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Sarah Lessire

Culture Amp, Senior Content Marketing Manager

Setting employee performance goals mindfully has the potential to uplift your entire organization’s bottom line while benefiting all of your employees. It’s a crucial step towards creating a fair and motivating performance review process to retain your best people. In the absence of clear goal setting, it can be difficult for employees to feel motivated and confident in their journey, and it becomes easy for bias to take a first seat in the review process. 

As a manager, you hold a unique position in ensuring successful employee performance goal setting: 

  • You have a unique insight into your direct reports’ needs and resources
  • You hold the company’s interests and resources in mind

By involving your employees in setting their own goals, you can help them create a sense of agency and ownership in their professional path, which is likely to translate to higher engagement on their end.

Here are some examples to help you spearhead successful, engaging, and strategy-aligned employee performance goals.

Think of SMART employee performance goals examples 

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Ambitious (yet attainable!), Relevant and Time-bound. Setting SMART goals allows your employees to develop a deep and precise understanding of the goal, its purpose, the way success will be measured, and the connection to broader company priorities. It also creates a roadmap for scoping the work and drafting a plan of action.

Example of a not-so-smart goal: Run 2x more webinars and increase attendance and satisfaction rates.

  • Not specific: what does “running” mean? Is developing webinar content part of this goal? 2x more than when?
  • Not measurable: “Increase attendance and satisfaction rates” - by how much?
  • Not ambitious yet attainable: This might sound ambitious -or attainable- depending on how you look at it, yet without specifying a baseline of hard numbers, this goal may be too vague to be motivating.
  • Not relevant: This company‘s priority is “to increase blog content production by 50%”.
  • Not time-bound: There is no mention of a due date.

Example of a SMART goal: Plan and execute 4 customer education webinars by April 10th, with 25+ attendees and 80%+ satisfied/very satisfied rate for each webinar.

  • Specific: “Plan and execute 4 customer education webinars.”
  • Measurable: “25+ attendees and 80%+ satisfied/very satisfied rate for each webinar.”
  • Ambitious yet attainable: With 2 executed webinars, an 18 person average attendance and an average 70% satisfaction rates the previous year, this is a challenging yet attainable goal which, with proper resources and strategy in place, would be motivating.
  • Relevant: Given the company‘s priority to invest in their community.
  • Time-bound: It needs to be achieved “by April 10th.” 

Any objectives presenting SMART criteria would constitute good examples of measurable goals for employees. Involving your direct reports in the goal-planning process enables them to hold a stake in their professional development and expand their perspective to include team workflow and broader company objectives. To learn more about how goals drive performance, we recommend this piece about the science behind goals.

5 uncommon types of employee performance goals examples

If you’re browsing the web for employee performance goals examples, you’ll find many resources outlining goals that directly align with a broader practice or organization’s strategy.  In fact, according to Rodgers & Hunter’s Impact of management by objectives on organizational productivity," companies see a 56% increase in productivity when managers are involved in helping employees align their goals with the needs of the organization.

For example, when setting goals in the Culture Amp platform, you can easily align personal goals to broader department goals as seen in the image below. 

Performance goal setting

When working with your direct reports to help craft their quarterly goals, it’s important to think of these other five performance goal types, which often get overlooked, especially in fast-growth periods.

1. Employee performance goal example for collaboration

Example of a collaboration goal: Objective: By December 1st, help [name of coworker] complete the H1 mid-level sales pitch script for North America. Key results: - Go through the past 3 years of similar scripts with them and explaining the reasoning behind the updates we made - Sit on 3 calls with them in order to test it out - Give constructive feedback after each call

Goals that aim to support colleagues achieving their goals or creating a greater sense of wellbeing at work can encourage collaboration and social unity among teams. 

Collaboration at work has a direct impact on productivity, motivation, resilience and performance. A few years ago, the Journal of Experimental Psychology published a study carried out by researchers at Stanford University. The researchers found that when employees felt they were working with others on a task, they were more productive, more motivated and had more determination to persevere with challenges. Work-induced tiredness also decreased, and employees showed much more of an interest in the challenges they were faced with. Another recent study shows that companies that promote collaborative working are five times more likely to be high-performing.

There is a solid case for incentivizing teamwork, and creating employee performance goals around collaboration is a proactive step to take.

2. Employee performance goal example for professional development 

Example of a professional development goal: Take 90 minutes a week throughout Q4 to complete the Digital Marketing Institute’s SEO Optimization training.

Fulfilling careers need to be nurtured with intention and dedication. In order to stay relevant in an increasingly complex and competitive job market, employees need to excel in their roles while staying up-to-date with the current developments, technical skills and best practices. 

Yet most employees bear one or more of the pressures of modern life, whether it be raising children, being a caretaker for family members, long commutes, or ever longer work hours. In this context, it makes sense that these types of professional goals would slip through the cracks, as personal time and mental bandwidth are becoming a rare resource.

Setting professional development goals allows your employees to stay relevant in their field and industry and directly impacts the value of their contribution. It comes with no surprise that many market-dominating companies pride themselves with generous learning and development programs. Furthermore, industry experts have identified a connection between mature learning organizations and performance

"Mature, high-performing organizations adopt a performance mindset, meaning they think about learning & development as a means to improve performance and drive value for the business.” - Bersin by Deloitte

Additionally, by allowing them to invest working hours into these types of goals, an organization has the chance to actively demonstrate their interest in growing and nurturing its people. 

