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A framework for employee performance goals (with examples)
Sarah Lessire

Sarah Lessire

Writer, Culture Amp

Mindfully-set employee performance goals are a crucial first step toward creating a fair and motivating performance review process and retaining your best people. Without clear goals, employees may struggle to feel motivated and confident, especially since unconscious biases are more likely to seep into the performance review process.

As a manager, you hold a unique and influential position in ensuring successful goal-setting: 

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

By empowering your direct reports to set their own goals, your direct reports can feel a sense of agency and ownership of their professional path. This is likely to translate to higher engagement on their end.

In this article, we share a framework for employee goal-setting, as well as a few examples to help you and your direct reports set successful, engaging, and aligned employee performance goals.

Using SMART employee performance goals

At Culture Amp, we encourage setting SMART goals. SMART goals allow your employees to develop a deep and precise understanding of the goal, its purpose, how success will be measured, and its connection to broader company priorities. Goals that meet the SMART criteria are:

  • Specific - Clearly defines the outcome and owner
  • Measurable - Specifies milestones, key results, and a measure of success
  • Ambitious (yet attainable!) - Balances difficulty and achievability
  • Relevant - Aligns with broader priorities
  • Time-bound - Sets a clear deadline and milestone dates

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 what period?
  • Not measurable: “Increase attendance and satisfaction rates” - but by how much?
  • Not ambitious yet attainable: This goal might sound ambitious or attainable depending on how you view it. However, without specifying a baseline number, this goal may be too vague to be motivating.
  • Not relevant: Although we haven't specified a specific company goal in this example, let's assume the company‘s priority was “increase blog content production by 50%.”
  • Not time-bound: There's 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: Let's assume that last year, the company executed 2 webinars with an average attendance of 18 people and an average satisfaction rate of 70%. In comparison, this new goal is challenging but likely attainable as long as the employee has proper resources and a strategy.
  • Relevant: Let's say one of the company's priorities was "to invest in the community."
  • Time-bound: The goal needs to be achieved “by April 10th.” 

Goals that meet the SMART criteria are good examples of measurable goals for employees. Involving your direct reports in the goal-planning process gives them a stake in their professional development. It also expands their perspective to include the team's workflow and broader company objectives.

Using OKRs to align individual goals to organizational goals

Another type of framework we love at Culture Amp is objective and key results (OKRs).

OKRs start with a high-level objective, like “Launch a new product feature in Q1." Then, they list key results that an individual can use to evaluate success. For this example, our key results might look like this:

  • Schedule ongoing user tests with top clients and power users
  • Partner with marketing to ensure successful internal and external launch
  • See product adoption rates of 30% in the first 30-days post-launch

OKRs are especially powerful for aligning and connecting your employees' individual goals to the company's wider vision. One study found that companies see a 56% increase in productivity when managers are involved in helping employees align their goals with the organization's needs. They help establish a unified definition of success, while also creating a sense of agency and ownership over the goal.

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 the overall organizational strategy. In fact, Rodgers & Hunter’s “Impact of management by objectives on organizational productivity" found that companies see a 56% increase in productivity when managers are involved in helping employees align their goals with the organization's needs.

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. 

When working with your direct reports to craft quarterly goals, it’s essential to consider these 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 North America's H1 mid-level sales pitch script.

Key results:

  • Go through the past 3 years of similar scripts with them and explain the reasoning behind the updates we made
  • Sit on 3 calls with them to test the new script out
  • Give constructive feedback after each call

Goals that aim to help colleagues achieve their goals or create 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, motivated, and determined to persevere despite challenges. Work-induced tiredness also decreased, and employees showed much more interest in the challenges they were faced with. Another more recent study showed that companies that promote collaborative working are five times more likely to be high-performing.

As there is a solid case for incentivizing teamwork, managers should proactively encourage employee performance goals around collaboration.

2. Employee performance goal example for professional development 

Example of a SMART professional development goal:

Take 90 minutes a week throughout Q4 to complete the Digital Marketing Institute’s SEO Optimization training.

  • Specific: “Complete the Digital Marketing Institute’s SEO Optimization training”
  • Measurable: “90 minutes a week ... to complete”
  • Ambitious yet attainable: Let's assume that the employee works on the content team and wants to improve the organic performance of blog articles.
  • Relevant: Let's say one of the company's priorities was "to improve organic traffic to the website."
  • Time-bound: The goal needs to be worked on "throughout Q4"

Fulfilling careers need to be nurtured with intention and dedication. To stay relevant in an increasingly complex and competitive job market, employees must excel while staying current with current developments, critical 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 caregiver for family members, long commutes, or ever longer work hours. In this context, it makes sense that these professional development-focused goals could slip through the cracks, as personal time and mental bandwidth are becoming rare resources.

