Many of us start a new year setting professional goals and making personal resolutions. Yet, attaining our goals can be challenging and a source of disappointment. This article examines how managers can help employees set goals and stick with them.
In the workplace, goals are useful for providing focused feedback and shaping measurable targets. Goals can help to energize people. It’s nice to feel like they can have a fresh start. Those goals provide a sense of purpose and can help focus their efforts going forward.
However, making goals that are too challenging or too easy can backfire. Aim too low and the person may feel undervalued or unmotivated. Aim too high and the individual could question their own abilities and resent being stretched too far. Helping to set realistic goals is one area where a manager can make a difference.
Helping Employees Set Goals
You are in a unique position to help your employees set better goals. For one, you have an outsider’s perspective on their professional skills and prospects. Also, you have a broader view of the organization.
In navigating goal-setting discussions with direct reports, you can help them settle on attainable goals. It doesn’t have to be an easy win. Although, if the employee is brand new to the organization, a few of those may not be a bad idea. But, in the interest of employee engagement and improved morale, you don’t want to drive everyone to set pie-in-the-sky or piddling goals.
SMART goals are a familiar concept for many. The idea is that the more specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely goals are, the more attainable they will be. You don’t have to demand SMART goals, but being able to measure a goal on an ongoing basis will really help.
Notice we said ongoing basis. Continuous consideration throughout the year can help you and the employee identify any obstacles and address them early on.
As a manager, you can also help reports create a plan for success. You can help with milestone setting and suggest resources that help them meet objectives. Maybe there’s someone whose goal is to change departments and you can point them towards a mentor that can help them get there. Or, you could provide him with additional training to learn a new skill set. Perhaps, there’s project you can put her on to challenge her to be more outspoken on teams.
Connecting employee goals to larger company goals helps make them more meaningful, too. When an employee understands how his goals play a role in company success, he is more likely to be engaged in accomplishing that objective.
It can also be useful for you to ask employees about their personal goals for the new year. You don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable, but finding connections between personal and professional goals can boost motivation. Plus, you can demonstrate you care for the employee as an individual by discussing what adjustments might need to come at work to help them achieve their personal goals.
Helping Employees Stick With Goals
While the intentions of setting goals are good, struggling to meet professional goals can demotivate employees. They may see the failure to reach a goal as a personal failure and, thus, suffer lowered morale. As a supervisor, you can help to turn the employee’s perspective around. In a one-on-one meeting with the individual, consider the following key questions.
What is being accomplished in trying to attain the goal?
Even if the goal isn’t met yet, there can be a lot of good that came from setting that goal.
Many individuals are going to look at the experience from a negative point of view: “here is where I failed.” But what did they accomplish along the way? Maybe an employee wanted to become a manager this year, but she didn’t get the promotion and is giving up hope. You can point out the new responsibilities she took on and the projects that she led for the first time.
Why weren’t the goals met?
Lack of effectiveness is not the only reason for a goal to go unmet. There are many other factors that could make goal achievement more difficult. These include:
- Time constraints
- Lack of resources
- High turnover rate
- Changing role or responsibilities
- Lack of understanding of goal
Being able to look at the goal journey beyond personal ability can keep employees motivated. Plus, the awareness helps them prepare for the challenges ahead.
What can I do to help?
Failing to keep up with goals can be caused by having vague or too difficult goals. There may also be too many to keep up with. Or, the individual may have an overall fear of failure that stifles their will to even try.
There’s not going to be one consistent reason for every different employee.
If you really want to help your employees stick with their goals, communicate your support for their professional goals. Point out that you are a partner in their professional goals.
Gauge how each individual feels and ask what they expect from you. Employee X might want you to check in often and communicate feedback. Meanwhile, Employee Y could feel pressured to perform if you are overly involved. Individualize your approach to each person.
In having the conversation with an employee who has not met goals, avoid blaming the individual. Criticizing or berating employees for their struggle is not going to encourage them to take risks or apply themselves in the future.
At the same time, don’t take too much ownership of the individual’s goals. That’s not going to work. Linda Hill, co-author of Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader, says “A manager’s job is to provide ‘supportive autonomy’ that’s appropriate to the person’s level of capability.”
Ultimately, managers can be a big support for employees in setting goals and sticking with them. You want to be hands-on without hand holding. It’s a tricky balance. Still, now you’ve taken this time to read up on your role in goal setting. Go ahead, make giving your employees more autonomy in goal setting one of your goals for 2021.