Formulating Actionable Goals

Performance goals enable employees to plan and organize their work in accordance with achieving predetermined results or outcomes. By setting and completing effective performance goals, employees are better able to:

  • Develop job knowledge and skills that help them thrive in their work, take on additional responsibilities, or pursue their career aspirations;
  • Support or advance the organization’s vision, mission, values, principles, strategies, and goals;
  • Collaborate with their colleagues with greater transparency and mutual understanding;
  • Plan and implement successful projects and initiatives; and
  • Remain resilient when roadblocks arise and learn from these setbacks.

Without setting clear performance goals, employees may feel aimless about prioritizing and completing their work and disengaged in their jobs, and teams can become mired in confusion, misunderstandings, and conflict. For both individuals and teams, the absence of effective goal setting substantially reduces productivity.

Although focused attention on performance goals typically happens during the annual evaluation process, goal-setting really pays off when employees monitor their goal progress throughout the year, discuss the status of goals with their manager on ongoing and regular basis, and propose and make adjustments to remain on track toward completion.

Effective goal-setting starts with an analysis of all aspects of the goal, including:

  • Reasons for pursuing the goal;
  • Intended results or outcomes and measures of success;
  • Alignment with the organization’s vision, mission, values, principles, strategies, and goals;
  • Potential stakeholders or others that may be impacted;
  • Resources or capabilities needed, wanted, and available; and
  • Possible roadblocks that may arise along the way.

The following list of questions will help employees and managers conduct a thorough analysis of a goal being considered:

  • What are the reasons for pursuing this goal now and why do these reasons matter?
  • What specific results or outcomes are intended? What benefits are expected from achieving this goal and what are the potential consequences or costs of not doing so?
  • How will success be determined? How will others know what has been accomplished?
  • How does this goal align with, support, or advance the team’s, department’s, and/or institution’s vision, mission, values, principles, strategies, and goals?
  • When will the goal be achieved? Are there milestones that need to be met along the way?
  • What resources are needed to accomplish this goal? What additional resources may be helpful? Are these resources available and at what cost? If any resources are not available, are there viable alternatives or will the goal need to be changed?
  • What possible roadblocks could arise while pursuing this goal? What can be done now to prevent those roadblocks or address them if and when they arise?

The SMART model is a popular goal-setting tool. As an acrostic, it is easy to remember. Each letter in the word “SMART” represents a key element of a complete and actionable goal:

S – Specific: Is the goal explained with enough detail that it can be well understood by those involved in its completion and by any stakeholders?

M – Measurable: How will those involved in completing the goal know it has been accomplished and how will stakeholders determine its success?

A – Attainable: Is the goal attainable or feasible given the resources available?

R – Relevant: Does the goal align with, support, or advance the organization’s vision, mission, values, principles, and strategies?

T – Time bound: Does the goal have a target date for completion?

Dealing with Goal Roadblocks

  1. Goals direct action and effort toward goal-related activities and away from unrelated activities.
  2. Goals energize employees. Challenging goals lead to higher employee effort than easy goals.
  3. Goals affect persistence. Employees exert more effort to achieve high goals.
  4. Goals motivate employees to use their existing knowledge to attain a goal or to acquire the knowledge needed to do so.