To achieve increasingly ambitious results, organizations must set strong performance goals. Without good goals, they’ll stagnate. However, ensuring that individual employee goals align with company goals can prove challenging. Too often, these goals misalign, meaning that people at different levels are actually working toward different objectives. This can cause the company to miss the mark in terms of desired outcomes.
“While goals have long been used as a quantitative measure for employee performance, many organizations find that the goal-setting process takes a huge amount of time and is, frankly, not very effective,” writes McKinsey. “However, when done correctly, goal-setting can help improve employee engagement in a way which elevates performance and benefits organizations overall.”
Goal alignment and tracking are complex processes. Frequently, leaders and managers lack understanding of how to carry them out. And HR professionals may have difficulty tracking and measuring employee progress toward their goals. By building this understanding, you can greatly improve your company’s competitive advantage.
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The Importance of Goal Alignment and Tracking
A thoughtful goal-alignment and goal-tracking process delivers numerous benefits, including:
- Clearly articulated and understood priorities
- Greater productivity
- Strong camaraderie
- Enhanced skill sets
- Increased motivation and satisfaction
- Better business results
The Adobe communications team writes that “[t]racking the goals of your organization enables you to align everyone’s efforts toward the same high-level objectives, so everyone can be sure they’re contributing to the company’s growth and progress”. By tracking goal progress, you can also help employees and teams correct course when necessary. They’ll receive a significant morale boost from seeing their continued progress.
Conversely, poor goal alignment and tracking brings serious consequences. First, it causes organizations to squander their talent, waste resources, and fail to leverage opportunities. Additionally, it will rob people of a sense of purpose, causing morale and culture to suffer. Ultimately, a lack of alignment and tracking within an organization can cause it to stagnate.
The Goal-Alignment Process
Let’s break down the process of aligning individual employee goals with overarching company objectives. We’ll discuss two different methods of achieving this alignment.
The Cascading Goals Approach
Cascading goals align company objectives with team and individual goals through a top-down approach. Use the following steps as a framework for setting cascading goals.
1. Establish Company Goals
Set 3–5 overarching company objectives, based on your strategic plan. Use the SMART goal framework for each of them, recommends Adobe. Make sure these goals include clear key performance indicators (KPIs) stating exactly what you aim to achieve. Think in terms of numbers, so you can measure success, as Alexander Grosse and David Loftesness write in Scaling Teams: Strategies for Building Successful Teams and Organizations.
Then, set a time frame in which you aim to achieve each goal. In some cases, this may be a year. However, as companies become increasingly agile, goals may have 3- to 6-month timelines.
2. Set Department and Director Goals
In larger organizations, departments should set their goals next. Involve all department directors in this goal-setting to avoid misunderstandings and conflict, as Adobe advises. Together, they can decide on strategies for moving the company closer to its goals, which will form department goals.
Then, these directors should set their individual goals, which will reflect the role they’ll play in achieving departmental goals. They should also set goals for personal growth that will support their efforts.
3. Create Team and Manager Goals
Next, teams, and managers within each department can set their own goals.
With their manager’s support, team members should discuss how they can further company goals. For instance, the team might decide it needs to increase customer satisfaction or redesign product branding. Incorporate team-level KPIs based on company KPIs, as Grosse and Loftesness emphasize.
Manager goals must follow from team goals. To set goals, managers should consider how they can support their team in achieving its goals. Manager-level goals can pertain to both team deliverables and the personal growth or engagement of team members. Here are a few examples:
- Improve low performers’ productivity by 25%.
- Guide the team to launch an innovative new product line.
- Increase customer satisfaction by 15%.
- Improve job satisfaction by 20%.
Each manager should set personal development goals, too. For instance, a manager might aim to grow more proficient at sharing feedback.
Set Employee Goals
Managers should work with each employee to help them set individual goals for their work. Through a collaborative goal-setting process, they’ll create purpose-driven goals that employees will feel invested in achieving. These goals should be directly based on team goals, stating which pieces of the puzzle they’ll work to complete.
Additionally, each employee should set personal development goals that will benefit their work.
Now, let’s examine another goal-setting approach. While it also aims to achieve goal alignment, it uses a different method to do so.
The Linking Up Approach
In some organizations, the process of cascading goals can take so long that top-level goals have become less relevant by the time many employees are setting their goals. Larger organizations are especially prone to experiencing this issue.
This goal-setting method provides an alternative. Each tier of the organization can follow a “linking up” approach to goal setting, says the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). They can begin setting goals that align with company goals, rather than waiting for the teams above them to create their own. Then, they can modify them as needed.
