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What makes a smart employee goal?

3 min read


Goals drive us as a whole (company, that is) and as individuals. They define what we need to do and how we need to do it. As managers and employees, we all have individual goals tailored to the work that we do and the contributions we make to organizational success. The question is, do those goals make sense?

We’ve all heard of the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timely) way to set goals. Let’s go beyond the popular goal-setting acronym and take a more in-depth look at four characteristics of a truly smart employee goal:

1. It’s transparent.

Company-wide goals aren’t the only goals that should be made public. Employee goals should also be transparent. Bersin’s “Predictions for 2015” report suggests that high-performing companies make individual work goals public for all to see. Ideally, the whole department — or even office — should be in on it.

When more people know about an employee’s goal, the weight of responsibility increases. While making work goals public can add more pressure to employees, it also ensures that their goals are at the forefront of everything they do. And goals that are shared with team members, are later celebrated with team members when met.

2. It ties back to larger company goals.

The key to driving business success is to set individual work goals that closely tie with those of the overall organization. And yet, 43 percent of employees in ClearCompany and Dale Carnegie’s “How Leaders Grow Today” survey claimed to be familiar with company goals, but couldn’t list any specifically.

The solution? Help employees better understand the company vision. Employers should actively communicate strategic business objectives and update employees on progress and changes as often as possible. Employees who clearly understand the company vision and how their work contributes to overall success will have an easier time setting goals that more accurately align with company goals.

3. It challenges employees.

Employees are often told their goals should be achievable and realistic (two core components of SMART goals), but this can lead to goals that are small and void of aspiration. And what is a goal if it doesn’t motivate you to push yourself? While goals should be attainable, they shouldn’t be too easy, as easy goals invite complacency.

We need to encourage employees to set goals that are outside of their comfort zone — goals that reach into untapped potential, test individual limits and inspire greatness. After all, who doesn’t like a good challenge?

4. It’s revisited — often.

As employees grow and business develops, goals change. Or, at least, they should. Goals need to be reevaluated on a regular basis, in order to keep them aligned with company objectives. The aforementioned Bersin report recommends managers and their employees revisit goals often (even weekly).

In a perfect world, you would have time to meet with employees, individually, on a weekly basis to review goal progress. However, that’s much easier said than done. Instead, have employees self-report their goal progress during weekly team meetings and save the formal goal review for quarterly performance check-ins.

What do you think? What are some other qualities of a smart employee goal? Share in the comments!


Andre Lavoie is the CEO of ClearCompany, the first talent-alignment platform that bridges the gap between talent management and business strategy by contextualizing employees’ work around a company’s vision and goals. You can connect with him and the ClearCompany team on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.