Crafting Motivational Employee Goals

Increase Employee Engagement And Performance By Setting Motivational Goals

Posted By: Daniela Tancau

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Crafting Motivational Employee Goals

Do you rely on employee goals for increasing their engagement, performance, and your business outcomes? Do they have specific targets they aim to achieve within a certain timeframe? 

This would mean that they not just do their day-to-day activities as they come, answering to the internal requests, but rather focus their energy on specific tasks.

Employee Goals Are Not Included In The Job Description

Although a job description may seem like including work goals, because it contains the job objectives and responsibilities, setting goals for employees is a different process. The goals must align with job objectives and responsibilities, but they are formulated separately. 

Employee Goals Can Be Included In Employee Performance Assessment

Sometimes these goals are included in the  performance assessment process, and are part of the indicators of the employee performance. Unfortunately, in some cases, these goals may be left besides and other activities will  be prioritized. Sometimes, the employer or the manager will review and discuss these goals only at the next performance assessment. 

Employee Goals Used As A Management Tool

Employee goals have a bigger impact on the employee engagement and performance when they are used as a management tool. This means that these goals are not only set but they are continually pursued and checked through periodic meetings. Their progress is constantly assessed,  issues or obstacles are discussed and overcome, and they may be updated to respond to the external changes. 

Companies like Google, YouTube, Intel, Netflix, use a goal-setting methodology called OKRs (Objective and Key Results) to align individual, team and company goals (learn more in John Doerr’s book: ”Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs). Also, LinkedIn uses a combination of OKRs and SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) to drive employee performance and align individual goals to the company’s strategic objectives.

Another example is Adobe, which replaced the traditional annul performance evaluation with a new process similar to OKRs, named Check-in. They made this change because their annual performance evaluation system required a significant amount of time, 8 hours per employee, and demoralized everyone involved. The evaluation were conducted in January, and there was a sudden increase in voluntary employee departure in February, caused by the the disappointing evaluations. Check-in system focuses on three elements: quarterly goals and expectations, regular feedback and carrier growth. 

What Research Shows About Using Goal Setting

In 1968, Edwin Locke introduced the theory that ”hard to reach goals” are much more efficient in enhancing performance than those that are easy to attain. Secondly, objectives that are both hard to reach and specific generate higher levels of productivity than those that are vaguely formulated. More than a thousand studies have confirmed Locke’s theory.

Studies conducted about management through objectives showed that the success of leading people based on goals depends on the commitment of top-management. When top-management commitment was high, the productivity increased by 56% . When commitment was low, productivity increased by only 6%. 

Therefore, proper implementation starts from the top and requires both support and participation from top management. When top managers set goals for themselves and work constantly to achieve them, they set an example and the people from their teams are more likely to do the same. More than that, keeping track of the progress constantly helps the employees to stay focused on their work goals.

Goals serve as a roadmap for employees, providing direction and purpose in their role. When employees have clear goals, they are more likely to be engaged, focused, and committed to achieving results. Furthermore, goals create a sense of accountability, encouraging employees to take ownership of their work and performance.

Research shows that employee engagement has been a global problem for years. Using goal setting methodologies you can increase your employee engagement and thus their performance and your business results. It’s not a complete solution. You still have to pay attention to other aspects such as how you lead your people, the compatibility between the company values and the employee’s values, the reward system and other aspects, but it can definitely help you boost your employee engagement. 

According to Gallup studies, only 32% of employees are engaged in the U.S. and globally only 23%. This means that the rest of them are not engaged or actively disengaged. This directly affects the company results.

Since engaged employees come with higher wellbeing, better retention, lower absenteeism, and higher productivity, it means that many companies have to deal with the lack of these benefits. 


Methodologies To Set Goals


The concept of SMART goals has roots in management and organizational theory, but the specific acronym “SMART” as we know it today evolved over time and has been widely adopted in various fields.

While the specific SMART acronym is not directly attributed to Peter Drucker, he is often cited as a key influencer in popularizing the concept of goal-setting in management. Drucker emphasized the importance of setting clear, actionable goals and measuring performance against them. His writings and teachings have had a significant impact on management practices worldwide.