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

Bersin by Deloitte wrote:

"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.”

Additionally, by allowing your employees to invest working hours into accomplishing goals related to professional development, your company can actively demonstrate its interest and commitment to growing and nurturing its people. 

3. Employee performance goal example for self-management 

Example of a SMART 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.

  • Specific: “Complete 3 Pomodoro sessions every day” with the goal of "planning and executing 4 customer education webinars"
  • Measurable: “Planning and executing 4 customer education webinars”
  • Ambitious yet attainable: Let's assume that the employee planned and executed 2 customer education webinars last month.
  • Relevant: Let's say one of the company's priorities was "to enable customers to better utilize the platform."
  • Time-bound: The goal needs to be worked on "for the next 30 days" 

Self-management skills empower people to manage their feelings, thoughts, time, and actions. Examples of self-management skills include: productivity, adaptability, ownership, decision-making, etc.

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

Setting self-management goals also frees up the amount of tactical and back-and-forth work you, as a manager, must do. After setting the overall direction, objectives, and key results of a project, self-managing employees can execute on the details with minimal oversight. Consequentially, project communication will consist mainly (and efficiently) of essential project updates, problem-solving, and resource requests.

This, in turn, can liberate managers to focus on higher-priority responsibilities, such as growing the business or improving the team’s culture and interpersonal relationships through better 1-on-1's.

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 should be and why, and what the desired transformation is
  • Establish an action plan to adopt a perspective and response that are aligned with the desired transformation
  • Document the conversation’s outcomes

Soft skills are one of the most essential skills in today's world of work. Soft-skill-focused goals enable your employees to develop as leaders, professionals, and human beings. Soft skills don't just directly impact daily performance – they also significantly improve the lived experiences of your employees at work, as individuals with effective soft skills can uplift the entire team’s mood and culture. Lastly, a team with solid soft skills will not require as many conversations around mediating or clarifying conflict.

Generally speaking, 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

Of course, soft skills can be hard to develop and even harder to teach. Don't hesitate to use other third-party training or professional development programs, such as Skills Coach. Skills Coach uses behavioral science and spaced repetition to make learning critical skills like "Productivity" or "1-on-1s" a daily practice. Another option is educational programs focused on developing soft skills. These can be accessed in various formats, such as group sessions, individual online training modules, blended-learning courses, individual coaching, and webinars.

5. Employee performance goal example for process and workflow 

Example of a SMART process and workflow goal:

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

Complete 3 Pomodoro sessions every day throughout the next 30 days to work on my goal of planning and executing 4 customer education webinars.

  • Specific: “Familiarized myself with the new data visualization software," "create and share new dashboards," "introduce the software to the team"
  • Measurable: “Ready to start utilizing the new software for our July metrics report”
  • Ambitious yet attainable: Let's assume that the employee's team has planned on learning this new software for a few months but could not prioritize it over the last quarter.
  • Relevant: Let's say one of the company's priorities was "to improve company-wide transparency with better reporting."
  • Time-bound: The goal needs to be completed "by June 30th."

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. Still, they will most often focus on specific things like product and domain expertise, systems and process design, software use, organizational structure familiarity, or customer-centricity.

Similar to our point about professional development goals, encouraging your direct reports to set process and workflow goals will empower 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 “tasks completed” level. Instead, their value is measured and acknowledged over time, in context, and in relation to others in the organization.

Measure and optimize employee performance goals

Say you’ve begun to systematically include your direct reports in the goal-setting process, provided them with examples of measurable goals, and made sure to diversify the types of goals you are setting with them. The next step is to measure how your goal setting is viewed at your company.

7 Goal and OKR questions to ask at your company:

Kevin Campbell, Culture Amp Senior People Scientist, has compiled seven questions you can ask in your next employee survey to measure how goal setting is perceived at your company:

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

You can include these questions in your next engagement or pulse survey to understand the health of your company’s goal-setting approach. Then run a second check later to assess the results of any changes you've made to optimize the goal-setting process.

A better performance review process

When it comes to elevating the performance review process, setting SMART and diverse goals and including your direct reports in the goal-setting process is just one piece of the puzzle. To learn more, we recommend checking out HR's complete guide to performance management.

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