How to Set Realistic Goals for Your Employees

No matter your industry, now is the time to start the goal-setting conversation, so you can support your employees’ work goals and foster meaningful change in the year ahead. Helping your employees helps you.

Look at the big picture

Before delving into what individual employees should focus on in the coming year, understand the goals of your company at large. This will give you and your reports a starting point for setting meaningful, focused employee goals in line with the mission of your business. Also, consider setting departmental goals to help guide individual goals in the workplace.

Find their motivation

What keeps your employees motivated and working toward their goals? Find out! Start with where he or she wants to be in the coming year and beyond. Once you know what your employee strives for, you can help chart a course. Have frank discussions about what will help your employee achieve his or her goals and expectations, and do your best to offer support.

Don’t mandate your employees’ goals

Give your employees the freedom to develop their own goals. Once they understand company and departmental objectives, they should be able to develop meaningful personal aims. Steer your employees toward SMART goals (for more on that, keep reading) that are in line with their own ambitions and the growth of the company.


Success starts with setting SMART goals — goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely. Stay away from lofty ideas that may sound good on paper (“I’m going to be more productive this year!”) but are impossible to track.

A SMART goal will be clear and trackable, a stretch but not impossible and in line with the company’s goals. Set deadlines for each goal.

Be reasonable in employee goal-setting

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. While expectations can scale up or down based on experience, comparing the performance of two salespeople in very different ways could lead to resentment, unhealthy competition and hurt feelings.

Keep them engaged

Don’t fall into the cycle of setting goals with your employees in January and revisiting them for the first time in December. That said, don’t cross the line from supportive and inquisitive to overbearing. A quarterly check-in should be enough.

Think long term

Tie your employees’ goals to their long-term career goals. If he or she hopes to rise to a managerial role, add an educational goal that would support taking on new responsibility. Meaningful goals, and a good 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.

Look for more ways you can offer additional support or adjust the goal to help your employee find success.