3. Employee performance goal example for self-management 

Example of a self-management goal: Complete 3 Pomodoro sessions every day throughout the next 30 days to work on my goal of planning and executing 4 customer education webinars.*

Abilities that empower people to manage their feelings, thoughts, time and actions can be considered self-management skills. 

Examples of self-management skills:

  • Productivity 
  • Adaptability 
  • Self-activation and self-drive 
  • Ownership and accountability
  • Decision-making 
  • Time-management 
  • Focus and handling of distractions 
  • The ability to communicate the precise but concise information, to the right person, at the appropriate time

Purposeful self-management can enable your employees to maximize their productivity, initiate action to achieve professional goals, improve workplace performance, reach a greater sense of wellbeing, and ultimately direct the trajectory of their career.

Setting self-management goals also frees up the amount of tactical and back-and-forth work you as a manager have to do. After setting the overall direction, objectives and key results of a project, self-managing employees are able to execute on the details with minimal oversight.

The project communication between manager and direct reports as it relates to a specific project then mainly consists of project updates, problem-solving and resource requests. 

This, in turn, can liberate your focus for higher-priority responsibilities, such as growing the business or improving your team’s culture and relationships by setting aside time for one-on-one mentoring. *The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980’s. It instructs us to break the workday into 25-minute blocks, separated by five-minute breaks. After about four pomodoros (25-minute intervals), you take a longer break of about 15 to 20 minutes. The Pomodoro method enables people to be more productive, working with the time they have rather than against it.

4. Employee performance goal example for developing soft skills 

Example of a soft skill goal: Objective: Over the next quarter, seek out at least 3 opportunities to improve emotional resilience. Key results: - Refrain from reacting right away - Document the thinking/feeling process, what the default-response would be and why, what the desired transformation is - Lay out a mindset reframe and action plan to adopt a perspective and response that are aligned with the desired transformation - Then respond and document the conversation’s outcomes

Soft skills can be broken down into two categories; internal and external.

Examples of external soft skills:

  • Conflict management
  • Self-Promotion
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Adaptability

Examples of internal soft skills:

  • Self-awareness
  • Growth mindset
  • Self-compassion
  • Perceptiveness

To view the full list and learn more about soft skills, check out this article by The Muse.

Soft skills goals enable your employees to develop as leaders, as professionals, and as human beings. Not only do they directly impact their daily performance, but they significantly improve the lived experience they are having at work.

Setting soft skills development goals with your direct reports also has the potential to uplift the entire team’s mood and culture. Lastly, it can free up a lot of the mediation and clarification conversations you would otherwise have to facilitate when leading individuals who are not intentionally growing their soft skills.  

Of course, soft skills can be hard to develop, and even harder to teach. Don’t hesitate to refer to employer-based third-party training opportunities and professional development programs. Increasing numbers of educational programs focus on developing soft skills and can be accessed in various formats, such as group sessions, individual online training modules, blended-learning courses, individual coaching and webinars.

As soft skills are making a name for themselves, we can anticipate a trend of including behaviors in performance goal-setting. For example, Atlassian recently adopted a system aiming to get rid of “brilliant jerks” by fostering a team-focused, inclusive environment that wouldn't reward people who were bad at teamwork - even if they excelled at their job. For more information on this topic, we recommend listening to Simon Sinek's episode of the Culture First Podcast, and you wish to take a deeper dive on the topic of soft skills, listen to “The death and rebirth of soft skills, with Claude Silver”.

5. Employee performance goal example for process and workflow 

Example of process and workflow goal: By June 30th, I have familiarized myself with the new data visualization software and will be able to create and share new dashboards, introduce the software to the team, and I’ll be ready to start utilizing it for our July metrics report.

Process and workflow goals are any goals that will help your team get work done. They can be of a strategic and problem-solving nature, but most often will focus on specific things like product and domain expertise, systems and process design, software use, familiarization with organizational structures or customer-centricity.

Similarly to the point we made about professional development goals, setting process and workflow goals for your direct reports will enable them to stop postponing these critical skills over more urgent or business-as-usual tasks. Additionally, it sends the message that their contribution as an employee isn’t measured at a weekly “completed tasks” level, but that their value is seen as over time, in context and in relation to others.

Measure and optimize employee performance goals

Say you’ve begun to systematically include your direct reports in the goal-setting process, provided them with SMART examples of measurable goals for employees, and made sure to diversify the types of goals that you are setting with them. 

What’s the next step? 

It’s time to measure how your goal setting is viewed at your company.

Kevin Campbell, Culture Amp Senior People Scientist, has put together a resource of seven questions you can ask in your next employee survey to measure how goal setting is perceived at your company.

7 Goal and OKR questions to ask at your company:

  • I understand how my role contributes to the organizational goals of my company 
  • We have a shared strategy for how to achieve our goals 
  • My manager (or someone in leadership) collaborates with me in setting my goals at work 
  • My manager helps us set a clear strategy for achieving our goals
  • My goals are set in a way that stretches me to achieve more
  • Speaking openly about obstacles to accomplishing goals (getting the work done) is encouraged here 
  • We regularly check in on how we are progressing towards our goals

You can include these questions in your next engagement or pulse survey to understand the health of your company’s approach to goal setting. Then run a second check later on to assess the results of optimizing the goal-setting process.

A better performance review process

Setting SMART and diverse goals and including your direct reports in the process is just a first step towards elevating your performance review process. As a next step, we recommend our eBook, “12 questions you can use now to improve performance management.”

Understand the factors of effective performance management and how you can create a better performance management process using 12 questions designed to gather actionable feedback from employees.

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