Employee Goals: How To Set Questions And Strategies

Philip Cleave
March 28, 2023
Meeting to discuss and set employee goals

While most organisations recognise that their staff are one of their most important assets, getting and maintaining the maximum performance from them can be more challenging.  

Fortunately, there are strategies to help managers with this and one of the most important is setting employee goals.  

What's your bigger picture?

No matter what type of business you are or industry you operate in, to be successful you need to have an overall objective and some business goals that you’re working to. These are essential, as without them you’ll lack focus, it will be much harder to see how well you’re performing, and you’ll be less clear about any areas where you need to improve to keep growing and moving in the right direction.  

Similarly, without goals your staff can lose focus, making it harder for them to keep motivated, lowering their morale and risk damaging their work productivity. So, it’s equally important that they have goals to work towards and that these goals are aligned with your company’s goals, priorities, and business mission.

At this point, if you don’t already have any staff goals in place, you need to gain some clarity about your teams’ and your organisation’s wider business goals.

A good place to start is to talk to your organisation’s stakeholders and those high up in the business. They should be able to provide clarity about the organisation’s goals and their relevance to the wider business mission, and also inform you about any closely related HR targets they need to hit, which could be anything from specific employee retention goals to employee experience goals.

Once you’re clear on the bigger picture of your business, you can begin tying individual staff goals to these larger company goals.

To help you with this process, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What is the overall business goal that our organisation is working towards?
  • What are the main objectives of our company this quarter?
  • How does each individual team member’s goals and responsibilities fit into our team and organisational goals?
  • What are the goals my team is working towards?
  • What are our company’s long-term objectives?

This should help give you the foundation you need to start thinking about creating your employee goals. However, if you’re not already familiar with the concept of employee goals, it can help to have a definition to refer to, which will help get you off on the right track.  

What are employee goals?

When we refer to staff goals, we’re talking about the defined objectives that employees are expected to achieve in a given period. Employee goals are constructed depending upon their job profile and position, and they are the measurable results that are aligned with the wider business strategies that an organisation needs in order to achieve ongoing success.

To be effective the process involved in setting employee goals requires them to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based (SMART) and the result of a collaborative discussion between a manager and the staff in their team.  

Knowing your employees' strengths

For any manager, one of the most important aspects of their job is to identify and get every staff member in their team working to their strengths. And it’s these strengths that your goals need to align with.

So, if you’re a manager, why not get in an open one-to-one conversation with each member of your team to find out about how they view their role and the strengths they have or want to develop. To help with this, you might also like to run an employee survey alongside this.  

Here are a few questions that could help you with that.  

  • What motivates you the most at work?
  • What do you believe to be your greatest strengths?
  • How would you like to use or develop those strengths in the future?
  • Is there a skill that you find tough that you could work on improving?
  • What’s been your contribution to helping your team meet its objectives?
  • What are your career goals with the company?
  • Where would you like to be in 5 years' time?

Once you’ve completed this stage and have more clarity about your employees’ strengths and areas where they could excel, you’re ready to begin thinking about setting their goals.  

Setting your employees' goals

Whether it’s existing employee performance goals or new employee performance goals, you need to find a balance between goals that develop staff expertise and those that impact the wider team’s objectives.  

Ideally you don’t want to set any more than around three to four goals per employee. And you want them to feel challenged by the goals you set. So, when writing employee goals, try to ensure each goal is SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based.


The first part of making your goal effective, is to ensure its specific. A specific goal should look to answer questions such as:

  • What needs to be accomplished?
  • Who’s responsible for it?
  • What steps do we need to take in order to achieve it?


Being specific is great, but you also need to quantify your goals.

By making them measurable, it’s simpler to track your progress and know when you’ve reached your goal.  

So, you need to define some sort of criteria that demonstrates progress towards a particular goal.

Here are some questions that can help make your goal more measurable:

  • How much of an improvement are you aiming for?
  • What key performance indicators will you track to measure its success?
  • Are you focused on the right key performance indicators for this goal?


At this point, you need to take stock, because while it’s important to have challenging goals, they need to be realistically achievable in terms of the resources and time available to you and your team.

You need to be asking yourself questions such as:

  • How realistic is this goal?
  • Do we have what we need to get it done?
  • How does this goal fit in with your overall workload?
  • Have others been able to achieve similar goals?
  • Are other team members available to help you if you need it?


It’s also crucial not to lose sight of the bigger picture. So, as well as being worthwhile to your employee, your goal needs to align with your organisation’s wider business goals.  

In order to determine its relevance, you need to be asking your employees:

  • Is this goal worthwhile to you?
  • How well does this goal align with our company’s mission?
  • Does the goal also align with current business priorities?


Finally, whether you have short term employee goals, longer term ones or a mix of both, you also need to set clear targets for hitting these goals. By presenting a sense of urgency you’ll help motivate staff towards hitting them.  

Here are some questions to ask, if you’re to keep your goals time-sensitive:

  • What is the deadline for this goal?
  • Why is the deadline for this goal important?
  • Are there other company initiatives that are reliant on the completion of this goal?

Examples of employee goals

To help you with constructing goals for your staff that are also SMART, here’s a few examples of SMART employee goals.  

  • Research a new competitor every fortnight to improve the knowledge of the market and identify areas of improvement for your company in the next quarter.
  • Increase organic paid signups by 20% by the end of Q1.
  • Start mentoring another employee and dedicate half an hour to it every week to develop your managerial skills and contribute to a culture of sharing in your business in the next quarter.
  • Reduce call wait times by 10 percent over the next 6 months to improve customer service ratings.

Once everyone in your team is clear about the goals they need to be pursuing, create an action plan and delegate your tasks.  

You also need to ensure from the outset that everyone has all the resources and support they need to carry out their tasks.

Employee success depends on tracking and supporting progress

If you can build challenging staff goals and make them SMART, you will be well on your way to achieving a more motivated and focused workforce.  

However, you still need to help them with this by tracking and supporting their progress, which you can do by checking in with them via pulse surveys and frequent one-to-one conversations.  

Here are some questions to consider asking your employees, while you’re monitoring their progress:

  • Do you think you will be able to achieve your goal? If not, why?
  • Do you need help identifying any actions that could help you achieve your goals?
  • Do you feel unchallenged at work? if so, would you like your goals to be revised so that they’re more challenging?
  • Do you think we should work together to revise your goals?

Ultimately, staff and the company they work for can only make real progress when the employees within that business are working towards the right goals. So, it’s important to get them right.

Don't forget to deliver great experiences too

Finally, it’s important not to forget the power of delivering great experiences for your employees and the benefits of this alongside setting staff goals for increasing their engagement and motivation too.  

In fact, with studies showing that a highly engaged workforce can deliver 18% higher productivity and a 40% reduction in staff turnover rates, the value of delivering great employee experience is equally as important as setting them SMART goals.

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