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The Alternative Board Blog

A Guide to Setting Employee Goals

Nov. 30, 2021 | Posted by The Alternative Board TAB

In business, everyone should have job-related goals, from the front-line staff to those occupying the highest levels in the organization. In all cases, the more specific the goals (as opposed to abstract objectives like “boosting sales”), the more effective the process will be.

For employees, goals can often be separated into two broad categories:


This can entail anything that involves acquiring new skills through training programs or broadening the range of one’s duties, such as taking on a leadership role for a specific company initiative.


This type of goal more closely linked to an individual employee’s job responsibilities. As Lifehack notes, performance goals “might be set in terms of improvements to be made, actions to be taken, attributes to develop, and things to cut down on in the work process” to achieve higher workplace productivity. Goal-setting can be established as “an agreement between an employer and an employee” or as an employee’s personal commitment “to meet or exceed their own work targets and boost their chances for a promotion or pay raise.”

Specific employee goal-setting tips to keep in mind include:

Be sure there’s alignment.

Every employee goal must be somehow aligned with the company’s broader vision and mission. Employees feel better about improving themselves and their performance if they can see how this effort fits into the organization’s growth and purpose.

“Without aligned goals,” notes Business News Daily, “employees might get tunnel vision, narrowing the scope of their focus to simply completely their day-to-day tasks,” and ending up feeling disconnected with overall business operations.

Make clear what’s in it for them.

Of course, employees want to improve performance and feel more valued by the organization. But they are also motivated by the belief that career advancement within the company is a genuine possibility.

As part of the goal-setting process, look for ways to highlight how individua goas support the employee’s career advancement process. Conduct an in-depth conversation “about where the employee wants to be (in a year, in five years, etc.) and what added skills are needed to get them” so he or she can “contribute with greater enthusiasm” in the workplace.

Incorporate SMART goals for the best results.

SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound) are popular among employers for a very good reason. They work! Within this framework, performance objectives are easily understood by everyone involved, thus avoiding confusion and a negative connotation with annual performance evaluations. They also clearly lay out what an employee can do to achieve his or her specific goals and how they serve the organization’s larger strategic plan.

Keep the process as flexible as possible.

A goal enacted at the outset of the year might not prove so viable six months down the road. Market and industry conditions are always in flux, so “failing to revisit goals can be demotivating” to employees, notes McKinsey & Company. Goals aren’t meant to be “moving targets, but rather” objectives that “should be adapted as the environment changes."

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Monitor progress towards the goal.

Goal setting shouldn’t be a “one-off” thing. Working together with employees, set specific goals early on, and then continue to monitor progress towards achieving those goals throughout the year. Schedule formal or informal meetings to assess where an individual stands with respect to these goals, and “when it comes to feedback,” notes Rise, an employee engagement company, “be kind, supportive, and clear about your take on the progress that’s being made.” This type of close collaboration helps ensure that goals are eventual met.

To learn more about crafting goals that truly pay off, check out “How to Hold Your Team Accountable Through Goal Setting.”

Read our 19 Reasons You Need a Business Owner Advisory Board


Written by The Alternative Board TAB