How to Set Realistic Goals for Your Employees

Sep 8, 2021 3 min read

No matter the industry, setting goals for your employees is a key component to your business’ success. Why is goal setting so important? Because it fosters meaningful change and growth, both for your employees and your company. In short: Helping your employees set goals helps you. Read on to learn how to set goals for employees.

See the Big Picture

Before delving into what individual employees should focus on, it’s essential to understand the larger organizational goals. Communicating company goals to your employees is a starting point for setting measurable, attainable employee performance goals that align with the mission of your business.

When employees see how their roles contribute to the goals of the workplace, they often feel more motivated to contribute to the shared objectives, taking greater accountability for their actions and deeper satisfaction in the company’s overall success. Also, consider setting departmental goals to help guide employee goals.


Setting goals for employees that arm them for success starts with SMART goals. What are SMART goals?

  • Specific: The goal should be as detailed as possible. If an employee says, “I want to do better,” come up with goal-setting ideas that will lead to this result but that are tactical in action.
  • Measurable: The goal should have clear criteria that indicate progress. You and the employee should be able to quantify their improvement.
  • Achievable: The goal should challenge the employee but remain within realistic parameters. Have a candid conversation with your employee to uncover possible obstacles to attaining the goal and the strategies to take to overcome those obstacles.
  • Relevant: The goal should make sense for the employee and the company, yielding benefits for both.
  • Timely: The goal should have agreed-upon deadlines or target dates for completion.

A SMART goal is clear and trackable, a stretch but not impossible and aligned with the company’s goals.

Discover Motivations

What keeps your employees excited to work toward their goals? Find out! Start goal-setting for your employees by asking where they want to be in the coming year and beyond. For some employees, they might be looking for more earning power; for others, it could be learning a new skill or mastering a software program.

Once you know what your employee strives for, you can help chart a strategic course. Have frank discussions about what will help your employee achieve their goals and expectations, and stay committed to offering support and detailed feedback.

Invite Suggestions

Give your employees the freedom to develop their own performance goals. If you ask employees to identify objectives specific to their job and that also hold personal value to them, you might be surprised by the valuable employee goal-setting ideas that come forward. For example, an employee might offer up goals related to productivity, such as finishing administrative tasks quicker in order to use the extra time for bigger-picture projects. Use this insight to help employees set goals that matter to them. Steer them toward SMART goals (see above) that also dovetail with their own ambitions and support the growth of the company.

Be Reasonable

Don’t set — or allow your employees to set — goals they can’t hit. If an objective is beyond your employee’s skillset or simply too ambitious, nix or adjust it. Tough-to-reach goals aren’t bad, but those that are too high can burn out your employees or make them feel defeated. Use an employee’s past performance to gauge appropriate goals.

At the same time, goals shouldn’t be too easy to accomplish. Setting an appropriate objective at work will give your employee a challenge that leaves them feeling fulfilled.

Stay Consistent

Employee goals should be relatively consistent for individuals with the same or similar positions in the company. While expectations can scale up or down based on experience, comparing the performance of two employees in very different ways could lead to resentment, unhealthy competition and hurt feelings.

Inspire Engagement

When you set goals for your employees, it’s important to establish regular follow-through. Don’t fall into the cycle of setting goals with your employees at the start of the year and then revisiting them for the first time in December. Schedule monthly or quarterly check-ins during which an employee can ask questions as they arise and you can offer guidance or mentorship in a timely manner. This gives you the opportunity to step in and assist when necessary while also making the employee feel supported.

Think Long-term

Tie your employees’ goals to their long-term career development. If they hope to rise to a managerial role, add an educational goal that would better prepare them for taking on new responsibility. Meaningful goals, and a solid goal-setting process, will help your employees look to the future and develop ways to get there.

Reward Achievements

Celebrate when your employees meet or exceed their goals! Consider a reward or public acknowledgement (but be mindful of their comfort level). Without acknowledgment, your employees may end up feeling like their success isn’t important to the larger efforts of the team and the goals of the workplace. Not only does rewarding your employees show that you value hard work, it also does double duty by motivating other employees to commit to their own goals.

What Are Your Business Goals?

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