Setting annual goals for work that drive performance

The new year is just around the corner, which means it’s time to start thinking about the career goals you want to set for the next 12 months. Yet, annual professional development goals tend to be a double-edged sword. Much like personal new year’s resolutions, most annual goals for work fizzle out by the middle of the year, if they even last that long.

As a manager, it’s your duty to inspire your staff with measurable and attainable employee performance goals. As a professional, setting your own goals for the year is a great way to take your career to the next level. The challenge lies in getting these goals to stick, which means they need to be realistic and achievable.

Whether your goals last until the end of the quarter or the end of the year, you need an action plan to keep yourself (and your team members) on track. That means holding regular team meetings and webinars to share progress and set new short-term goals.

If you’re a manager or a professional eager to learn how to set successful annual goals for work, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn more about setting long-term goals that achieve real results. Along the way, you’ll get to see some real-world goal examples to get your creative juices flowing.

Why is it important to set annual goals for work?

If setting work goals doesn’t hold your interest, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, a whopping 80% of people don’t set any goals at all. Moreover, of the 14% of people that DO set goals, only 6% will actually achieve them. However, that doesn’t mean that goal-setting isn’t worth your while.

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The proof?

The 14% of people that set goals become 10 times more successful than those who don’t, according to a study by Harvard Business Review. So if you want your team to thrive along with your own professional development, you need to embrace and stick with annual goal-setting.

Besides that shocking statistic, there are plenty of other reasons why annual goals are worth your while, including:

  • They vastly improve productivity. Short-term and long-term employee goals give your team members specific achievements to work toward each day, which will make them more productive. Without specific goals to focus on, your team will lack direction, which can lead to a lot of wasted time.

  • They provide a sense of clarity. Annual goals will let your staff know what matters most for the upcoming year. It could be that everyone needs to increase their output or implement a crucial change to keep the business afloat. Strong annual goals will convey your most pressing initiatives to your team regardless of what you need to get done.

  • They lead to better decision-making. It’s hard to make the best decisions for your company if you don’t have a clear direction for the upcoming year. Well-thought-out goals will set boundaries for your time, focus, and energy — granting you more time to spend pondering your business decisions.

  • They provide accountability. Goals also serve as the benchmark by which you judge employee performance (and your own). Annual goals for work clearly convey your expectations for the coming year, which helps you hold your staff accountable for their performance. If you aren’t upfront with your expectations, your team won’t have a direction for improvement.

  • They improve employee engagement. Annual goals can motivate and inspire your employees to put in more hard work than they would otherwise. Goal-setting can also encourage you to pursue a new job or further your education. Either way, setting goals is a great way to cultivate motivation.

These are all valid reasons why you should incorporate annual goals for work at your organization if you haven’t already.

Setting annual goals for your staff

annual-goal-setting-450x350px-1One of the biggest challenges of being a manager is developing the right goals for each member of your team.

After all, there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to annual employee goals, as they should be based on past performance reviews. Each employee will be at a different stage in their personal and career development, and the goals you set for them should reflect that.

You also need to set realistic goals if you want to find success, as setting the bar too high via excessive workloads is a recipe for burnout. As such, you need to consider your employee’s work-life balance when coming up with their goals.

Here are some practical tips for setting annual employee goals that they won’t abandon in three months.

Use SMART goals

One of the most reliable ways to develop effective goals is to follow the S.M.A.R.T. acronym method, which stands for:

  • Specific. For an annual goal to work for an employee (or yourself), it needs to be as specific as possible. When developing employee goals, consider their past performance, professional skills, and strengths.

  • Measurable. If you can’t measure your progress toward a goal, how will you know when you have achieved it? Every goal you set needs to be measurable in some way, such as counting the number of Excel spreadsheets an employee completes per day.

  • Achievable. The last thing you want to be when setting goals is unrealistic. You need to consider what’s feasible for your employees to achieve to avoid overworking them, which won’t lead to an increase in productivity (quite the opposite).

  • Relevant. You shouldn’t randomly set goals for your employees. Instead, consider what type of goal would be most relevant to their development and to your organization. For instance, if an employee shows a lot of promise with a new software program, setting a goal related to it will benefit them (learning a new tool) and you (increased output).

  • Time-bound. Last but not least, the clock should always be ticking on your goals, especially annual/quarterly ones. Also, you should be completely transparent about the goal’s time frame with your employees. That way, they’ll know how much time they have left to achieve the goal. To help them out, you can set a series of smaller milestones along the way.

Putting the S.M.A.R.T. method into practice will help you develop the perfect goals for your staff, so don’t be shy about adopting it.

Using OKR (Objectives and Key Results)

Google and other major companies use OKR as a framework for their goal-setting. It stands for objectives and key results and is a highly effective model.

