Establish SMART Performance Goals

An engaged workforce is a workforce that consistently sets and meets realistic goals. Goals without focus are merely ideas. Nowhere is this more true than in business. Perhaps entrepreneur and author Jim Rohn said it best: “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments.”

But often, people allow themselves to be distracted and lack the discipline to complete what they start out to do. Other times, they jump into something in a reactionary way, without evaluating its impact on the overall goal.

A typical HR department is a very busy place. Often, you're balancing your priorities with real-time issues: An employee drops by to discuss a problem; a supervisor of another department calls to say an employee has just resigned; a candidate calls to request an exploratory interview. If a person in this environment has time-management issues, he'll spend all his time reacting to these real-time issues, thereby falling short of his proactive goals.

What does this have to do with employee engagement? The accomplishment of proactive goals drives engagement. There is very little job satisfaction in reactive work because people don't receive the endorphin rush that comes from completing a goal. See, reactive work rarely is connected to goals, which is one reason people who are constantly in reactive mode rarely give above-and-beyond effort. That's where SMART goals come in. SMART goals are

  • Specific: The more specific you make your goals, the better your results will be. Lack of specificity results in ambiguity — and ambiguity can't be measured. Goals should specify what you want to accomplish, why you want to accomplish it, when you will work toward the goal, and who is involved.

  • Measurable: You get the behavior you measure. That means you must set measurable goals. As you establish your goals, ask yourself, what are your metrics? Are they fair? If not, prepare for your employees to disengage.

  • Attainable: Nothing is more demoralizing than pursuing a goal that you simply can't attain. Although you should always set stretch goals to drive employees to achieve, remember that there is a fine line between stretch goals and impossible ones.

  • Relevant: Individual goals should jibe with overall company goals to reinforce that ever-important line of sight. This is even more important if your company uses a balanced scorecard to communicate company-wide performance.

    For instance, if you're focusing on health and safety as a key organizational goal, you also need to establish specific measurable health and safety goals at the individual level.

  • Time-bound: You must establish deliverable dates and deadlines. Goals that lack completion dates are not goals; they're suggestions.

So, how do you go about setting SMART goals? Here's a step-by-step guide:

  1. Define your specific goal, focusing on the what and the why.

  2. Outline the steps that must be taken for the goal to be met.

  3. Define the time frame required to meet the goal.

  4. Select a goal manager (someone to manage the process of meeting the goal).

  5. Consider the expected outcomes.

    Ask yourself:

    • What will be different?

    • How will the business benefit?

    • What will we gain by achieving this goal?

  6. Consider the tradeoffs and obstacles.

    Ask yourself:

    • What will we have to give up to achieve this goal?

    • What obstacles or difficulties exist or potentially exist? How will we manage them?

Setting SMART goals isn't just critical to performance. It's also key to engagement. One Gallup study determined that only half the people surveyed had clarity on what's expected of them, which caused enormous frustration (read: disengagement).

One more thing: When you set SMART goals for your employees, you must give them the equipment, resources, and support they need to attain them. Failing to do so will lead employees to conclude that you're not paying attention to them or that their work isn't important — another disengagement driver.

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