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Feb 10, 2017

Setting expectations for employees is the most critical step in any performance management process. A great article by Leigh Anthony describes how this fundamental step provides focus, increases motivation, helps employees to prioritize their responsibilities and offers measurability. Overall, it sets the stage. Without goals, employees are flying blind, causing a loss in productivity and negatively affecting the company’s bottom line.

But setting goals doesn’t guarantee success. In order for goals to make an impact, they have to be properly set, tracked, measured and adjusted frequently. If not, a lot can go wrong.

Here are 5 ways that good goals can go bad:

1. When goals aren’t clear

A Gallup study found that half of U.S. employees don’t know what’s expected of them at work. It is staggering to think that 50% of employees aren’t being given clear expectations for their day-to-day work. If goals aren’t outlined in a way that guarantees understanding from both employees and managers, don’t be surprised if ther’s a disconnect between the end result and what was expected.

The best way to set clear goals is to follow the trusted SMART goal framework where goals are outlined in a specific way, all milestones and measurements are planned, timelines are established, employees understand the bigger picture, and the allocation of resources is confirmed. Setting SMART goals not only ensures that expectations are understood, but it outlines clear actions and deadlines so employees and managers can monitor progress.

2. When goals aren’t updated

Employee goals should never be written in stone. It is rare to find an objective that doesn’t shift throughout a 12 month period. Projects can be cancelled, teams and organizations shift, new priorities are set, macro-economic factors influence company targets and focus – all leading to employee goals becoming irrelevant if not kept up-to-date. It is important that employees and managers revisit goals frequently to ensure goals are kept up-to-date. Frequent check-in meetings, quarterly reviews, or formal mid-year status meetings are all great ways for managers and employees to monitor the progress of goals and discuss any changes.

3. When goal achievements are not acknowledged

Goals that are falling behind or are not achieved tend to suck up most of the attention from managers but it’s important that goal achievements are recognized too. If an employee reaches a milestone or a goal is achieved on time or in advance, employees should be acknowledged. Even a simple “Nice job” from a manager can make a world of difference for an employee who has invested a lot of time in a project or goal. A Forbes article by Meghan M. Biro highlights the importance of in-the-moment acknowledgement and feedback, which can motivate employees to keep giving their all in achieving their other goals. Adding context to this can take things even further. If an employee is given feedback on how their achievements have contributed to a larger company goal or objective, the acknowledgement is more meaningful and is more likely to reinforce the positive behavior.

4. When goals aren’t achievable

Goals look really good on paper but unless the employee has the capacity and resources to achieve the goal, it will do more damage than good. Goals that are not reasonable or achievable set an employee up for stress and failure. Guess what? Employees do not like to be stressed or to fail and that disappointment could send them packing. Train managers to set realistic goals or break large scale goals into achievable sub-goals so that employees feel confident in their abilities to see it through. Goals should always be high and should challenge employees, but if they are so high that they are a star in the sky, eventually employees’ arms will get tired from reaching out.

5. When goals aren’t shared

Goals that don’t align with overall company objectives result in wasted time and missed opportunities. It is important that company goals are defined and shared with the organization prior to establishing employee goals and that individual goals are being defined and aligned with the larger context of the company. When everyone understands how their job and role plays into the company’s overall success, it is more likely that they’ll work cohesively to achieve those goals.

Effective goal setting and management can make a huge impact on the success of employees and the organization as a whole. Ensure employees and managers aren’t just going through the motions when establishing expectations and that they are aware of the ways that even the best goal can go bad if left unchecked.