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Springtime signifies new beginnings:  hard weather subsides, giving way to greenery and blossoms. People clean out their houses and prepare for the upcoming warmer months. In other words, time for a fresh start.  

From the employee motivation desk, now is as good a time as any to clean your clutter, fix your house, plant some seeds or any other analogy that works for you. Bottom line, if you haven’t started setting goals yet, it is time to get busy.

The Case for Goal Setting

There is abundant research about how important goal setting is to performance. It goes far beyond merely understanding what SMART goals are (not to discount the importance of those). Goals are the essential building blocks that drive employee motivation. They provide structure and create focus. They align manager with employee; organization with department; and they glocalize virtual teams.

While many people set their own goals, many goals (probably most goals) are “forced” – that is, they are set by others. If your organization leverages goals, they are most likely a core part of the performance review process, which is a great start.

Making Sure Goals Impact Motivation

There are a few core points (by no means is this the exhaustive manifesto on goal setting) to consider when understanding how to leverage goals to drive employee motivation:

  • Involve employees in the goal setting process. Managers that unilaterally assign goals can often drive performance and performance is critical. However, performance that is more closely tied to organizational culture can have deeper impacts on both employee performance and retention.
  • Specific, challenging goals lead to enhanced performance. This is the crux of the work of Locke and Latham, the seminal authors on goal-setting research. When goals are established that are focused and challenging, you see significant performance increase when compared to goals that are vague or simple.
  • Break goals into meaningful chunks. Often times, employees get demotivated when a project is massive. Coach employees to break huge projects into manageable chunks with accountable timelines that are, in fact, realistic.
  • Get commitment on goals. Managers that want to build increased motivation need to ensure that the employee is vested in the outcome of the goal. Do they see the value of the work? Do they understand that the outcome will have a positive impact on business results? Do they understand the “why” behind the goal or is the objective a “do it because I told you to do it” delivery?
  • Provide regular and constructive feedback. When I work with managers and leaders, I try to coach them to not only ask for feedback but demand it. Building a motivated team means having employees that feel both safe and responsible to drive business forward. Giving honest, and appropriate, feedback is essential. That said, managers really need to create the environment where feedback is both encouraged and expected.

Goals do several critical things, including providing direction and getting us motivated. And as such, goals are critical in the managerial coaching process. When managers set specific, meaningful goals collaboratively, and coach to those goals to drive employee performance, that is a clear and consequential investment in the team. Employees feel empowered and motivated and the research certainly shows that managers that leverage these skills have more productive, self-directed employees. Who doesn’t want that?