Here’s a breakdown of the core elements of OKR:

  • Objectives. These are the ultimate goals you need to complete, or in this case, annual goals.

  • Key results. Much like the measurable part of the S.M.A.R.T. acronym, key results measure employee progress toward the objective.

  • Initiatives. These are the tasks that lead to key results when completed.

To visualize OKR, it’s common to use project management software such as Asana or Trello. These will allow you to break up projects into smaller tasks that you can measure all in one spot.

Merging employee and company goals

If you want your team to stick to the goals you set for them, take an interest in their personal goals — and see how they intersect with your organizational goals. Try to find ways you can use an employee’s interest, skill, or talent to fill a gap in your team.

Not only will this benefit the organization, but your employees will appreciate that you’ve taken an interest in their unique skills, which builds loyalty. They’re also more likely to stick with these goals since they align with their personal development. In other words, merging employee and company goals is a perfect example of a win-win.

As an example, say one of your team members has taken an interest in developing their public speaking skills. They have aspirations of being a keynote speaker, and they bring it up at work every chance they can.

That’s when you get the bright idea to use them as your company spokesperson in a series of YouTube videos your content team wants to release, a spot that you’ve been having a hard time trying to fill.

You then set an annual goal for them to complete 6 videos in the next 12 months, allowing them to work on their skills while you knock out important marketing content.

How do you uncover your employee’s personal goals?

There are a few ways to do so, including holding a team meeting where you encourage staff to brainstorm which of their skills and interests might fit in at work. You can also meet with each team member individually to discuss their goals if you have the time.

Lastly, you should openly encourage your team to be open about their personal goals, interests, and areas of competency.

Rethink and rename goal-setting

The name goal-setting has garnered a bit of a negative stigma over the years, primarily due to the vast number of people that don’t achieve their goals.

At most companies, there’s no better way to ensure a unanimous groan from staff than saying, “It’s time to set our annual goals for the year.” All this negativity gets in the way of what goal-setting is all about, which is motivating employees to continue to grow personally and professionally.

Instead, many view annual goals for work as a way for their employers to judge and control them. That’s why some companies began to rethink the concept, such as Grant Thornton.

Starting in 2020, they abandoned the term ‘goal-setting’ and replaced it with ‘expectation setting’ as a way to focus more on the conversation and less on the process.

Instead of setting goals, managers sit down with staff to discuss what’s expected of them by the company based on their job role, level, and experience. They also discuss what the team expects, but more importantly, what the employee expects of themselves.

As such, the goal becomes the employee’s expectation, which is a more empowering way to set goals. Since it’s their decision, they’re more likely to pursue the goal seriously.

Setting annual goals at work for yourself

Now that you know some ways to set annual goals for your team, it’s time to learn how to further your professional development.

After all, it’s important not to neglect your goal-setting because you have to set staff goals. If you want to continue to reach new heights and further your career, you need to know how to set and achieve annual goals.

The good news?

Both the S.M.A.R.T and OKR methods work for setting personal goals as well.mTo get your creative juices flowing, here are some common examples of annual goals.

Improve your time management

Successfully managing your time is essential for leading a happy, productive life. Time management is an area of improvement for many employees, with 46% reporting they don’t feel as if they have things under control at work for at least two days of the week.

To put this goal into practice, take a look at how productive you were in the previous year. Do you notice any areas for improvement? Can you find ways to free up a few hours to focus on more work?

Once you’ve identified the issue, it’s time to set the goal in stone. You’ll also need to come up with ways to hold yourself accountable, such as checking your productivity week by week.

Outdo last year’s performance

How many sales did you land last year? After taking a moment to celebrate, set your annual goal for even more this year.

Outdoing last year’s performance is a great way to remain motivated and stay competitive with yourself. Think of it like a video game, and you’re trying to top your old high score.

Also, don’t just try to outdo your strongest areas. If your presentation skills could use some work, for example, set a goal to improve them by the end of the year.

Grow your professional network

An extremely popular yet seldom followed-up goal is to expand your current network. Social media sites like LinkedIn make this possible and very easy. Yet, most people procrastinate with this goal, as it’s an easy one to lose track of as the year goes on.

To stay motivated, set initiatives and key results for growing your network. For instance, set an initiative to reach out to 5 professionals on LinkedIn a week. For key results, aiming for a response from at least 2 requests a week is reasonable.

Follow this method, and before you know it, you’ll have significantly expanded your professional network, which can lead to new career opportunities.

Final thoughts: Annual goals for work

Setting annual goals at work doesn’t have to be painful or fruitless. You can set realistic yet ambitious goals for yourself and your employees with the right approach and attitude. While not everyone follows through with their goals, the ones that do are 10 times more successful, which is a crucial statistic to remember to motivate you.

Everyone, including your organization, will benefit from staying on track with your annual goals.

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