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3 Tips for Developing Inspirational Yet Realistic Goal-Setting for Employees

3 Mins read

Goal-setting can be game-changing for small businesses, especially when your employees practice it. It’s a discipline that can keep you and your team focused, engaged, and growing. If not handled correctly, however, employee goal-setting can backfire, causing frustration and triggering setbacks.

Ideally, goal-setting will be inspirational, yet realistic, and motivate employees to pursue challenging (but not overwhelming) goals. Goals should stretch employees without causing them to feel stressed out.

To illustrate this, picture the employee journey as a hike on a state park trail. Their goals are the trail markers that give employees milestones to strive for on their overarching journey. They are relatively small wins that guide the way to larger overall success, helping employees know they are moving in the right direction.

Putting the markers too close together won’t seem like a challenge, which means they won’t be inspiring. But a hike along a park trail should be more challenging than an everyday stroll. If getting there feels like a special accomplishment, there will be more motivation to pursue the goal.

Put the markers too far apart, however, and they can seem like too much of a challenge, which means they won’t be seen as realistic. Goals that seem too far out of reach become distressing rather than inspiring. When reaching the trail marker requires too much effort, hikers start to feel lost, doubt their abilities, and eventually turn back. Goals that feel this way will typically backfire on a business.

Inspiring and realistic goals are like perfectly placed trail markers that motivate and strengthen your team, leading to a more engaged and productive business. The following are some tips for developing inspirational yet realistic goal-setting for employees.

Tip #1: Balance metrics and individuality

Diving into metrics will help you develop realistic goals. As you see where things are trending, you’ll be able to identify what constitutes a reasonable improvement. Showing the numbers to your team will help them see how the goals you are promoting will improve the overall picture.

Still, goal-setting based on metrics alone won’t necessarily be inspiring. Employees already making an effort will need additional motivation to contribute even more, which is where employee aspirations come into play.

Goals that allow employees to pursue individual aspirations while also improving company metrics can be inspirational. For example, an employee who wants to take a course or acquire a certification focused on improving their communication skills can be encouraged to leverage the new skills to support a business-wide goal, such as increasing client retention or improving the effectiveness of new hire onboarding.

Tip #2: Embrace Personal Development

Applying the previous tip may require you to embrace personal development as part of your goal-setting strategy. Giving employees the opportunity to pursue personal development, such as attending industry-related conferences focused on professional development or continuing their education, can be very inspiring while also expanding the company’s capacity.

Encouraging personal development doesn’t mean you need to give employees carte blanche in determining what skills or certifications they will pursue. It’s OK to require that any personal development you support aligns with company goals because, in the end, both parties benefit. The employee acquires a new skill or experience while the company acquires a new capability that can be leveraged to achieve its goals.

It’s also OK to require a specific commitment from your employees regarding personal development, especially when it involves a financial contribution on the company’s part. Paying for an employee to get the education needed to transition into a bookkeeping position, for example, can be a smart financial move for the company, provided the employee stays there once their education is complete. It’s reasonable to expect an employee to sign an agreement committing to at least two years of service at the company after a company-sponsored degree is achieved.

Tip #3: Foster intrinsic motivation

Tapping into your employees’ passions when setting goals can be very inspiring. While managers may need to do more work to identify and leverage those passions to align with company goals, the energy it unleashes will be worth the effort.

For instance, an employee who is passionate about the organization can be highly motivated to achieve new levels of productivity by discovering and deploying new initiatives to improve efficiency. When properly guided, that employee can help the business to attain a wide range of goals.

By fostering intrinsic motivation in goal-setting, companies can transform unrealistic goals into realistic ones by assigning them to someone passionate about the elements involved. Goals aimed at increasing a company’s sustainability are an example of those that can be more easily achieved when assigned to someone passionate about environmental issues.

Goal-setting benefits companies by aligning the entire team’s efforts toward focused goals. To be most effective, goal-setting should be positioned as a win-win, with success resulting in better results and satisfaction for both the company and the employee.

By embracing personal development and fostering intrinsic motivation, business leaders can more effectively leverage goal-setting to drive higher levels of performance and growth.

Tiffani Martinez is the Human Resources Director at Otter PR.

Goal-setting stock image by Cagkan Sayin/Shutterstock

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