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It’s goal planning time. It’s the time when organizations hopefully examine the successes and failures of the past year, figure out how to repeat what worked, change what didn’t, and focus on what’s new for the upcoming year.

There is overwhelming evidence that employees that are assigned specific and difficult – yet achievable – goals consistently outperform those that don’t have any goals, or those with non-specific goals that encourage them to “do their best.” More than 1000 empirical, peer-reviewed research articles have been published on the topic of goal management and its impact on performance. These studies indicate that the effective use of goals can increase employee productivity levels by 25 percent or more.

The payoff is big, but yet…clear goals are elusive

The financial benefits of goal management are staggering, especially in light of the relatively low cost associated with implementing goal management methods.

Goal plans help to articulate and define the reasons people are employed and why a job exists. Goals clarify what employees are expected to accomplish – whether it’s delivering, creating, completing, producing, or some other specific task. They help create motivation, set direction, and build confidence in employees – all while providing a mechanism for feedback.

When goals are set up properly, they describe the business outcomes employees are expected to support or accomplish, such as achieving certain sales quotas, minimizing accidents, or maintaining a specific level of productivity.

Given all this, the value of goals may seem pretty obvious, but it is amazing how many companies do a lousy job of actually setting clear goals.

The key factors in effective goal planning

The truth is that many employees struggle to come up with effective goal plans. Even highly experienced managers can find it difficult to summarize the roles of their employees in terms of a short list of succinct, well-defined, and measurable objectives.

But when you break it down into a few key steps, goal planning becomes much more manageable. Here are a few key components to utilize when you and your employees sit down to plan their 2014 goals.

  • Define the core responsibilities. The first step is to work with your employees to succinctly define their core responsibilities in at least five, but not more than 10, goals. These goals should define what the employee is there to do, and in essence, why their job is important. Each goal should be independent of the others so that it’s possible to achieve one goal without achieving another.
  • Align the goals with the business. Each goal should directly support the overall business goals and strategy of the company. Goals can (and should) drive personal development, but they must first and foremost reflect business needs.
  • Delineate the evidence. Goals should provide a way to see the tangible results of a person’s role in the company. For instance, at the end of the year, what evidence will show that an employee’s core responsibilities have been carried out? Even if you never actually saw an employee work, his or her goals should provide clear evidence of the contributions this person made to the company. Another way of looking at this is to use goals to define what wouldn’t happen if this employee were not there and articulate the contribution this employee makes through his or her presence in the company.

A final bit of advice

Simply put, goal planning should articulate an employee’s responsibilities for the coming year. They define what an employee is paid to do. Goals ensure employees get credit for their contributions to the business goals of the company. They ensure people focus on what matters the most – what’s most important to them, the company, and to you.

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