How to Effectively Set Goals With Your Direct Reports

Performance review season will soon be upon us. To prepare, clearly set goals with your employees now and bonus season will be a breeze.

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how to set goals with your employees

As we ready ourselves for a new year, we know your employees have performance reviews, pay raises, and bonuses on their minds. Before you sit down with each of them, you’ll need to do two things. The first is to evaluate their performance over the past year, and the second is to consider a few priorities to focus on in the upcoming year. Both of those things depend upon concrete, measurable employee goals.

If you’ve already begun to set goals with your employees–perhaps at their last performance review–then you’ve got a good starting point. If not, it’s a good idea to begin this process before bonus season is upon us.

Why is goal-setting so important? It demonstrates to your staff that you prioritize their success. But more importantly, it gives each member of your team a clear set of priorities to focus on for the year. Your staff will know which tasks and projects are important to you and to their career growth so they can prioritize accordingly.

Moreover, if you’ve defined the metrics you’ll use to track progress after you set goals, each employee will go into their next performance review having a pretty good idea of where they stand. This removes a lot of uncertainty, which will boost team morale. It also allows you to set the bar high and create action items that will directly correlate to the success of your entire business.

So how do you work with your employees to set goals that will motivate the team, boost productivity and drive your business to success? Let’s dig in and look at some proven goal-setting strategies.

Getting Started

If you’re new to employee goal-setting, we recommend kicking things off at a team meeting. Let your entire staff know that you value each person’s contributions and that you want everyone’s input in order to accomplish the company’s goals in a way that advances everyone’s careers.

During this meeting, managers should reiterSo how do yate the company’s goals. What does your business aim to improve upon over the next year?

Next, have supervisors meeting individually with each employee to discuss their unique skills and the role they can plan in achieving company goals. And don’t forget to address your employees’ career objectives. Ask each team member, “What are your goals for this job?” Then strategize to help them set goals that will both advance their careers and achieve company-wide goals.

To accomplish this task, you will need to help your employees set three types of goals.

What Are the Three Types of Goals Your Employees Should Set?

Now it’s time to think about the upcoming year–and possibly beyond that. How will each employee contribute to your company’s goals, and how will their work advance their own careers? The answer lies in these three types of goals.

1. Time Goals

Time goals are usually referred to as short-term or long-term goals. Often, they are paired with short-term goals contributing to the accomplishment of a long-term goal. For example, you might have short-term goals of learning to swim, improving your running speed, and riding your bike daily. These would all contribute to the long-term goal of completing a triathlon.

2. Focus Goals

This will be the employee’s overarching goal for the year, and possibly beyond. It is usually a big but achievable goal, and all other goals should lead to it. For example, a focus goal for your social media manager might be to increase follower engagement on all social media channels by 10 percent. All other goals would flow from that, and the employee’s daily activities would focus heavily on boosting social engagement.

3. Topic Goals

These goals might be personal, professional, or financial. For example, your employees might want to complete a series of leadership training courses. Many employees will strive to earn a promotion or a pay raise. These are all topic goals.


So far, we’ve discussed important aspects of the content of your employees’ goals. But the construction of these goals is equally important. The most widely accepted format to set goals that are useful and successful is the SMART goal plan. SMART is an acronym for:


All employee goals should be specific. This means that they clearly detail exactly what needs to happen, including the size, scope, and participants involved. It may help to also create incremental objectives, or milestones, to define progress toward the goal.


What are the measurable goals and how do you pick them? For starters, measurable goals define objective units that you can count. This allows your employees to track their progress. For example, a salesperson for a health club may want to increase the number of memberships she sells by 10 percent.


It’s a good thing to aim high. But if you aim so high that the goal is impossible to meet, then you’re setting yourself and your employees up for failure. A goal that will take a lot of hard work to achieve is great. Just be sure that it doesn’t also depend on luck, excessive hours or an unlikely set of circumstances.


Remember when we said that you should start your goal-setting discussion by reiterating the company’s goals? That’s because each individual employee’s goals should either contribute to the mission of the organization or advance the employee’s personal goals.


This one is simple. A time-based goal is one with a deadline. A stockbroker will increase his personal client base by 10 percent within three months. A physician will complete 50 CME credits within one year.

When applied to the entire list of employee goals, “time-based” can mean assigning priority levels to each goal so the employee knows which one she should complete first.

Employee goal-setting is an integral part of any manager’s job. Start today by planning your first goal-setting team meeting. Your staff will feel confident and energized knowing that their boss cares about their career success, and your business will benefit from a team of employees all working toward company-wide goals.

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