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How to set effective employee goals

Employees should want to thrive, not just survive. But too many people are disconnected from their colleagues and workplace as business conditions continue to change. Seemingly every day, another major company announces its own unique perspective on hybrid or remote work situations and how it will affect its business model. As a result, it’s time that companies reassess how they are setting and supporting employee goals to minimize or even eliminate ambiguity about individual and broader expectations in this new climate.


There are many benefits of clear employee goal setting and alignment. For starters, this facilitates a true pay-for-performance culture that links rewards systems with individual and team performance. When employees have clear direction about how their work aligns to business goals, they feel greater ownership in and commitment to an organization’s success. And with greater engagement, organizations can see further benefits with improved retention and performance.

Cascading goals ensure business–employee goal alignment

With clearer goal alignment and visibility, managers can allocate resources more efficiently and with fewer redundancies. This allows employees, teams, and the entire organization to execute the strategy faster. And when employees work smarter, a boost in productivity can lead to stronger profitability.


Help ensure employee and team goals are aligned with overall company objectives to maximize organizational success.

To achieve goal alignment in your organization, you must first clearly communicate your strategic business objectives across the entire company. This allows managers to:

  • Focus employees’ efforts on your company’s most important goals.
  • Understand more clearly all responsibilities associated with specific goals.
  • Strengthen accountability by assigning measurable, articulated goals that are visible company-wide.
Graphic showing how goals get cascaded.

Help ensure employee and team goals are aligned with overall company objectives to maximize organizational success.

How to set effective, S.M.A.R.T. employee goals: 5 characteristics

Once an organization sets company-wide goals and they are cascaded, managers can also set goals for individual departments that support the overall business strategy, as well as specific individual goals for employees.


There are five key characteristics for S.M.A.R.T. goals:


1. Specific

With specific goals, people know exactly what’s expected of them, without ambiguity. Specific goals can answer the following questions:

  • Who is responsible? 
  • When must this be done?  
  • What is to be accomplished? 
  • Which requirements/constraints are involved? 
  • Where is this to be completed? 
  • Where is this to be completed? 

In addition to being specific, goals should be transparent. Managers of different departments, for example, can use shared visibility to prevent duplicated efforts and increase collaboration for a team effort.


Fortunately, collaborative and effective goal setting has never been easier. Modern employee performance management software should support managers and employees with a step-by-step process, while “wizards” and goals libraries can assist with goal creation. These tools and goal templates allow users to drag and drop activities and goals, then adjust them to suit their needs.


2. Measurable

Establish criteria to measure progress against goals. Clear metrics help employees with goal tracking and celebrating milestones provides ongoing motivation.


Critically, everyone should be equipped to be his or her own goal tracker. Cloud-based performance management tools can make it easy for employees to track and update their activities whenever and wherever they want, linking time spent on specific daily efforts focused on meaningful tasks that support their goals.


It’s important for employees to track their progress on goals and have this information available during the review process. Additionally, managers need to be aware of progress on goals to step in with assistance or resources when it appears that goal targets may be missed. Having this information handy is also helpful when management is not aware of all of the steps involved in reaching a goal and clear documentation assists review discussions. Tracking your goals in a centralized location helps you stay on track in several ways:


  • Organize, manage, and reassess your goals frequently
  • Create action plans with milestones for larger goals
  • Track your time to make sure your daily efforts are focused on meaningful tasks


3. Attainable

Overly lofty goals that may be unattainable can discourage employees. But ambitious, realistic goals will motivate and inspire employees to reach, and sometimes surpass, their goals.  


However, organizations shouldn’t focus solely on employee goals that benefit a company’s business objectives. Workforce goals should include employee developmental objectives that motivate people to move on to bigger and better things. To strengthen trust with employees, companies should encourage their people to have marketable, in-demand capabilities and skills.


According to research from Accenture, companies that make their people more employable and make sure they’re “net better off” in ways beyond compensation, regardless of whether those people stay with the company, are shown to have higher revenue growth.



4. Relevant

Employees should understand the relevance of their employee objectives and how they are tied to the work they perform every day. And when people see how their work is tied to team goals or organizational goals, they can feel stronger ownership of their roles and the strategic importance of their employee goals.


Cascading goals work best when they are purpose-driven by the organization from the top down. For example, high-priority or non-negotiable goals can support diversity, compliance, safety, or customer satisfaction. Showing employees what cascading goals look like help them to see and take ownership of the big picture.


5. Timely

Effective goal setting should also have a clear timeframe to provide a sense of urgency. A clear timeline could also provide organizations with flexibility if they need to reset goals when there’s a change in business direction.


With a well-defined end-time for goals, employees also won’t feel like goal posts are unexpectedly or constantly being moved. With uncertainty affecting every sector and the pace of change accelerating globally, leaders should organize, manage, and reassess goals frequently.

Technology and tools for employee goal setting

Dashboards and reporting tools provide better visibility and ongoing guidance on employee priorities. And timely reminders can prompt managers to provide ongoing feedback to let employees know what they need to do to reach their goals.


Improve employee performance with performance goal management, ongoing dialogue, and continuous development.

Employee goals solutions can allow managers to add meeting topics to facilitate more productive one-on-one discussions. Writing and coaching assistants can help managers with performance feedback and conduct fair and accurate assessments of employees. With clearer visibility into the workforce, organizations can identify true top performers and support growth for their people and business.

Achieving employee goals starts with effective goal setting

With higher expectations of the work experience, more employees are looking for purpose. What makes people tick will always differ, but discussing clear goals can give people a greater sense of pride over their work and afford employees the opportunity to think about how they can be motivated to be their best selves.


You just need S.M.A.R.T. goals and the right tools.


Explore employee goal management tools

SAP SuccessFactors Performance & Goals can help you align your strategy & goals.

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