Goals should be clear, precise, and well-defined. They should answer the questions: What do I want to accomplish? Why is this goal important? Who is involved? Where will it happen? Which resources or limits are involved?


Goals should have measurable outcomes or criteria. This means that you should be able to track your progress and determine when you have achieved the goal. It often involves quantifying the desired result or setting specific indicators of progress.


Goals should be realistic and attainable, considering the resources, knowledge, and time available. While it’s good to set ambitious goals, they should not be so challenging that they become demotivating or impossible to achieve.


Goals should align with your overall objectives, values, or priorities. They should be relevant to your current situation, needs, and the direction in which you want to move. A relevant goal ensures that your efforts are focused on what truly matters.


Goals should have a specific timeframe or deadline. This adds a sense of urgency and helps in prioritizing tasks. Setting a deadline can also provide motivation and a sense of direction, ensuring that you work consistently towards achieving the goal within the stipulated time.

Examples of SMART Goals

  • Increase the conversion rate of our email marketing campaigns by 10% within the next quarter.
  • Optimize the database queries for our e-commerce platform to improve page load times and reduce server response times by 15% within the next two months.
  • Increase the quarterly sales revenue by 20% compared to the previous quarter through targeted marketing campaigns and expanding our customer base in new geographic regions.


OKR were created by Andy Grove the CEO of Intel and John Doerr, who later introduced OKRs to companies like Google.


John Deer define an objective as simple WHAT we have to achieve. Objectives are important, concrete, action-orientated, and ideally inspirational. When properly designed and deployed, they’re a vaccine against fuzzy thinking—and fuzzy execution.


Key results evaluate and monitor HOW we achieve the objectives. These are effective if they are specific and with a deadline, aggressive, but realistic. Also, they must be measurable and verifiable.

Examples of OKRs:

Objective 1

Increase Brand Awareness

Key Result 1

Achieve a 25% increase in website traffic from organic search within the next quarter.

Key Result 2

Generate 10,000 new social media followers across all platforms by the end of the quarter.

Key Result 3

Secure at least three media placements or guest articles in industry publications or blogs within the next six months.

Objective 2

Improve Customer Engagement and Retention

Key Result 1

Increase email open rates by 15% and click-through rates by 10% for our monthly newsletters within the next two months.

Key Result 2

Launch a customer loyalty program and achieve a 20% enrolment rate among existing customers within the next quarter.

Key Result 3

Implement and analyse customer feedback surveys to identify at least three actionable insights for improving customer satisfaction and retention within the next three months.

Locke and Latham's Goal Setting Principles

Edwin A. Locke and Gary P. Latham are renowned psychologists who have made significant contributions to the field of organizational behaviour and management. Their work on goal-setting theory has had a profound impact on understanding the relationship between goal setting, motivation, and performance in various contexts, including the workplace.

Locke and Latham’s goal-setting theory posits that setting specific and challenging goals leads to higher performance and better outcomes compared to vague or easy goals. They argue that goals serve as a source of motivation and provide direction and purpose for individuals and teams.


Goals should be clear, specific, and well-defined to ensure understanding and alignment among individuals or teams.


Goals should be challenging yet attainable, pushing individuals or teams to stretch their capabilities and strive for excellence.


Individuals are more likely to be committed to goals that are set collaboratively or that they have had a role in defining.


Regular feedback on progress towards goals is essential for monitoring performance, making adjustments, and maintaining motivation.

Task Complexity

The nature and complexity of tasks can influence the effectiveness of goal setting. Simple tasks may benefit from specific and challenging goals, while complex tasks may require more flexible and adaptive goal-setting approaches.

Locke and Latham identify several mechanisms through which goal setting influences motivation and performance, including:

  • Direction: Goals provide a clear direction and focus for efforts.
  • Effort: Challenging goals can stimulate increased effort and persistence.
  • Persistence: Goals can help sustain motivation and effort over time, even in the face of obstacles or setbacks.
  • Cognitive Strategies: Goals can guide attention, prioritize tasks, and facilitate problem-solving strategies to achieve desired outcomes.

How To Set Challenging Goals

As mentioned earlier, if the goal is too easy to accomplish, it will not be motivating. Similarly, if it is too difficult, it will not be motivating either. 

