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3 Reasons Your SMART Goals Could Hold Employees Back

Business.com / Managing / Last Modified: September 29, 2017
Photo credit: marekuliasz/Shutterstock

While SMART goals are good to have, they're often implemented too early in the process. This article focuses on the steps leaders have been missing when setting their SMART goals and how to get employees on the track to being productive and engaged.

Define SMART goals.

If you're unsure of the exact definition, you'll find Google is also undecided. The definitions of this popular business acronym include "specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic and time-based" and "strategic, meaningful, attainable, result-oriented and timely."

Even with these varying definitions, the concept is simple: Give employees motivational and achievable goals. However, many leaders treat SMART goals as the beginning of an employee's journey, rather than an end result.

This causes leaders to actually set employees off course, and as a result, they miss their goals, become discouraged and eventually drop in engagement. Leaders need to start focusing on the road to SMART goals, which starts with working smarter, not harder.

Here's where your employee goals are going wrong:

1. Employees aren't involved in the process of goal setting.

One major step SMART goals miss is involving employees in the actual process of setting their own goals. They may be agreed upon, but that doesn't mean employees have offered their opinions or helped create their goals step by step. Depriving your team of this keeps them from fully seeing their development and growth opportunities.

Although company leaders may believe employees are only interested in their daily tasks, they're wrong. In fact, "I see professional growth and career development opportunities for myself in this organization" ranked as one of the lowest-favorability items with employees in Quantum Workplace's 2017 Employee Engagement Trends Report.

Let your team in on the goal-setting process, but don't wait until too late in the game. Start with discussing why employee goals are important and how they should be set to effectively help each member reach their objectives. Then, focus on what employee goals need to be set, how to hit them, and how accomplishing each one will positively affect employees' future with your company.  

2. Nobody understands the importance of goals.

Imagine working hard day in and day out without having a strong sense of passion or meaning behind your job. When you're vague about the importance of employee goals, that's exactly what your team members feel. Although many leaders are specific about what goals employees need to reach each week, month or quarter, many forget to discuss the why behind them.

This leads to employee goals becoming a mindless step-by-step process. Just going through the motions causes employees not only to lose sight of the compan'’s mission, but also to not look for better ways to accomplish them.  

With each employee goal, offer a backstory or expression of relevance to share the importance of the goal. Show them the client or customer they'll be affecting, how it affects the company's bottom line or how their accomplished step makes the entire team work. Employees who are instilled with meaning behind their jobs are motivated and equipped to finish their tasks in the most efficient way possible.

3. An efficient journey hasn't been established.

SMART goals are only smart if the journey to achieving them is efficient. Even when they are met, if employees are working too hard to reach them, then they'll quickly burn out and become less productive, motivated and engaged.

To avoid this, set a timeline for employees to reach their goals. Then give them the freedom to create their own step-by-step guide to accomplish that timeline. This gives employees control over their future, but also shows leaders how they can lead them down a more efficient path.

Now that you've established your employee goal journey, take your SMART goals and make them SMARTER.

In this case, E is "efficient" and R is "recognize." You have a team full of efficient, goal-hitting employees, and they deserve to be recognized for their hard work. Show them you're paying attention and noticing their efforts with an employee recognition platform, verbal acknowledgment in the moment, or even offering incentives such as PTO or lunch on the company.

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