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Article: Do Your Goals Get Away From You? Related Resources

Do Your Goals Get Away From You?
by Marnie Green

Effective employee performance management is really all about clear expectations. Many of you use SMAART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Agreed Upon, Realistic, and Time-Oriented) goals to help employees focus on the most important things at work. But can you have too much of a good thing? The answer is yes! and I've seen it.

Recently I worked with an organization that uses goals to define the entire scope of each employee's job. As a result, each employee is assigned 25 to 30 goals each year. Many of the goals the employees receive at the beginning of the year are irrelevant by the time the performance evaluation is due because the organization's priorities have changed. As a result, employees feel overwhelmed by the lengthy list, feel confused about what is most important, and feel defeated when the work they accomplish is not really valued or recognized at the end of the year.

This situation leads to three recommendations about performance-related goals:

• Establish 4 or 5 significant goals that will be meaningful to the employee and that will have an important impact on the organization. One way to determine these high priority goals is to ask, "If I have accomplished just four or five things, what will be on my list of accomplishments at the end of this year?"

• Revisit the goals on a regular and frequent basis. Monthly discussions are a good target. During these regular checks, the employee can report on their progress, the supervisor can share new developments that impact the goal, and both can agree on modifications that may be necessary. Sometimes a goal needs to be revised or even deleted based on changing realities.

• Goals are meant to be changed. There is nothing wrong with modifying a goal mid-year. As long as you document the revision to ensure that both the supervisor and employee are clear about the new expectation, frequent changes allow you and the employee to make sure the work output is on target.

Clearly measurable goals can provide a motivating force for employees, giving them a purpose for coming to work and a sense of achievement when the goals are met.

Still, goals are just tools for communicating expectations. They should be challenging, focused, and provide motivation. They shouldn't lead to unnecessary angst or doubts. Are you using your goal-setting process to your best advantage?

Marnie E. Green is Principal Consultant of the Arizona-based Management Education Group, Inc. She is the author of Painless Performance Evaluations: A Practical Approach to Managing Day to Day Employee Performance (Pearson/Prentice Hall). Green is a speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations develop leaders today for the workforce of tomorrow. Contact Green at


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