Set SMART Goals and Avoid These 4 Goal-Setting Mistakes

by Srikant Chellappa Oct 18,2019

The People Strategy Leaders Podcast

with Srikant Chellappa, CEO

Goals are a great tool for mapping out a path for the immediate future.

Goals help employees decide what they would like to focus on next and help managers track an employee’s performance and even measure it. In addition to being personal and individualistic, goals can also help the organization on a broader level, with goals being aligned to the organization’s main objectives.

When employees achieve their goals, it is easy to figure out what needs to be done next. Because it is obvious that the previous methods still work, there’s no need to go back and fiddle with a method that is not broken.

However, when goals fail, to whom can one turn? The answer is nobody. Because neither the manager nor the employee is to blame for the goal failure. I mean, no sensible employee would directly orchestrate a goal’s failure and if they do, that’s another problem to be explored in another article. However, aside from any malicious and direct interference, there are a few innocuous reasons as to why goals fail and do not involve sabotage. These are goal-setting mistakes that are made during the goal-setting process.

Also read: Goal-Setting Software Guide for CIOs

What are the goal-setting mistakes and how can they be avoided?

1. Setting Goals Too Late

One must begin the goal-setting process at the start of the annual year and periodically revisit the goal at 3-month intervals. Alternatively, managers can even set goals every 2 or 3 months, depending on the nature of the employee’s work. There’s no hard and fast rule as to what method should be followed. However, it should be something you and the employee are comfortable with.

When it comes to goal-setting, it is important to be current and relevant. Goals will be useless if they are set after half the year is already done.  They will be useless because firstly, a valuable chunk of time has already been lost, and secondly, the employee has probably established a routine because they have assumed that if their goals haven’t changed, they are probably on the right track. And naturally, setting goals too late is going to affect goal progress because no the time to achieve the goal has been greatly straitened.

2. Goals Are Too Attainable or Too Ambitious

There are two kinds of extreme goals. On one hand, there is the kind of goal which seems like it is never going to be completed because it is just that out of reach. And there is the kind of goal where it is so laughably simple that the employee in question might even wonder this thing became a goal in the first place? Stretch goals are not bad goals per se, in fact, the tougher a goal, the better. But having extremely tough goals is not feasible at all because it might cause the employee to get disappointed because they find themselves not making enough progress to achieve the goal.

On the other hand, with extremely simple goals, the problem is that they are under the whole idea of goal-setting itself. Goals are supposed to challenge employees just enough that they feel motivated about hitting their targets. Test your employees, push them, motivate them, but don’t make them feel like their work is a joke.

3. Goals Are Not Reviewed

Setting goals and leaving them as is, is not how the goal-setting process goes.  On paper, goals might look picture-perfect. However, it is only when employees start working on goals that unexpected issues pop up. This is why goal reviews are important. When employees hit a snag in the proceedings, they can ask their manager for guidance as to what to do next. And if employees come up with certain methods or ideas that simplify the goal-setting progress, he and the manager can decide what they need to do next. As in, do they need to set new targets? Do they need to set a completely new goal? Dilemmas like these can be easily solved when goals are frequently reviewed.

4. Goals Remain Unchanged

Once an employee begins working towards achieving a goal, it is possible that the objective of the goal itself will change, due to whatever reasons. In order to be ready for this eventuality, managers must be willing to tweak goals or completely change them. Static goals are dangerous because they risk undoing all the hard work an employee has put in and might, in fact, even hinder progress and waste valuable time. It might even so happen that once an employee peaks with respect to a goal, they might not find it that challenging to work with. In cases such as these, it’s always prudent to edit the goal to reflect a new challenge. Or even consider that goal closed and begin a new one.

Also read: OKR Examples for the Human Resource Team

Set SMART Goals And Avoid Major Goal-Setting Mistakes

It is impossible not to make mistakes when setting goals. After all, goals are just the blueprint for what you would like your employees to achieve. But as with many things, over a period of time, it becomes easier to set goals, when you and your employee know what the employee is capable of and whether they have the skills to achieve the goals that have been set.

It also makes it easier to avoid goal-setting mistakes if you follow a process methodology for setting goals. One of the most commonly known goal-setting processes is SMART goal-setting. The concept of SMART goals seems to have first originated from George T. Doran in 1981. S.M.A.R.T is an acronym for:

  • Specific – Have a specific purpose. If your goal isn’t specific, it’s going to be doomed from the start.
  • Measurable – What is the point of setting a goal if you cannot measure it? When you can measure a goal, you will also be able to tell if the goal was met successfully or not.
  • Achievable – There needs to be a sweet spot for your goals. They cannot be too easy, but nor can they be too difficult.
  • Relevant – Goal-setting in itself is not enough – you must make sure that these goals are relevant to the people who will utilize them.
  • Time-Bound – There needs to be a time period during which the goal can be carried out and the objective met. More importantly, when goals are time-bound, they also tend to be motivating.

The SMART method of goal-setting can help avoid major goal-setting mistakes. And of course, with time, it becomes easier and easier to use.

This is not to say that mistakes will not happen, but by using a process and these guidelines, both employees and managers will learn how to use goals and objectives to their advantage, instead of feeling like the process is working against them.

Engagedly’s Goal module allows you to create goals easily, without any fuss, and allows you to check-in and review them regularly as well. To see how our Goals module can help you, request a demo today!

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Srikant Chellappa
CEO & Co-Founder of Engagedly

Srikant Chellappa is the Co-Founder and CEO at Engagedly and is a passionate entrepreneur and people leader. He is an author, producer/director of 6 feature films, a music album with his band Manchester Underground, and is the host of The People Strategy Leaders Podcast. He is currently working on his next book, Ikigai at the Workplace, which is slated for release in the fall of 2024.

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