Most goal-setting “tips” for managers focus on putting time frames on goals, setting the right level of difficulty, and checking in on progress. If these are the only factors you are thinking about, your goal-setting process is missing the stickiness element. According to Edwin A. Locke's paper in Applied & Preventive Psychology, there are two key ingredients to effective goal management that keep them in an employee's mind:
Part of the performance management process is goal setting in a way that aligns the organizational goals and business objectives of your company with the individual goals of your employees. Making employee goals sticky means crafting and presenting specific goals in such a way that employees become invested in their set goals, embed them into their work in a useful way on a daily basis, and would have difficulty leaving them incomplete. Meaningful goals are imperative for employee engagement at a company, help you and your employee build development plans for effective talent management through a collaborative process, and makes it easier to track progress on both.
In other words, you need to make the types of goals that are important to your employee for a reason other than this was assigned to me by my manager. The best way to do that is to:
Knowing your employees means understanding what they're striving for, professionally. This is knowledge you can get from regular 1:1s, from performance reviews, and from listening to their feedback. (A manager should find time to regularly check in with what employees want in their professional future.)
While you can't necessarily set a goal for every professional aspiration an employee has, sticky goals will be relevant to an employee's long-term professional goals and development. Understanding your employees' goals will help you integrate them with their team members' goals and business goals into stickier goals. This way, each one becomes part of a long-term vision for the employee -- smaller goals that will help them achieve their ultimate goals.
Research shows that people are motivated by “[a] deep-seated need for growth and achievement.” This means that your employees want goals that will help them work towards the next step in their professional lives.
When you are setting goals for your employees:
Goals need to be tied to the actual workings of your company, and this often means goals for individuals end up looking like “hit X sales next quarter” or “finish project Y” or “implement program G.”
Measurable goals are a highlight of SMART goals, but defining what the right goals look like for your employee might need a bit more finesse. To make these types of goals sticky, tie them into skills and knowledge that your employee is gaining rather than just emphasizing a bottom-line metric. Academy of Management Journal reports that “a specific learning goal led to higher performance than did either a specific performance goal or a vague goal.”
Tying a goal to an employee's professional development, rather than just an end result, not only shows that you care about employee development—it actually makes employees perform better. That's sticky.
This can also curb fear of failure. European Psychologist reports that goals with a “learning orientation” caused people to view errors as “inherent in the learning process” rather than as failures. So when you're presenting stretch goals or need an employee to break out of their comfort zone, emphasizing learning can help them be more fearless and creative. This will help you and your employee make better goals that'll give them the motivation and self-confidence to accomplish the goals you want them to achieve in the first place.
When discussing goals with employees:
Understanding what motivates an employee will help you make their goals sticky. One may be hell-bent on the “fast track” to management; another is excited about pushing the future of robotics.
Everyone's different, so motivating people to reach their goals should be approached differently too. Motivation is a key people-management skill and one that all managers should be prepared to implement when talking to employees about goals.
When it comes to discussing goals, motivating individually means the framing of the goal is just as critical as the goal itself. Connecting a goal to what excites people about their work and their field contextualizes it and signals to an employee why it should take up their time and attention. Motivation can also positively affect employee performance goals, in that employees will see the goal as something they can integrate into the flow of their everyday work rather than a something they have to force themselves to get through.
This builds stickiness into goals because it connects the goal to what emotionally motivates them at work.
When discussing goals with employees:
Sticky goals make employees more excited about their work and improve their performance. This, in turn, encourages professional development and helps employees achieve the goals you are setting for them.
Your goals may cater to a standard set of positional requirements, a particular company career path, and a business OKR. But making them sticky means connecting them to employees as individuals.
People management means treating people like the individuals they are and making sticky goals builds up your employees through your people management program. A focus on sticky goals means more goals hit, more engagement, and better work from employees.