Whether a goal is perceived as challenging or not is a subjective matter that depends on the person making the assessment. The same goal may be challenging for one employee but not for another. 

For example, let’s say the goal is to develop a new software feature. For an employee with strong programming skills, this goal might not be challenging. However, for another employee who is less experienced in programming, the same goal could be quite challenging.

Another example, if the goal is to lead a team for a particular project. An employee who has prior experience in leadership roles might not find this challenging. However, for an employee who has never led a team before, this could be a daunting task.

Therefore, a key component that employees and their manager should pay attention to when setting goals is their competencies and experiences related to what they want to accomplish.  These can serve as a guiding point to understand if the goal is too easy or too difficult for a person. 

In case the manager doesn’t have a clear understanding of their team members’ skills, competencies, and past experiences, and doesn’t involve them in the goal-setting process, the goals may not work at all. 

How Often Should Employee Goals Be Checked?

Determining the optimal frequency for checking employee goals is a strategic consideration that can significantly impact organizational success. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, finding the right balance is key.

Regular check-ins, whether weekly, monthly, or quarterly, provide employees with the opportunity to assess their progress, identify challenges, and recalibrate strategies. These also allow for adjustments to goals, ensuring alignment with changing circumstances or priorities.

The Frequency Should Take Into Consideration Aspects Such As:

The nature of the goals. Short-term objectives may warrant more frequent assessments, while long-term targets may benefit from a more comprehensive review. Striking this balance ensures that goal tracking remains a valuable tool for facilitating employee growth and maintaining motivation.

The complexity of the goal. Goals that involve intricate processes or multifaceted projects may necessitate more frequent check-ins to ensure timely problem-solving and adjustments.

The employee skills and competencies relevant to the set objectives, as well as their self-management capabilities.

Highly skilled and self-sufficient employees may require less frequent assessments, because they have the ability to navigate tasks independently. Conversely, individuals developing specific skills may benefit from more regular check-ins for timely support.

Recognizing and aligning the assessment frequency with the employee’s unique skill set ensures an effective and tailored approach to goal tracking.

The Importance of Supportive Leadership

Lise M. Saari and Gary P. Latham conducted experiments to test the effects of supportive behaviour by an authority figure and participative goal setting on task performance. They found that when the authority figure was supportive, the participants set higher goals than when the authority figure was nonsupportive. This suggests that supportive behaviour enhances the self-efficacy and motivation of the subordinates.

The behaviour is understood as supportive when the supervisor is perceived by the employees as a person who is primarily interested in building and maintaining the employees’ sense of personal worth. 

When management behaves in a coercive manner to encourage goal achievement, it can negatively affect employee engagement. Threats or sanctions may seem effective in the short term, but they can damage team morale and motivation in the long term. This can lead to lower productivity, increased turnover and a hostile work environment.

Celebrate Successes

Recognition and celebration serve as powerful motivators. When employees see that their hard work and achievements are acknowledged and celebrated, it boosts their morale and motivates them to continue putting in effort.

It can also create a sense of belonging. When they feel that their contributions are valued, they are more likely to actively participate in the success of the team and the organization.

Furthermore, employees who feel appreciated and recognized are more likely to stay with the organization. Celebrating successes is an important factor in employee retention and can contribute to building a loyal and committed workforce.


Whatever goal-setting strategy you choose to apply in your company, goals will add structure and direction to your employees’ work. It’s a tool to transfer your company’s goals and mission into your employees’ day-to-day activities and ensure that everyone is working towards the same broader goals. It creates a sense of unity and belonging, as well as transparency and clarity. It sets expectations, clarifies roles, and challenge employees to go beyond their limits, learning new skills and capabilities. It’s a source of growth for employees and thus for companies too. 

Paying attention to the process of setting motivational goals and following the actions planned to achieve them, will increase your employee engagement and productivity, helping you to grow your business.

Daniela Tancau
Posted By: Daniela Tancau

Daniela Tancau is an HR consultant, trainer, coach, and founder of Improve Work company. She has over fifteen years of experience in the human resources field. Her expertise lies primarily in online programs and courses aimed to increase employee motivation, develop team leadership skills, employee communication, and much more. 

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