Best Practice

9-step guide to writing a performance goals and objectives list

Writing employees’ performance objectives can be an annual challenge for managers. But it should not simply be a tick-the-box exercise. The most effective performance goals need to motivate employees.

Here’s our 9-step guide to getting the most out of your employees with smart performance goals.

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With SMART goals your employees can see immediately what’s expected of them; vague, general objectives such as “increase sales in Q2” fail to provide adequate instruction or, in fact, motivation. Such general targets can also display your lack of interest, which in turn could have a knock-on effect on your employees. On the other hand, SMART goals are Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant and have a set Timeframe. They give your employees real goals to meet that are achievable yet challenging. Here’s a useful SMART goal template that you can adjust and make your own.  


Get specific

Be clear and specific with each goal. As Zig Ziglar said, “a goal properly set is halfway reached. Use action verbs that indicate what you want your employees to do: increase, reduce, win, develop, etc. Make sure to include specific details or targets that will give your employees something to work towards. Shelve vague objectives such as “improve customer service”, to “increase customer satisfaction from 45% to 60% by Q3”.


Made to measure

It’s important that your employees can easily see how they are progressing toward the goal. General objectives can lead to misinterpretation and potentially unhappy employees. So, be clear from the outset how each goal is going to be measured, which means both parties will know if the goal has been met. A good rule when writing each goal is to include definite figures, whether that’s 60%, $10,000, or by a multiple of 7, for example. To ensure transparency it’s also important at this stage to inform employees what the source of the measurement will be, whether it’s a customer survey, a sales reports or the organization’s balance sheet.


Ensure goals are attainable

The goals you set need to be possible yet challenging. It’s all about finding that perfect balance: too difficult and employees will simply give up, too easy and you will fail to motivate staff. Give your employees goals that are attainable but also offer them an opportunity to shine. Bear in mind, goals can be a great motivational tool and in meeting challenging objectives employees can get a great sense of achievement. Finding this perfect middle ground might not happen immediately but by measuring progress and then evaluating an employee’s final performance you will be able to make any tweaks that may be necessary.


Stay relevant

The ‘R’ in the SMART acronym could also mean relate or realistic; your ultimate objective is to ensure that each goal you set is relevant to specific employees, realistic within their role and relates back to the larger organizational goals. While it’s ok to be creative with goal setting, writing SMART goals is all about establishing objectives that make sense to your employees and their day-to-day role.


Make a timeline

When writing employee goals you will need to outline a time frame within which each goal needs to be achieved. By setting a timeline (and milestones along the way) employees are clear on what needs to be achieved by what date, no timeline and the goal could evolve into an ongoing task that can’t be measured correctly and has no impact. Make sure when devising each objective that you’re clear about what can be achieved within a specific time. Again, this might be something that will need to be tweaked but by creating marker points within the goal, i.e. mini objectives within smaller time frames, you can chart progress and identify if the original timeline is realistic.


Get in step with the business

SMART goals work best when they are aligned with the overall organizational objectives. So before you start writing your employee goals, take a look at the latest business objectives: do you need to reduce customer churn, do you need to meet increased demands for popular products, has a competitor edged ahead of you? Use these organizational goals as a starting point: what goals can you set that fit in with the business.


Evaluate, evaluate

When devising employee objectives make sure you schedule in performance evaluations that happen within the goal’s timeframe. By evaluating employees’ progress during the timeline you can monitor what is being achieved (or not), discuss employees’ headway towards the objective and make any necessary tweaks. This ongoing evaluation also means that goals don’t disappear ether or get put on the long finger.  


Make adjustments

Being open to tweaks is an important part of any goal setting. As we’ve already said, you might not get everything right the first time. But for your objectives to truly resonate with employees, it’s vital that you remain flexible. This is where the evaluation and adjustment steps combine: evaluation shows you if there are issues or stumbling blocks with your set objectives and you can then re-adjust if appropriate.


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