People perform better when they feel a sense of control over their surroundings. That also ties into what I mean when I bring up the topic of a person’s locus of control. When people feel empowered, in charge, and in control, they typically do better than when they feel the opposite (powerless, uncontrolled, chaotic, etc.). Here’s the backup:

Research by BI WORLDWIDE  found that those who set their own goals perform 37% better than those who are assigned goals.

“Allowing your employees to select their own goal doesn’t mean that they select it from an entire universe of options,” said Tim Houlihan, vice president, Rewards System Group at BI WORLDWIDE.

In this study, participants were shown three levels of performance – all above their current run rate and were allowed to select which goal they were shooting for from among those three options.

We’re getting to our annual goal setting and performance review process in the next month or so, and I’m going to use this to help managers develop employee goals. We already let employees set their basic foundational goals based on career development choices, personal/professional interests, etc. Then the manager has the option to tweak or add additional content to ensure the employee is meeting the overarching business goals as well.

Using the ideas above, managers can create 2-3 “goal paths” for employees to choose from. At the end of the review period, instead of wondering how things went, the employee will have a great idea already of how well they are doing based on which set of goals they chose.

Another idea that goes hand in hand with this is setting goals almost to the level of a behaviorally anchored rating scale (BARS). Yeah, that term takes you back if you haven’t read a textbook in a while! Basically a BARS allows each job to have its own specific goals, targets, measurements, etc. It’s definitely more labor intensive, but it also spells out very clearly what expectations are for employees, what levels of performance are acceptable/unacceptable, and how the ratings will be given. Much less subjective than traditional appraisal methods, but again, it also consumes more time.

Maybe it’s a pie in the sky silly idea, or maybe (more likely) it’s used specifically for high performers to challenge them and allow them to really push the envelope with their performance. It’s hard to know at this point, but it’s certainly something worth considering.

Do you allow employees to select some or all of their own performance goals? Why or why not?

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  • 4 thoughts on “Setting Employee Goals

    1. […] 'People perform better when they feel a sense of control over their surroundings. That also ties into what I mean when I bring up the topic of a person’s locus of control. When people feel empowered, in charge, and in control, they typically do better than when they feel the opposite (powerless, uncontrolled, chaotic, etc.). Here’s the backup:…'  […]

    2. I worked for a company where we were told we could set our own goals, but then they went through a “review” by our managers and came out unrecognizable. It felt worse than if I’d just been assigned a goal (which is, in the end, what really happened). So if you’re going to let employees set goals, make sure you actually give them some decision-making power!

    3. One of the owners of the company where I work, Megagate Broadband, said the following a long time ago:

      “It is all management.”

      If someone isn’t trained…it is all management.
      If the product wasn’t properly executed…it is all management.
      If the perfect employee leaves because of issues…it is all management.

      Same with goals….people like to have an idea of what is coming. They want to know where the company is going. If they don’t…guess what…it is all management.

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