performance goalsSetting goals is not just about documenting what we are hoping to accomplish so that we can measure against it later. Goal Setting is about motivating effort and action to facilitate high performance. The theory of Goal Setting is regarded as among the most valid and practical motivation theories in the fields of Industrial Organizational psychology and organization behavior. Click here to read about the foundation of Locke and Latham's theory of Goal Setting.

Goal Setting and Managing Performance Are Required Leadership Skills

Mastering the art of Goal Setting should be a priority for leaders in an effort to enhance employee engagement, drive exceptional performance and focus employees on organizational success. Simply cascading organizational goals down the chain of command is not going to cut it. Motivating performance requires thinking, not just doing.

Research on employee engagement has consistently shown that individual alignment with organizational goals is a key contributor to engagement. Recent Harvard Business Review (2013) research found that those organizations whose employees are highly engaged actively ensure that goals are aligned and well communicated throughout the organization, and that employees are given the tools to succeed in achieving their goals. As such, leaders can have a significant impact on employee engagement and organizational performance through Goal Setting if they consider the specific needs of individuals.

Engagement and Motivation Require an Individualized Approach to Goal Setting

SMART goal setting is one of many techniques that provides structure to the creation of goals and is a solid foundation upon which to implement Goal Setting. Once we master the foundation of SMART goal setting, it is our responsibility as leaders to adapt that technique in a way that makes sense for each of our employees. This is your true challenge.

We have identified four factors, 4 C's, for leaders to consider in in goal to truly engage and motivate people to perform at their highest level and continuously develop their skills. The 4 C's will make Goal Setting SMARTer by tailoring the approach to individual needs.


Goal Setting is all about facilitating and guiding successful performance.  Therefore, it is important to make sure that the conditions surrounding goals don't frustrate or inhibit people from accomplishing their objectives.  Motivation to perform can be stalled when individuals are overwhelmed by a very complex goal or too many goals, especially when results reveal themselves at a slow pace. As such, setting goals of varying difficulty and complexity can help encourage success. 

Adapt the complexity of goals to each employee. Some individuals will prefer to work toward higher level goals while others will thrive when provided with a set of sub-goals that lead up to the accomplishment of a higher level goal. Don’t assume that your team will all prefer the same method. A tailored approach will engage individuals and allow them to feel their differences are valued.


Clearly written goals are easy to understand, and leave no room for misinterpretation.  Goals should clearly state the specifics around actions, results, and time frame for completion. Employees need to know what is expected of them and what will happen once the goal is achieved. Understanding expected results and how their contribution relates to organizational success provides motivation to employees. When using the SMART Goal Setting approach, you ensure clarity of the goal by making it Specific, Measurable, and Time-bound. 

The level of specificity needed for each employee may be different based upon personal preferences or time in role.  For instance, individuals who are new to their role may need more specificity to guide their actions than a long tenured employee.  Leaders who can adapt their approach to goal setting based upon an understanding of individual needs will create an environment of success for all team members.


The level of challenge is another key to making goals motivating.  It is logical to assume that if a goal is challenging there will be greater rewards for accomplishing it, and this will in turn motivate an individual to take action. However, goals that are too difficult will cause individuals to be less motivated as they do not believe that they can accomplish them. 

Understanding the specific strengths and weaknesses of each individual on your team is important to balancing the level of challenge, but so are individual interests and future career goals. Some individuals will be motivated by extremely challenging goals that force them to learn completely new skills as their long-term focus is on moving in a new direction. This approach will likely not work with individuals who are interested in continuing to contribute in their current position.


When using SMART Goal Setting, managers should take steps to include employees in the goal setting process.  Employees are more likely to "buy into" or commit to achieving a goal if they feel they were made a part of the process to create it.

Managers can lead the process by asking employees to create a draft set of goals and then facilitating a discussion to refine the goals such that they are aligned with organizational goals. The more challenging a goal, the more likely an individual will be committed to it -- if the goal is important to them. Additionally, finding ways to connect performance goals to an individual’s interests, passions and future career goals will help build commitment.

Technology Helps Bring A Personal Approach to Goal Setting

Performance Management Software, like the solutions offered by viaPeople, can assist managers in collaborative Goal Setting. viaPeople's Performance Management solution makes the Goal Setting process more individualized through flexibility and ongoing communication.

Click Here to learn more about how to increase your skills in Goal Setting.

Download - Six Ways to Be Smart in  Setting Performance Goals

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