“This approach is not only much faster than traditional cascades, but it also allows for a more direct line of sight between an individual’s goals and the organization’s objectives,” SHRM asserts. “Moreover, it typically results in more meaningful and clearer goals, which is especially useful within more complex organizational structures.”
As with cascading goals, ask yourself how you’ll measure success for each goal. For example, if you aim to increase sales, state how many units you aim to sell. If you wish to increase website traffic, state the percentage of increase you aim to achieve.
Tips for Great Goal-Setting
In their one-on-ones, managers can use these tips to help direct reports craft great goals.
1. Start with Strengths
When setting employee goals, start with strengths, advises Gallup. Consider how individual strengths will support broader goals. Strength-based goals will also boost motivation, they add. Look for ways that their skills can fill a gap on the team.
2. Create Stretch Goals
Each leader, employee, and team should set SMART goals. Having goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound will stretch their abilities.
3. Use Goal-Setting Activities
Teams and individuals can use various activities to generate ideas for great goals, like these:
- Brainstorming on opportunities and threats
- Completing a goal-setting questionnaire
Such activities can help them set ambitious goals that leverage their talents.
4. Track Deadlines Clearly
Create clear timelines for team and individual goals. To track them, each team can make up a shared spreadsheet with benchmarks and deadlines. Add target dates for individual goals and benchmarks.
5. Create a Goal-Achievement Plan
This plan breaks goals into smaller steps, making them feel more achievable. In this plan, outline what an individual or team must do week by week to move toward goals.
6. Evaluate Daily Priorities
Make sure employees’ daily tasks link to their goals. If they don’t, weed out their list of priorities to cut out “busy work.”
Best Practices to Support Goal Achievement
Expedite progress toward goals with these strategies.
State a Clear Timeframe for Goal Setting
To boost alignment, challenge everyone to establish their goals by a set date. If using cascading goals, set different dates for different tiers to facilitate a smooth process.
Share Your Goals
Making all goals transparent boosts accountability and creates a sense of connectedness, helping everyone feel centred around a single plan, as John Doerr says in Measure What Matters.
“When employees can see top-level goals, they can align their individual and team objectives with the company’s overall direction,” write researchers in MIT Sloan Management Review. Yet just a quarter of managers say their coworkers in other departments are aware of their goals, they add.
“When goals are kept private, employees are often in the dark about what people on other teams are doing,” the researchers continue. “When employees don’t know one another’s goals, they are more likely to make unrealistic demands, focus on activities that don’t support their colleagues, or duplicate effort.”
Understanding the goals of coworkers on other teams will help people plan their own goals more effectively, avoiding wasted time and resources.
Follow an Agile Approach
Today, annual goals don’t always work; they can quickly become outdated. So, review goals frequently. Then set new goals across the organization when you’ve achieved the old ones or they’ve become irrelevant.
Establish Feedback Loops
Clear feedback loops will give teams convenient ways to check in about their progress. For instance, hold team check-ins each week to share updates.
By taking these steps, you’ll move efficiently toward company goals. Next, we’ll discuss how to use the right tools to measure progress.
Tools to Monitor and Track Progress
Use project management tools to stay on track. Goal-tracking software will show both teams and individuals their progress toward benchmarks and goals. Primalogik offers solutions that break goals into action steps, helping employees steadily move toward their goals every day, for instance. And each employee can see this data, providing a significant motivation boost.
Primalogik offers a new feature called Cascading Goals as well. This tool shows how movement toward team and individual goals affects achievement of overarching goals further up the organizational hierarchy. To start using it, you can simply input your goals and specify the relationship between them. By helping you visualize and understand these relationships, this tool will boost motivation and promote more effective goal achievement.
Goal Alignment and Tracking FAQs
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions on goal alignment and tracking, and our responses.
When should new employees set goals?
Help employees set goals focused on learning during their first few days of work. Setting goals early in the onboarding process will boost motivation. Then revisit their goals in the coming weeks, setting new ones geared toward results as they get up to speed.
How often should you update goals?
Goals must be updated after the previous ones are achieved or when the company’s focus must change. In today’s fast-changing work environment, goals might need to be reset once per quarter, but that’s not a hard rule.
Through strong goal tracking, you’ll help your company fulfill its mission and vision. Clear goal alignment between people at all levels of the organization will make this possible. You’ll move steadily toward high-level goals, with everyone on your team using their unique skill set and experience.
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