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Setting goals improves employee engagement

How goal-setting with SMART or OKRs drives greater engagement

Reading Time: 4 minutes

We can’t over-stress how important it is to take the right approach to goal-setting in your organisation. 

Performance and productivity goals that are rigid and arbitrary will just be another source of stress for your staff. But using SMART Goals or OKRs can help you take a more flexible approach to objective management. 

Done right, setting goals improves employee engagement by giving employees a sense of ownership over their contributions.

A quick recap on SMART Goals and OKRs

The two main methods of goal-setting available through our platform for team managers to choose from are SMART Goals and OKRs. The connection between SMART Goals, OKRs and employee engagement is one of the core concepts behind the Weekly10 platform. This is hardly the first time we’ve discussed them on this blog, so we’ll try to keep it brief.

SMART Goals: Although the specific wording can vary depending on who you ask, SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. In other words, a SMART Goal should be quantitative, like a specific number of customers served or articles written. It should be manageable in a reasonable timeframe, and it should clearly benefit the company.

OKRs: This one stands for Objectives and Key Results, which is pretty self-explanatory. OKRs are great for melding your business’s more qualitative tasks with quantitative goal-setting. You might have the somewhat vague-sounding goal of improving word-of-mouth about your business, and attach it to specific results, like the number of loyalty cards given out, or the search engine figures for your business.

Engagement is impossible without effective guidance

Never underestimate the importance of goal-setting for employees. We talk a lot on this blog about how important autonomy is, and we stand by that. But in order for employees to thrive autonomously, they still need a solid understanding of their role and their employer and manager’s expectations around specific tasks. Research from Gallup has previously shown that around half of all employees are unclear on their responsibilities, negatively impacting their ability to engage.

Setting goals improves employee engagement, for even your most autonomous team members, as it helps them know where to focus their efforts while keeping them on the same page as their teammates.

But goal-setting is about much more than simply organising day-to-day tasks. The link between goals and performance makes them an important bridge for ongoing workplace feedback. So, if you’re looking for a way to reduce your dependency on outdated annual performance reviews, revisiting how you set employee goals is a great first step.

Goals turn huge tasks into manageable milestones

Setting goals improves employee engagement because it helps to make titanic workloads much less intimidating. This is especially true if you’re using a SMART Goal system, because your goal must be both achievable and time-bound.

And, even though OKRs are a fundamentally different approach than SMART Goals, they can still make the work more manageable, because they take big, nebulous-seeming qualitative tasks, and attach them to tasks with measurable results.

Breaking down these huge tasks into less monolithic sub-goals is great for morale, not just because it makes the work less daunting, but also because each goal your team achieves lends to that sense of accomplishment.

Setting goals shows employees the impact of their work

One of the biggest contributors to a lack of engagement is when employees feel like what they’re doing is meaningless. But, by taking the individual goals you assign to your staff, and connecting them to overarching company objectives, you can show your employees just how much their hard work matters.

As anyone who’s read our HR Director’s Guide can tell you, recognition is an incredibly important motivator for engagement. In fact, over half of British employees don’t get enough recognition at work. But recognition is an even more reliable motivator than financial incentives or novel perks.

But praise is most effective when it feels earned, and peer recognition can be even more beneficial than manager recognition. For these reasons, specificity is your friend. If your boss just makes a regular habit of telling you “Good job!” it’s easy to write it off as a meaningless sentiment.

But, if they congratulate you because the ad banner you designed has boosted web traffic by over 20% over the last month, there’s no arguing that. So, if you can recognise the specific accomplishments of your staff, they’re more likely to take it to heart, and your other employees are more likely to echo your positive remarks.

Goal-setting is most effective when it’s flexible

Circumstances change, and goals stop being helpful when they stop reflecting the needs of your business. For example, a café might set goals about how many tables they have booked out in a day, but that goal will have become unfeasible across the majority of the pandemic. Goal flexibility means shifting to a more suitable alternative, like getting so many customers ordering food to take away.

The great thing about our Weekly10 platform is that goal setting (be it SMART Goals or OKRs) are part and parcel of our employee check-in. Just like our questions, goals are completely customisable on the employee level.

With Weekly10, setting goals improves employee engagement, because it gives you a means to help employees focus on whatever’s most relevant each week. These can include their regular work tasks, and challenges you set for areas they want to improve in. As a result, your workplace goal-setting tools can also form an essential part of employee education in the workplace.

Remember, goals don’t have to be chores. If you implement them correctly, they can be one of the most engaging parts of any employee’s whole work experience. Effective goal-setting for employees invites them to challenge themselves, learn new skills, and become your most vital personnel.

Want to know more about goal-setting and its role in growing employee engagement?

Download our 30-page HRDs guide to find out.

Head of People Science