How to Help Your Employees to Set Motivating Goals

As a leader, it’s your job to help your employees to perform at their very best. At the end of the day, when they’re crushing it at work, everyone wins.

Still, setting the goals that will help your direct reports to get the best results is often a tricky endeavor. On one hand, you have your own performance goals that need to be accomplished. At the same time, your employees have their own aspirations that might  or might not always match up neatly with your area’s objectives.

So, the million dollar question is, how do you set goals that will both motivate your employees and drive the business forward?

Use this three-step process to get started:

1.  Have ongoing discussions with your employees about their career goals

Most high performers relish being given opportunities to learn and grow. It allows them to feel that they’re progressing in their careers, while also providing a sense of pride when they’re able to reflect on their latest accomplishments.

Luckily, there’s a good chance that the same goals that will help your employees to get themselves ready to advance their careers will also help you and your department to get better results. After all, if they’re picking up new skills and taking on more responsibility, not only will they become more attractive for promotions, it will likely also give you more opportunities to delegate. In turn, this will allow you to free up more time to devote to the higher level, strategic work that will help you to get next level results.

To get ideas about potential assignments for your employees, have regular career discussions. Ask them about their short-term and long-term goals. Have them think about what challenges they would like in the workplace. Encourage them to reflect on their values, and how they can ensure they’re expressing on them on the job.

Showing a genuine interest will also help to deepen your relationships, and will likely contribute to increased morale.

2. Consider the goals that are most important for your area to achieve

Although it would be nice if you could always be the person setting your own goals, the reality is that your targets sometimes come from on high – that’s simply a part of business. Therefore, as a next step, make a list of all of your goals – those from your boss, as well as those you hope to achieve. Put them in order of priority and brainstorm about how your employees could possibly help you to accomplish them.

As you consider each person’s career aspirations (and current skill sets), think of which goals would be a good match for them. Consider this both from the standpoint of giving them chances to highlight their current skills, as well as opportunities develop new skills for future roles.

Keep in mind that providing developmental assignments will help you to create a more well-rounded team, and increase your bench strength for talent management. Plus, as they get better, so will your results!

3. Collaboratively agree upon their goals (where possible) and make sure to tie them to a compelling purpose

Although all goals may not be able to be set collaboratively, where it is doable, include your employee in the process. This will increase the likelihood that they’ll be bought-in and motivated. Further, it could alert you to potential obstacles or pitfalls of which you’re unaware.

To do this, sit down with your employee and share your thoughts about assignments that could help both of you to achieve your goals. (For some ideas about common developmental areas, click here).

  • For example, do you have someone who would like to become a leader in the future? Give her an opportunity to lead an internal project.
  • Is someone interested in learning more about a different part of the business? See if there are opportunities for cross-training.
  • Do you have an employee whose underwhelming presentation skills are interfering with his ability to move up? Give him more opportunities to speak up (along with plenty of coaching).

As you are speaking with your employee, communicate the goal in a way that will be meaningful. Keep in mind that different people are motivated by different things, and so your aim should be to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, as opposed to just thinking about what would be motivating to you.

Some examples of motivators include: taking on challenges, learning new things, giving back to the community, making a contribution to the team, getting greater visibility, or feeling the sense of satisfaction associated with doing a good job. (If  you have discussed their values with them, that will also give you a good sense of the sorts of things that drive them).

Have a dialogue about the goals and come to agreement about them.

How to Help Your Employees to Set Motivating Goals

A Few More Goal-Setting Tips

When you’re setting the goals themselves, make sure you are specific. According to classic research, a common reason that people fail to meet their goals is that they are too vague. Specific and challenging goals overwhelmingly lead to better performance compared to simply saying “do your best.”

Still, don’t go overboard with it – you have to make sure the goal is reasonable. Although it might initially be exciting to choose a goal that would be a huge stretch, research suggests that although a hyper-ambitious goal may improve performance in the short-term, it might also reduce your commitment and engagement across time, when you see that there’s no way you’re actually going to achieve it.

Therefore, when setting goals, make sure to draw on the SMART goals principles, by making them Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Limited.

Finally, schedule check-in points so you can assess how your employee is progressing.  Research has shown that people perform better when they set a goal and and get feedback (as opposed to merely setting the goal). Plus, if you’ve given them a goal that challenges them and requires them to develop new skills, it’ll allow you to help them to course-correct before the project goes entirely off the rails.

When done correctly, the goal-setting process can result in a win-win for you and your employee. Try out these strategies and see for yourself.

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Atlanta-based Corporate Psychologist and Life Coach