How to Set Performance Goals that Motivate Employees

How to Set Performance Goals that Motivate Employees

In today’s culture of goal setting and performance motivation, it is common for managers and employees to meet regularly and set improvement objectives. This practice isn’t new, but despite its solid history, many organizations still do it wrong. If you’re interested in setting performance goals that motivate employees to do their best, improve their output and quality, and remain loyal to your company, the tips below will help you do it.

Respect Intrinsic Employee Motivation

The reason the Internet is filled with advice about how to set and reach personal goals is that people are inherently motivated by their own desires. The ways in which they naturally want to improve, and the successes that fill them with pride and satisfaction, simply have more sway than metrics imposed top-down by a company.

Of course, part of running an effective team or organization is that you have to ensure employees meet the goals necessary to keep the company profitable. Nevertheless, there are various routes to the same goal, and talking with employees to find out how they learn, how they work best, what motivates them and what gives them satisfaction can all help you target the right goals in the right way.

Don’t Set Stretch Goals

Although goal-setting is a routine aspect of most management strategies, research hints at its destructive side. It’s bogus to say you shouldn’t set goals at all, but stretch goals may not be that helpful. These can add stress to employees’ lives, cause them to focus on certain goals to the detriment of others, add work to their coworkers’ plates, and sap motivation if they fail to meet them regularly. Instead, stick with in-between goals that challenge without running the risk of proving too arduous.

Choose Specific, Measurable Goals

Vague goals can be destructive. An employee who works in a call center benefits much more from the objective “Handle two more customer calls per hour” than “Improve your call time.” Always wondering whether or not they are meeting the goal can be stressful and draining to the employee, so be very clear.

Be sure to take into account both quantity and quality. It is unfair to set an employee up for a fall by focusing on one metric to the detriment of another. For example, in the case of customer calls, if you’re trying to up the employee’s number of calls, be clear on how to do this without sacrificing quality. Otherwise, you may have a worker with a higher number of completed calls and worse performance ratings. That’s no good for anyone.

Align to Overall Company Goals

A performance goal isn’t worth much if it caters to the employee’s strengths, desires and learning style, but does nothing to help the company itself. Therefore, any performance goals you and the employee choose must align to the company’s strategy for improvement. Success Factors recommends focusing employee efforts on company goals and clearly outlining the expected responsibilities associated with meeting them.

Plan How You Will Assess Goals

This is closely related to a step above – choosing specific goals – but is actually connected to how you will ascertain whether or not the employee is meeting the goals you’ve chosen. In order for a goal to be successful by truly motivating an employee, both you and the employee must know what the follow-through will look like.

Perhaps you schedule informal bimonthly reviews to talk about how it’s going, or perhaps you track stats in a spreadsheet, a program or an app. Maybe you randomly sit in on customer calls to check progress, or monitor the sales numbers. Such a plan lends the manager peace of mind and the employee motivation to succeed and security in knowing their strides will be recognized. Which brings us to …

Recognize Goals Regularly

No matter how well you target specific areas of improvement, align goals and create assessment plans, if you routinely fail to acknowledge employees’ progress, they are less likely to try. Unfortunately, after second grade, stickers and candy bars don’t work so well, so you’re best off finding a way to recognize employee successes that will be meaningful to the employee.

Be sure to take into account each individual’s personality and preferences when doing so. While some employees might feel gratified to be put on a project as a result of their hard work, others might feel punished by the increased workload. Similarly, while many people love validation in front of the group, others find it humiliating. If you’re not sure, ask.

Goal-setting, once you institute these tips into your routine practice, is an effective way to motivate employees and lend them a sense of achievement in their daily work lives. Doing it right will benefit you, them and the company, so don’t wait.

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