Setting Goals: Assuring Employees They Can Achieve and Celebrate

Setting goals gives staff members ownership of their success and the success of the company. Discover how to utilize goal-setting as a strategic management tool.

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Setting goals gives employees ownership of their success and the success of the company. We want staff members to grow and develop on the job, increasing their worth to the organization and themselves.

With specific goals, they can achieve that growth, build on it, and become even more valuable members of the team.

When goals are vague they’re unattainable. Employee goal-setting is a strategic management tool that helps focus on workers’ efforts and talent. When goals are unclear or imprecise they’re not achievable. When they’re not achievable they’re frustrating and counter-productive.

However, when goals are effective, they’re specific, attainable, commendable, and motivate workers to achieve even more.

Setting goals and celebrating milestones builds employee satisfaction and confidence. Achievements build on each other: the more we attain the more apt we are to reach higher. When goals are purposeful, they set the stage for continuous learning and growth.

Which employees need goals in an organization?

Every business has a goal: success. Leadership looks for specific ways to achieve success. They may forecast growth in product lines, expand their market reach, or work to build clients. Whatever the objective, there’s a plan to get there.

Every employee should be invested in the company’s overall goal, but they also need specific goals of their own. These are pathways to build on their success, and the success of the company.

If you’re looking to grow your client base, you’ll rely on your sales and marketing teams. What steps will they take to get from here to there? Setting goals helps plan for the task, and helps plan a pathway to achieve it.

Specific goals set standards and boost engagement

Goals that are specific set standards and boost engagement. When an worker sees they’ve reached the goal, you have a reason to celebrate. Goals have meaning and value whether they’re easily accomplished or challenging.

Start with small goals for entry-level workers — they can be as basic as meeting training milestones. For more seasoned employees, set goals that test their capabilities or stretch their knowledge base.

Goals that are specific set standards and boost engagement.

Every level of employee should have at least 1 goal they’re working on achieving to keep them motivated and engaged at work.

For many people goals are more attainable when they’re in writing.

A Dominican University of California professor found people are 42% more likely to achieve their goals if they’re written down. It can be a notation in an employee evaluation or a note in their workstation. Concrete, written goals may be easier to aspire to and achieve.

How should managers set goals for their staff members?

Managers should set goals intentionally for their staff. They should be tailored to where the employee is in their career at the organization, what will help build their skill set, and how the goal aligns with the company’s need.

Leaders may set goals at annual performance reviews but with a year gap between discussion and evaluation, these are easily forgotten. Unless it’s a long-term plan, like going to school part-time to achieve a degree, set goals within a shorter time frame.

These set a sense of urgency and drive employees to work toward them quickly, while their interest and enthusiasm is high.

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The 5 elements of SMART goal-setting for workers

Many leaders use the SMART method for setting goals. SMART outlines goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-sensitive. Each step of the SMART method helps staff and management create and follow up on goals that motivate and engage.


The goal should hone in on a specific area or task. “Learn to use spreadsheets” is a vague goal. “Learn the basics of Excel” is specific. “Increase safety” is vague: “develop safety protocols for the use of xyz machine” is specific.

Find ways to create goals for every staff member: whether it’s reducing errors, or building skills, there is always an opportunity for improvement.

Ask staff members to help you build specifics into the goal. What do you want accomplished, exactly? Identifying the need or a desire to build skills or capabilities is the 1st step to creating a specific goal.


Goals must be measurable to be achievable (and worthy of a ‘job well done!’) to have meaning. When you set a goal, come up with a metric that’s agreed on by everyone.

The measurement may be an actual number (like increased sales or reduced returns), or a level of proficiency or independence.

Whatever measurement you use, make sure it’s reasonable and understood by all parties involved.

The goal may be as simple as passing a 90-day probationary period: it may be as complex as attaining a graduate degree within the next 2 years.

Whatever measurement you use, make sure it’s reasonable and understood by all parties involved. Sales goals should be communicated to the rep, the manager, and the people who do the accounting.

It’s easier to verify the goal was reached when all the everyone is on the same page. Create a measurement that’s reasonable and easy to identify. “Increased sales” isn’t verifiable: “increase of 5%” is.


Goals that are not attainable do more than frustrate the employee, their manager, and the team. They de-motivate.

Asking an employee to reach a milestone that’s not in their grasp sets them up for failure. You won’t keep workers on staff for long if they can’t see themselves successful at your organization.

Attainable goals are within the capability of  the employee based on their skill set; the tools and resources they have available; and the time they need to accomplish the goal. Asking a worker to produce more when they’re already working through lunch to get current tasks done is unreasonable.

Look for goals that are proportionate to where the employee is within the company and where you hope they’ll be someday. Set goals for entry-level staffers to learn a specific new skill that uses their current knowledge as a baseline.

As they achieve that goal, move to the next. Goal-setting can be a learning pathway for the staff member: and at each step they bring more value to the company.


The goal should be relevant to the work they currently do, but it can also be relevant to where they (or you) want them to do in the future. Mastering the skills necessary for the job today can be a 1st goal.

Mastering them to a level that allows the employee to train others can be a 2nd goal. Building on this skill could move the employee from entry-level to management over time.

Some employees have topped out in their field. They’ve mastered all the tasks relevant to their work. These are top performers you rely on, but they’re also at risk for boredom and burnout.

Look for ways to make goals relevant for them that expand their interests or capacity. Cross-training in other areas of the company, stretch projects, or networking opportunities can be goals that build their relevance to the company and keep them motivated.

Even the occasional seat at management meetings can be a goal: here they’re participating in forecasting and planning, while gaining a larger knowledge of the organization.


Without a timeline, goals are just ideas. With a timeline, you’re prompted to follow up to find progress and achievement.

Agree on time frames that are reasonable, and allow for some flexibility. When distractions happen, you may need to adjust, but for the most part, try to stay on plan.

If the timeline is lengthy, plan to check in periodically to see if the employee is on track. If it’s short, plan on meeting on the agreed-upon follow up day as soon as you set it. This will message that you’re serious about the plan and are setting aside time to discuss how things turned out.

Ask workers for input on what they want to learn and accomplish

You may not have a list of goals for your employees; but they may have ideas and suggestions of their own. Ask staff members periodically if there’s something they’d be interested in learning or doing, then create a goal around that suggestion.

Look for goals that build employee skills and have some relevance to your business, but be open-minded.

A customer care employee that wants to expand their accounting savvy might not seem like a short-term goal. Down the road, however, they could leverage that skill for a lateral move, saving you the cost and effort of recruitment.

If staff can’t come up with anything specific, ask them to think outside the box. Would they like to see the inner workings of another department to gain a bigger picture of the organization? Would they be interested in training for skills their manager holds?

Put the possibilities out there and see what piques their interest. You may be surprised at what suggestions come your way.

Celebrate employee achievements to build engagement

From passing the 30-day mark to developing cold fusion, every achievement deserves recognition. Celebrate when employees meet their goals proudly and publicly. It might be a meeting to say “great job” or a company-wide party, but all employees appreciate being noticed.

Look for ways to show you’re proud of and impressed by staff members who set and achieve goals.

Look for ways to show you’re proud of and impressed by staff members who set and achieve goals. You’ll build engagement with that employee and their peers. When workers know they’re seen, they make themselves more visible.

That’s good news for businesses that want employees to step forward with ideas and innovation. Setting goals may take a bit of time initially, but the payoff can be significant for workers and business.

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