Six simple steps to help employees set (and keep) goals

Getting employees to put their goals down on paper is easier said than done. That’s why I was intrigued when I heard that at Creative Nation, a Nashville-based music services company, setting goals is part of the culture.

Creative Nation CEO and co-founder Beth Laird says, “Setting personal and professional goals is one of the most powerful tools available to help people both identify and reach their potential.”

Laird’s employees have embraced the process.

“I’d never done this in my career before,” admits Creative Director Jeff Skaggs. “It’s really helpful. Most of my goals are quantifiable. Others are more qualitative, like what’s happening in our pipeline and what I’m doing to help our team grow. Those are just as important because they are the kind of things that keep us excited about showing up every day.”

Laird shared her six steps for implementing your own employee goal tracking system, setting your company up for lasting success.

1. Make it mandatory. There is lots of evidence linking the act of physically writing down goals to higher performance, including this classic Harvard study showing that individuals with written goals were earning, on average, 10 times as much as their classmates whose goals were not written down. This is one of the reasons Laird suggests making goal sheets mandatory for every employee.

2. Make it accessible. Implementing any new employee program can be a challenge, and Laird admits that she didn’t get her goal sheets quite right on the first attempt. Even seemingly small details, like the presentation of the questions, can have a huge effect on participation.

“The first form was very complicated and was all business,” she says. “So I narrowed the goals down a bit and had someone on our team design the same questions with different-sized colored boxes and circles around them. Now, when I hand them out people say, ‘Oh, this looks fun! This is easy!’ It’s incredible what a drastic change small design tweaks can have.”

3. Make it SMART. All goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Laird recommends talking to employees about SMART goals before unleashing employees with goal sheets to help set them up for success. Here is a great primer on SMART goals with examples for anyone unfamiliar with the premise.

4. Make it stick. Upon the completion of each employee’s goal sheet, Laird prints several copies so they are always nearby.

“I want everyone to see their goals on a daily basis so they remember what they are aiming for,” she says.

5. Make it personal. In addition to company and professional goals, Laird is a big proponent of including personal and individualized goals for each employee, even if the goal seems only loosely related to his or her job description.

“I’ve always included areas marked ‘personal, family, and spiritual goals’ and ‘personal and professional development,’” she says. “It started because I was just curious about what they wanted in their life and how I could help. If a writer says, ‘I want to go on a weeklong family vacation every year,’ maybe I can help by booking a house and a rental car for a week and making sure they know I’m making it one of their priorities.”

6. Keep it updated. Laird suggests revisiting (and possibly redesigning) your company’s goal sheet template at least once a year.

“I’ve evolved our current version over several years and am still tweaking and changing it every year, because we’re trying to get better and better as we go,” she says.

Photo credit: Lauren Kallen

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