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Leadership > Goals

How to Fail at Helping Your Employees Achieve Their Goals

Employees want to know what's expected of them and what "success" looks like. Are you telling them?
How to Fail at Helping Your Employees Achieve Their Goals
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Goal-setting is crucial to business growth and employee development. However, many employers fail at helping their staff create meaningful goals. Employees want to know what’s expected of them and what "success" looks like. More importantly, they want to be engaged with their goals and see how their contributions align with the bigger picture.

Related: 6 Tips for Goal-Setting That, Trust Me, They Don't Teach You in College

The first step toward setting better goals is identifying what mistakes are being made. Following are some of the most common mistakes that employers make and tips on how to improve goal setting to empower employees to succeed:

Being vague

The common concept of SMART goals is popular because it actually works. The acronym stands for making goals "specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely."

Unfortunately, most people don’t have a clear vision, so they won’t feel inspired to act. Athletes, for example, set clear performance goals and work tirelessly until they achieve them. They keep their vision in their heads and even use visualization techniques to stay motivated. It’s hard to imagine succeeding at something that isn’t defined and specific.

Tip: Develop a vision that is tangible and specific. When employees are clear on what they want to do, they have a better understanding of the consequences of falling short and the benefits of achievement.

Encourage them to write their goals down and keep them visible to stay motivated. A 2014 study published by Palgrave Communications found that when college students used a writing technique as a goal-setting intervention, they improved their academic achievement and boosted their retention rates. The act of writing goals helps people focus and hone in on what’s most important.

Not measuring

The same idea of keeping goals visible applies to the employer side of goal-setting. This is why it’s important to track progress and keep an eye on how employees are staying on course. When employers don’t measure employee progress, how do they know what employees need to do to hit their target?

Tip: Invest in a performance-management tool to track employees and give them a visual on the bigger picture. Visuals like charts and graphs are ideal for showing employees their progress and for helping them understand how goals are structured and cascaded.

Related: 5 Ways to Set Up Your Employees for Success in 2015

More importantly, employers can use performance data to provide employees with feedback. Zenger Folkman’s 2014 Feedback: The Powerful Paradox study of 2,700 employers and employees found that 72 percent of employees surveyed said they thought their performance would improve if their managers provided corrective feedback.

Data is crucial because, unlike annual performance evaluations, it is unbiased. Leadership can use metrics to identify areas where employees can make improvements, but also to recognize where employees are succeeding.

Aiming too high

When goals are too large, they are overwhelming and can shut employees down. They intimidate people instead of inspiring them. So, when employees approach leadership with a five-year plan, it’s best to help them manage that vision.

Tip: Break down goals and align each employee’s smaller tasks with the larger, long-term vision. It’s important to make daily task lists and to-dos manageable and realistic.

The focus of these smaller goals should be centered on performance, because an employee’s performance is within his or her control. This way, employees believe that they have a direct influence on their achievement. When they realize that they aren’t succeeding, they are more likely to hold themselves accountable and make the necessary adjustments to reach their performance goals.

Focusing on weakness

When employers assign tasks and projects that challenge employees to build on their weaknesses, the latter group are more likely to feel unmotivated and to fail. For example, assigning a presentation to an introverted employee will just cause stress and disengagement.

Tip: Align goals with employee strengths. People are happier, more engaged and more productive at tasks they are equipped to do. In fact, when companies focus on maximizing employee strengths, they see some astounding results. A July 2016 survey from Gallup found that strength-based companies saw better sales, profit and customer engagement.

Related: 4 Ways to Help Employees Set Better Goals

So, focus on developing employee strengths, not on trying to improve upon weaknesses. People naturally enjoy performing tasks they are good at. This is why creating a team of diverse people who each have their own unique strengths is crucial to sustainable business growth. Leadership can allocate projects accordingly, and the team can contribute to achieving a large-scale goal in a collaborative way.