement, followed by talent acquisition, and then manager enablement and training. 

Ton wasn’t surprised that employee engagement topped talent acquisition, given a lot of employers are preparing for a traditional spike in turnover during Q1. People go on vacation and take a holiday break and come back with resolutions, one of which may be to change jobs, careers, or companies.  

This year, this trend is even more pronounced with the Great Resignation, which goes by several other names including the Great Awakening, the Tsunami Turnover, and the YOLO Economy. But whatever you call it, the state of the current workforce is that employees are leaving their jobs in record numbers, and retaining existing employees has become crucial for all companies in 2022 and what’s expected to be a highly competitive labor market.

Another important thing to consider is that it's not a matter of prioritizing engagement or talent acquisition, it’s and — they’re both essential elements to be focused on by People teams. It’s okay that sometimes resources and budgets are slanted in one direction over another depending on seasonality or what is going on in the business, as long as it generally balances out in the long run. Also, engagement and turnover are closely linked: When you have higher engagement scores, employees feel like they’re being invested in, so you’ll have lower turnover, and lower hiring costs, as a result. Higher employee engagement does wonders for your business, said Ton.

5. Get executive buy-in.

As with most matters within an organization, executive sign-off is crucial. One way to do this, said Ton, is to set and align your HR goals to business goals. The more you can articulate what business problem you’re solving, the easier it is to get buy-in from executives. Know your audience and speak their language.

For example, employee engagement is one factor that may not have a clear tie to business goals. But Ton pointed out that there’s a correlation between high engagement and revenue. A Glassdoor study found that companies named to their “Best Places to Work” list outperformed the S&P 500 from 2009 to 2014, which implies that engaged employees produce better business results. That’s a metric that executives can understand: When you take care of your employees, they’re going to take care of your business.

Learning and development (L&D) programs are another example of a case where executive teams appreciate an initiative, but may not understand its business impact. Most employees leave their managers, not their companies, noted Ton. Workers don’t typically leave a company because they’re unhappy about the perks, compensation, or benefits, but rather because there’s a strain in the relationship with their manager. That’s why it’s important to train managers how to manage and motivate their staff, and for this reason L&D programs are especially helpful for companies facing high turnover.

6. Measure success.

Setting the right goals is only half of the equation — you need to follow through and actually measure them, too. Ton explained that you have access to two types of data: quantitative data that’s in your HR systems, and qualitative, anecdotal information on what people are telling you (e.g. exit or stay interviews). The job of Human Resources is to find a way to blend the two together to tell a story that everyone in the company can understand. Set goals, determine how you’ll measure them, hold yourself accountable to those goals and metrics, and figure out how they impact the business.

People Leaders Are Paving the Way for the Future of Business

After the past two years, HR teams are understandably burnt out and overwhelmed. But Ton said it’s simultaneously a really good time to be in the People field because leaders have the opportunity to rethink how things have always been done inside organizations.

One of Kickstarter’s tenets, said Ton, is to be an environment that lets you be more than just who you are at work. We are all more than our jobs and have multiple dimensions and facets that define us. She said she makes a point to introduce herself at work beyond what she does professionally, and having these types of conversations is very different from how we’ve been typically used to working in the past. 

Today, open discussions about burnout are being normalized, and an awareness of self-care and displays of vulnerability are entering workplaces. We’ve collectively experienced a tremendous amount of upheaval from the pandemic — and continue to do so — and everyone needs space to process it. As the stewards of employee engagement and culture, People leaders are on the forefront of reinventing a new way forward.


Check out our Lattice Lunch webinar for more insights from Kickstarter’s Chief People Officer, Mai Ton.