Most people have set professional goals at some point in their lives. They might have accomplished them, or they might have forgotten about them altogether. More often than not, it’s a frustrating mix of the two.
Even though goal setting is vital to every employee’s success in the workplace, simply establishing goals isn’t enough. To be effective, goals also need to be openly discussed, made collaboratively, regularly followed up on, and celebrated.
If you need an excellent professional framework for goal setting, try integrating them into your performance appraisals and performance review processes. In this article, we’ll discuss exactly why you should do this, how you can set goals effectively, as well as provide some best practice examples to get you started.
Why is goal setting so valuable?
Goal setting is important because it gives an employee’s working life purpose and direction, while helping them grow professionally and plan their paths into the future. Without goal setting, it’s difficult for employees to get clarity on how they are performing today or how to get where they’d like to be tomorrow.
Employees, employers, and organisations can seriously benefit from goal setting because it helps them map out their professional journeys. There are a number of ways that setting goals can benefit employees, such as:
- Increasing motivation
- Boosting engagement
- Sustaining momentum
- Making it easier to measure success
- Helping with prioritisation
- Building company culture and community
Why is goal setting important for performance appraisals?
Establishing objectives within employee performance reviews has several advantages. Some of the most beneficial of these include:
Conducting performance appraisals without any personal opinions or assumptions creeping in can be tricky. It’s inevitable that managers work with certain employees more closely, or have a better relationship with them. In those situations, it can be tempting to deliver stellar evaluations without giving the feedback too much thought.
But it’s important to keep performance reviews impartial, so you can accurately assess an employee’s strengths and weaknesses. This, in turn, can help employees improve and contribute to the long-term success of your company.
Integrating goal setting into performance appraisals establishes objective criteria, which helps management combat any bias they might have.
Creating Benchmarks for Improvement
For employees to get better at something, they need to understand how they’re currently performing. In short: they need a benchmark.
Setting goals in the performance review process is a great way for employees to create these benchmarks. By doing so, they’ll know exactly what position they’re starting from and how much they must improve to achieve their objectives.
When benchmarks are regularly set during performance reviews, it can also be helpful to refer back to them. This enables management to contextualise what employees have been working on over the past few months and measure just how far they’ve come.
Devon Fata, CEO & Founder of Pixoul, reminds those conducting performance appraisals to establish realistic objectives based on current benchmarks. “The trick,” Fata says, “is to set a goal that’s entirely attainable before the next review… Lofty goals are good to set, but tying them to a performance review isn't always fair.”
Aligning Employees with Company Objectives
It’s been well-documented that, when staff feel connected with their employer’s goals, everyone wins. Employees are more motivated and businesses experience better results.
Nevertheless, many employees aren’t aligned with their company’s objectives at all. It’s even been found that as few as 5% of employees have a good understanding of their employer’s overall business strategy.
Discussing employee goals during performance appraisals is a great way to bridge this knowledge gap. Employees and management not only have the opportunity to set collaborative objectives, but they can also align those objectives with the company’s wider mission and future plans.
While goal setting is certainly important, the process needs to be intentional and explicit to be effective. People can set objectives all day long, but they need to tell someone about them and make themselves accountable to ensure they don’t get ignored or forgotten.
Determining objectives within the performance review process gives employees ownership over their own goals. Consequently, they understand what they’re responsible for and what they need to accomplish, making it more likely that they’ll take their performance seriously.
In addition, establishing goals during performance appraisals helps staff feel more committed to their roles and future career trajectory. They understand that senior staff members are invested in their professional lives, want to see them improve, and can envision them moving up within the company.
How do I integrate goal setting into performance appraisals?
If we’ve convinced you to integrate goal setting into your employee performance reviews, there are several best practice methods to help you get started. You can, for example:
1. Tap into what motivates individual employees.
Everyone gets out of bed in the morning for different reasons. Some staff members might be passionate about pursuing a long-term career in your industry. Others might want to gain leadership skills to ultimately transfer to another field. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to understand each employee’s ‘why’, so you can set goals that will be authentic and will motivate them to do their best work.
2. Start with an open, one-on-one conversation.
Performance appraisals should never be one-sided, especially when goal setting is involved. It’s important that employees feel comfortable being honest and transparent in performance review settings. So, kick things off by opening up the floor for conversation. Talk about how things are going in your workplace overall, and how your employee has been feeling about their progress.
3. Set goals collaboratively.
Objectives that come to life within performance reviews should always be collaborative. Both employee and employer should be on the same page as to why the goal is appropriate, how it will be achieved, plus how it will help both the employee and the company at large.
Devin Schumacher, SERP Co. Founder, reminds us that employees and employers are ultimately on the same side. He says: “It's fair for an employee to challenge something you've said, or to ask for elaboration. But remember, this conversation is far from a debate. It's you two versus the challenge, not you two versus each other.”
