Human Resources & Payroll Blog

Performance review goals: How to get the best out of your team

Jun 9, 2016 9:30:00 AM / by John Duval

performance_review_goals_2.jpgWhile some companies have taken these inherent flaws in the process as a sign that they need to discontinue the review process altogether, that can be a tough sell in some industries. Company leadership may still (rightfully) want a way to keep employees accountable for reaching individual goals and continuing their personal career growth. Until there’s a proven way to get those results without a formal review process, most managers will still be responsible for formal check-ins with their reports to manage performance goals and improvements.With that in mind, the strongest managers will take the time to think about what they can do to make the process as effective as possible. Arguably the single most important part of employee reviews is setting appropriate and thoughtful goals.

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Here are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you’re writing goals that motivate your employees to do their best work.

Get buy-in

If at all possible, get each employee to help write their own goals. Ask them which areas of their jobs they feel excited about, and which areas are a slog for them. Find out how you can support them in improving their performance on specific job responsibilities, whether through mentorship or other resources. When your employees feel heard and supported and get to help determine their own goals, the likelihood of them reaching those goals will improve.  

Align individual objectives with company goals

No employee’s role exists in a vacuum; everyone should be contributing to the company’s larger business goals in some way. Before you start to write an employee’s goals for the next review period (which should ideally be a quarter long at the most), take a few minutes review the company’s goals and mission statement.

Think about how each person’s job responsibilities contribute to the company’s larger goals, and set goals with that in mind. Make sure you articulate the connection between the bigger picture and the goals you are setting together. One way to approach the goal-setting process to maximize alignment: have various competency areas that line up with corporate goals, and write your desired outcomes in each area for each employee.

Focus on the positive

If you’re trying to improve any irksome or problematic behaviors, your word choice matters. Instead of writing your goals to minimize behavior you don’t like, focus on the aspects of the role that you’d like to see maximized. That’s the difference between “don’t show up late for client meetings” and “timeliness.”  

While this may seem like a nitpicky or inconsequential detail, it can make a big difference. Language is a powerful way to inspire the kind of performance you’d like to see. Using negative language can backfire and inadvertently cause employees to show more of the behavior you’re trying to minimize. Giving them a positively-worded goal to aspire to is a much more effective way to change behavior.  

Avoid absolutes or vague language

No employee, no matter how accomplished, can do everything perfectly all the time. That’s why using words like “every,” “all,” “always,” or “never” sets employees up to fail. Keep your goals realistic and focused on growth, not perfection. When every employee is given the opportunity to continually improve their own performance instead of trying to measure up to an impossible standard of perfection, they will have better morale and, likely, better outcomes.

That being said, don’t swing too far in the other direction. Using vague terms like “improve” or “better” isn’t ideal, either. While employees shouldn’t be aiming for an impossible target, they do need to have a specific goal to aim for in order to improve their performance. Consider goals with an attainable numerical target so that employees can have an idea of how well they’re doing.

Set SMART goals

You’re likely familiar with the SMART goal-setting methodology, but it bears repeating. When you set goals for employees or for yourself, it’s wise to make sure they meet SMART criteria: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This framework sets you and your team up for success by ensuring that you make your expectations clear, and that your employees stand a good chance of actually meeting them.

Setting goals that are appropriately attainable and aspirational for each employee gives them the opportunity to show you their best work, reflects positively on their management, and gets the company closer to its larger strategic goals. Managing this process for the best individual results can take more time and thought than a one-size-fits-all performance review form, but it’s well worth the effort. Make sure that you check in with your employees regularly about their progress toward their goals, and provide support or encouragement where necessary.

In the process of managing performance reviews, there are a lot of things that have been done poorly for a very long time. A mismatch between performance review methods and a company’s culture or an employee’s personality can not only fail to improve anyone’s performance, but it can lead to miscommunication and poor morale.

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Topics: Human Resources

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