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Why Collaborative Goal Setting Drives Employee Engagement

People in white shirts holding hands to emphasize team spirit.

Goals are more than a means to quan­ti­ta­tive­ly mea­sure employ­ee per­for­mance. The com­bi­na­tion of a fixed dead­line and clear­ly defined deliv­er­able is designed as a mech­a­nism to help employ­ees work in a struc­tured and effec­tive man­ner. Effec­tive goal set­ting helps to increase employ­ee engage­ment, improve per­for­mance, and ben­e­fits the organ­i­sa­tion as a whole.

Yet, many com­pa­nies aren’t cap­i­tal­is­ing on the most impor­tant part of goal set­ting – work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly to align per­son­al goals to com­pa­ny and team pri­or­i­ties and initiatives.

Research shows that col­lab­o­ra­tive goal set­ting dri­ves employ­ee engage­ment. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it also shows that only 13% of employ­ees strong­ly agree that their lead­ers help to set clear per­for­mance goals. The result? Poor employ­ee engage­ment and low motivation.

By con­trast, 72% of employ­ees whose man­agers help them to set goals are ful­ly engaged, and those rates increase by 2.5 times when man­agers hold staff account­able for their per­for­mance goals. This is because when goals are set col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly, employ­ees can see how their work con­tributes to cor­po­rate objec­tives and team mis­sions. Employ­ees want clear guid­ance that extends beyond their per­son­al work and towards the greater com­pa­ny picture.

Not only do clear col­lab­o­ra­tive goals dri­ve employ­ee engage­ment, but they also help increase pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and prof­itabil­i­ty. A Gallup study dis­cov­ered that busi­ness­es in the top 25% for employ­ee engage­ment were also 21% more prof­itable and 17% more pro­duc­tive. But with 60% of employ­ees feel­ing uncer­tain about their company’s mis­sion, vision and val­ues – is it time to re-address goal mak­ing processes?

What Are Col­lab­o­ra­tive Goals?

Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty describes col­lab­o­ra­tive goal set­ting as the process of decid­ing and set­ting goals togeth­er. Unlike the tra­di­tion­al mod­el in which a man­ag­er decides the direc­tion of an employee’s work, col­lab­o­ra­tive goals are agreed through dis­cussing, observ­ing, lis­ten­ing, pri­ori­tis­ing and eval­u­at­ing tar­gets and objec­tives togeth­er. It’s a trans­par­ent process that helps employ­ees feel as though they’re being lis­tened to and includ­ed in the company’s broad­er work.

Although employ­ee engage­ment is a com­plex com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors, enforc­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive goal set­ting and trans­paren­cy is a step in the right direction.

Strate­gies for Cre­at­ing Col­lab­o­ra­tive Goals

Set­ting goals col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly can be dif­fi­cult for some man­agers. There’s a fine line between hands-on man­age­r­i­al prac­tices and micro­manag­ing. Work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly requires man­agers to allow employ­ees to take own­er­ship of their goals and for the man­ag­er to adopt a more sup­port­ive, advi­so­ry role.

Here are our top strate­gies and prin­ci­ples to help man­agers nav­i­gate col­lab­o­ra­tive goal setting.

Link per­son­al goals to com­pa­ny-wide objectives

Per­son­al goals are only mean­ing­ful if they are con­nect­ed to larg­er organ­i­sa­tion­al ambi­tions. 91% of com­pa­nies that have effec­tive per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tems say that employ­ees’ goals are tied to the broad­er busi­ness pri­or­i­ties. These com­pa­nies have under­stood that col­lab­o­ra­tion breeds a cul­ture of account­abil­i­ty and trust.

Every employ­ee, at every lev­el, should be able to clear­ly state how their efforts link into a broad­er com­pa­ny strat­e­gy. For this to work, the com­pa­ny strat­e­gy needs to be trans­lat­ed into clear organ­i­sa­tion­al goals writ­ten in lan­guage that employ­ees can understand.

Your per­for­mance man­age­ment prac­tices need to ensure that these organ­i­sa­tion­al goals are com­mu­ni­cat­ed and are avail­able to employ­ees when they are set­ting their per­son­al objec­tives. How­ev­er, avoid down­wards goal cas­cad­ing. This is an admin­is­tra­tive­ly heavy exer­cise that rarely works in practice.

In our per­for­mance man­age­ment soft­ware, we use a sim­ple upwards align­ing process, that ensures all objec­tives sup­port the over­all goals of the organ­i­sa­tion in a clear and trans­par­ent way. It’s quick and effective.

Keep com­mu­ni­ca­tion ongoing

Goals need to be clear­ly artic­u­lat­ed and reg­u­lar­ly re-vis­it­ed. Out­dat­ed annu­al per­for­mance reviews rely on year­ly check-ins to ensure that employ­ees are up-to-date and informed of com­pa­ny strate­gies and mis­sions. Yet, in most busi­ness­es, these objec­tives and focus points change and trans­form in the space of a year. As a result over 40% of work­ers claim that the guid­ance they receive is too vague. In order for col­lab­o­ra­tive goals to be mean­ing­ful, ongo­ing and reg­u­lar com­mu­ni­ca­tion is key.

The Har­vard Busi­ness review has recent­ly laid out a num­ber of active and pas­sive tech­niques com­pa­nies can use to com­mu­ni­cate and embed goals. Includ­ed in the active mea­sures are man­age­ment brief­in­gs, com­pa­ny-wide meet­ings and per­for­mance reviews. Pas­sive mea­sures for com­mu­ni­cat­ing include cor­po­rate social media mes­sag­ing, intranet com­mu­ni­ca­tion and recruit­ment efforts.

Above all, make com­mu­ni­ca­tion a pri­or­i­ty. Set reg­u­lar one-to-one check-ins through­out the year, so that com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels are always open and flow­ing in both direc­tions. Check-ins ensure that objec­tives and goals are con­sis­tent­ly rein­forced and artic­u­lat­ed so that it is easy to track whether every­one is aligned with the broad­er picture.

Under­take surveys

Sur­veys are a great way to assess whether employ­ees are on board with com­pa­ny strat­e­gy and how their work impacts the com­pa­ny. Sur­veys can be under­tak­en in quar­ter­ly, bi-annu­al, or annu­al peri­ods and struc­tured to the par­tic­u­lar require­ments of the organisation.

The Har­vard Busi­ness Review high­lights the annu­al sur­vey from the North Amer­i­can bank­ing chain, which pro­vides a use­ful guide­line. Ques­tions could include:

  • Can you sum up the com­pa­ny strat­e­gy in three words?
  • How does your role con­tribute to the broad­er com­pa­ny initiatives?
  • What are your per­son­al milestones?
  • What are the pos­si­ble risks that could inhib­it you from reach­ing your goals? How can you man­age these obstacles?

Be pre­pared for goals and direc­tions to change

Busi­ness moves quick­ly. Pri­or­i­ties can change overnight and direc­tion can shift dra­mat­i­cal­ly. Stag­nant goals quick­ly become obso­lete. Goals should reflect the dynam­ic and ever-evolv­ing nature of busi­ness. Along­side a flex­i­ble atti­tude, real-time feed­back soft­ware makes chang­ing goals easy and effi­cient. With Clear Review, objec­tives can be added and updat­ed at any point in the year and so reflect the inevitable changes that arise.

Learn more about employ­ee engagement

If you’d like to know more about per­for­mance and engage­ment, take a look at our col­lec­tion of free resources — includ­ing our pop­u­lar eBook on Pow­er­ing per­for­mance with engaged employees.” 

The key to employee engagement

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