4. Use a SMART goal framework.
Once you’ve figured out what your employee is going to work on, be sure to use the SMART goal framework (or another similar tool) to make sure that their goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. Vague or overly lofty goals won’t reap the results you desire.
5. Monitor and re-evaluate goals together.
Even if you’re setting goals in the context of a performance review, the process shouldn’t end there. While you should revisit employee objectives in future performance appraisals, be sure to monitor and check on them regularly in more informal contexts. Whether your employee is making good progress towards their goal or getting a little off track, talk to them and provide continuous feedback.
6. Recognise, praise, and reward employees.
When your employees attain their goals, be sure to acknowledge their achievements and provide them with some celebration. Employee recognition is a key driver for motivation and people always feel good when they’re given a pat on the back for their hard work. This step closes the goal setting loop and lays the groundwork for you and your employee to collaborate on more ambitious objectives in the future.
Goal Setting in Performance Reviews: Examples
By this stage, you might be ready to start setting goals within your performance reviews, but you might still feel unsure how that might look in a real-life situation. We’ve provided three examples you can draw inspiration from below.
Remember, the collaborative objectives you set with your employees will be different depending on their seniority, your industry, their personalities, their key motivators, and your team size. Always make sure your staff’s goals are relevant to your company’s context and their position within it.
Example 1: Professional Development Goals
Professional development goals are a great type of objective to integrate into performance reviews. They’re typically very tangible and will benefit both employee and employer alike.
- The employee gets new skills, knowledge, or professional qualifications
- The employer (and the company overall) benefits from having someone with special skills, knowledge, or professional qualifications on their team
Professional development goals also encompass a wider range of activities than many people assume. Some possibilities include:
- Completing certificates, degrees, or other further education
- Doing skills-based training like language courses, first aid courses, IT courses, machinery courses, or software-related courses
- Undertaking industry-related research
- Attending conferences and workshops or belonging to a professional organisation
- Working on soft skills like communication and leadership abilities
Keeping the examples above in mind, here are some concrete professional development goals to establish during performance appraisals:
- “I will complete [X] professional certificate by [date], which will help me better perform my duties and move onto more senior responsibilities in the company.”
- “I will attend [X] conference from [date] to [date]. This conference is important for my professional development and the company overall because [X].”
- “I will work on my leadership skills this quarter. To do this, I will be responsible for [X], organise [X] initiative, and increase teamwork within my department by doing [X].”
Example 2: Teamwork and Collaboration Goals
Objectives that relate to teamwork and collaboration are often underrated, but they are great goals to work into performance appraisals. Top-performing companies need teams that work together effectively, and setting relevant collaborative goals is a solid way to get there.
Shane Liuw, General Manager at First Page Digital, offers some perspective on establishing objectives related to teamwork. “[A great goal is] improving your relationship with your co-workers,” he explains. “It's important to keep in mind that you're not competing with anyone else in the workplace. You need everyone's help to accomplish your job objectives and the goals of the company as a whole.
“Working together fosters an open exchange of ideas and a positive work atmosphere. The more ideas you openly exchange and the more collaboratively you work with your coworkers, the better your results will be.”
Here are some fantastic collaboration-related goals to try out in your workplace:
- “I will attend all my internal team meetings this quarter and make an effort to be present and contribute intentionally.”
- “I will organise at least one team building activity for our department this quarter. In doing so, I’ll make sure that team members get to know each other better and feel more comfortable taking on new tasks as a group.”
- “Before we get started on [X] project this quarter, I will organise a meeting where our team discusses how to optimise the way we work together. We’ll come out of the meeting with at least three concrete ideas to put into action.”
Example 3: Process Goals
Process-related objectives often get overlooked, which makes them even more important to include in performance reviews. They might not be flashy, but having excellent processes and employees who follow them is critical for any successful business.
Rather than relating to end results, process-based goals focus on internal systems and deal with how companies do things. Some specific examples here include:
- “I will follow [X] company processes according to [X] standard operating procedure document. If I find any problems with this procedure, I will inform [X] person and work with them to improve it.”
- “I will come up with a new standard operating procedure for our team’s communication strategy this quarter. Before I begin, I will meet with my team to brainstorm ideas so everyone can collaborate and get on board with our new procedures.”
All professional teams should be setting goals within their performance review processes. Doing so ensures that objectives are set collaboratively, will be followed up on, and are truly beneficial to both employee and employer.
Goal setting also provides many other benefits, like increased motivation, boosted engagement, and a richer company culture. If you’re ready to establish objectives in your performance appraisals, simply follow the best practices we’ve described above and use our examples to get you inspired.
To go the extra mile with your company’s performance management, Lattice can help you with goal setting by integrating OKRs and performance reviews in one central platform. To see how it can benefit your business, schedule a product tour.