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How to Get Employees to Write SMART, Clear Objectives to Improve Performance

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When attempt­ing to max­imise pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, improve per­for­mance and deliv­er busi­ness val­ue, the place to start is get­ting your employ­ees to set clear SMART objec­tives. Objec­tives serve as a way to keep employ­ees on course and work­ing toward an over­ar­ch­ing com­pa­ny goal. They pro­vide focus, direc­tion, set expec­ta­tions and also pro­vide moti­va­tion for your work­force. Employ­ees can only achieve and exceed expec­ta­tions when they know exact­ly what is expect­ed of them. What’s more, when employ­ees are con­fi­dent of what is expect­ed of them, they won’t waste busi­ness time or ener­gy wor­ry­ing — allow­ing them to make most of their time and skills.

Despite this, accord­ing to a Gallup study on world­wide com­pa­nies, only half of employ­ees strong­ly agree that they know exact­ly what is expect­ed of them at work. This is where SMART objec­tives can step in.

By prop­er­ly util­is­ing SMART, clear objec­tives, employ­ees will feel bet­ter equipped to pri­ori­tise their work­load and deliv­er results. This will help to deliv­er busi­ness val­ue and improve per­for­mance over­all. It is worth not­ing that an impor­tant part of the process of cre­at­ing SMART objec­tives is the act of putting employ­ees in the driver’s seat. We are far more like­ly — and more dri­ven — to accom­plish goals we set our­selves. Mck­in­sey rec­om­mends involv­ing your employ­ees in the goal-set­ting process from start to fin­ish. This helps to secure employ­ee buy-in and moti­vates ongo­ing development.

Using the steps below, you can help your employ­ees to devel­op the skills and con­fi­dence required to write effec­tive per­son­al objec­tives. These easy-to-imple­ment tips will ensure you cre­ate SMART objec­tives that will improve per­for­mance in the long-term.

Decide on a SMART Definition

Before employ­ees can write their own SMART objec­tives, they need to be giv­en a SMART def­i­n­i­tion. Since George T. Doran coined the phrase in 1981, a num­ber of vari­a­tions have cropped up. At Clear Review, we rec­om­mend using the fol­low­ing SMART objec­tives def­i­n­i­tion:

S — Spe­cif­ic and Stretch­ing. The clear objec­tive needs to be as pre­cise as pos­si­ble. Avoid any ambi­gu­i­ties or con­fu­sion. For exam­ple, an employ­ee can’t (and shouldn’t) sim­ply be asked to increase sales”. Rather, a more help­ful objec­tive would be to improve sales of a par­tic­u­lar prod­uct by a cer­tain per­cent­age in a giv­en time frame. Objec­tives should also be stretch­ing, or chal­leng­ing, so employ­ees are more moti­vat­ed to achieve their goals.

M — Mea­sur­able. A good SMART objec­tive should always set out what suc­cess will look like. Mea­sur­able goals give you some­thing to mea­sure your progress against. This will make it eas­i­er to deter­mine whether or not it has been achieved. The mea­sure can either be quan­ti­ta­tive or qualitative.

A — Achiev­able and Agreed. Though it is impor­tant for your employ­ees to chal­lenge them­selves, objec­tives should all be real­is­ti­cal­ly achiev­able. Unre­al­is­tic and seem­ing­ly impos­si­ble goals only serve to cre­ate a cul­ture of fail­ure in your com­pa­ny — this is far from the moti­va­tion­al envi­ron­ment you’re look­ing to cultivate.

Objec­tives should also be agreed between the employ­ee and their man­ag­er. This auton­o­my will help employ­ees to take real own­er­ship over their roles. The employ­ee needs to know they have had a say in their objec­tives and the man­ag­er needs to know that the objec­tives are suit­able and in line with com­pa­ny goals. Per­for­mance man­age­ment soft­ware can be used with great effect to ensure both par­ties are hap­py and agree to the objec­tives. This same soft­ware can also be used to set and track objectives.

R — Rel­e­vant. All per­for­mance objec­tives should be rel­e­vant to what the organ­i­sa­tion is try­ing to achieve and sup­port its over­all goals. With­out con­sid­er­ing rel­e­vance, even objec­tives that are achieved may have no impact on the per­for­mance of the organ­i­sa­tion, which flies in the face of what every effec­tive per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tem aims to accomplish.

T — Time-Bound. Employ­ees and man­agers should agree on set tar­get dates for when objec­tives are to be com­plet­ed. This intro­duces a sense of urgency and it also allows man­agers to deter­mine whether or not an employ­ee is on track to accom­plish their per­son­al objec­tives. Encour­age employ­ees to set near-term” objec­tives with a one-to-six month time frame, rather year-long objec­tives. Near-term objec­tives can be achieved more quick­ly and are there­fore more moti­vat­ing. They are also less like­ly to become irrel­e­vant as busi­ness needs change. Of course, short-term goals can also be used as mini-mile­stones” to accom­plish big­ger goals.

Explain the Impor­tance of SMART Objec­tives to Your Employees

Whether you are cre­at­ing gen­er­al SMART objec­tives or per­son­al devel­op­ment objec­tives, your employ­ees need to know that your com­pa­ny takes objec­tive set­ting seri­ous­ly — and why goals matter.

Dur­ing one of your reg­u­lar per­for­mance coach­ing con­ver­sa­tions, explain how effec­tive goal set­ting can impact their per­for­mance; this will ulti­mate­ly affect their career pro­gres­sion and chances for advance­ment with­in your com­pa­ny. When explain­ing the SMART objec­tives con­cept, point to the fact that they have often been cit­ed by experts in the field as the most effec­tive way of set­ting goals.

You should also take this oppor­tu­ni­ty to illus­trate to employ­ees just how impor­tant they and their role are to your busi­ness. With­out them, you wouldn’t be able to accom­plish your organ­i­sa­tion­al objec­tives. This trans­paren­cy and authen­tic­i­ty will show your employ­ees that you val­ue them and that they are an inte­gral part of a ded­i­cat­ed team.

Be Trans­par­ent with Organ­i­sa­tion­al Objec­tives — and Encour­age Employ­ees to Align Their Goals Upward

Organ­i­sa­tion­al trans­paren­cy is an increas­ing con­cern in the busi­ness world. Employ­ees are demand­ing ever-greater degrees of open­ness and for­ward-think­ing com­pa­nies are deliv­er­ing. After all, trans­paren­cy is pos­i­tive­ly cor­re­lat­ed to lev­els of trust, employ­ee engage­ment and organ­i­sa­tion­al performance.

Dur­ing the goal-set­ting process, con­text is impor­tant. Dis­cuss over­ar­ch­ing com­pa­ny goals with your employ­ees. Explain to them any press­ing con­cerns or obsta­cles that are imped­ing progress. If you are clear and forth­right with regards to organ­i­sa­tion­al objec­tives, employ­ees will be able to keep them in mind when cre­at­ing their own objec­tives. They will also be able to align their objec­tives upwards, to sup­port long-term com­pa­ny goals.

Employ­ees Should Chal­lenge Themselves

We all get a sense of accom­plish­ment when we have com­plet­ed a task. This is why so many of us keep to-do lists and tick off activ­i­ties as they are achieved. It makes us feel organ­ised, pro­duc­tive and effi­cient. How­ev­er, stud­ies have shown this sense of accom­plish­ment is greater — and our per­for­mance is high­er — when we set our­selves par­tic­u­lar­ly chal­leng­ing goals. Easy wins” sim­ply aren’t as effec­tive as a moti­va­tor. If the goals in ques­tion appear more dif­fi­cult, we put more effort into com­plet­ing them to stan­dard and on time. Encour­age employ­ees to chal­lenge them­selves when cre­at­ing their SMART goals. This can be an excit­ing way to get them to test their lim­its and to reach greater heights.

Con­verse­ly, Employ­ees Should Keep in Mind Their Limitations

Goals that are stretch­ing and chal­leng­ing are great but warn employ­ees of the dan­gers of set­ting goals that are com­plete­ly unre­al­is­tic giv­en the time and resources avail­able. If you have any employ­ees who have issues with per­fec­tion­ism, this is cer­tain­ly some­thing to be cau­tious of. Over time, your employ­ees will get a mea­sure of their own lim­its and their rate of progress, but in the mean­time, man­agers have to step in to ensure employ­ees aren’t over­tax­ing them­selves. This will only lead to objec­tives not being met, dis­ap­point­ment and frus­tra­tion for every­one involved.

Make Some Room and Allowances for Flexibility

As with any agile organ­i­sa­tion, organ­i­sa­tion­al needs and require­ments can change reg­u­lar­ly. What was press­ing three months ago might now seem unim­por­tant or unsup­port­ive of your organ­i­sa­tions objec­tives. If this is the case, employ­ees should feel empow­ered to make adap­ta­tions to their estab­lished objec­tives. How­ev­er, these changes should be mean­ing­ful and help­ful — these changes can be dis­cussed dur­ing your reg­u­lar one-to-ones. This is a great time for man­ag­er and employ­ee to exchange thoughts and feed­back on objectives.

Use per­for­mance Man­age­ment Soft­ware to Track SMART Objectives

Per­for­mance man­age­ment soft­ware makes the whole process of set­ting, agree­ing and track­ing SMART objec­tives easy for every­one involved. Once SMART objec­tives are draft­ed by the employ­ee, the man­ag­er can indi­cate whether or not the objec­tives are appro­pri­ate and dis­cuss rel­e­vant changes. This makes the set­ting of goals a tru­ly col­lab­o­ra­tive effort and gives par­ties a shared view of what has been agreed. Once objec­tives are for­malised, every­one involved can track progress on these objec­tives and give feed­back along the way, using the per­for­mance man­age­ment soft­ware. This way, every­body remains up-to-date with suc­cess­es and obsta­cles and man­agers can step in if employ­ees need extra support.

What's Next?

To find out how Clear Review performance review software can help you and your employees write personal objectives that will improve performance and deliver business value, book a free personal performance management demo right now via our online booking system.