Personal goal setting has never been higher with research suggesting that endless lockdowns and travel restrictions have created an unprecedented surge in people wanting to learn new skills. 

We may not be busy travelling, but our calendars are full learning the art of making bread, tackling home improvements and enrolling in online classes in everything from knitting to salsa dancing. It would seem that we just can’t get enough of personal goal setting. But how does this new found desire to improve ourselves translate to the workplace? 

While for some employers, setting performance goals has never felt more important – others are choosing to ‘not put more pressure’ on employees during uncertain times. In an attempt to help workers by removing performance goals, the effect is employees are left rudderless and unclear if they have been successful. When done well, goal setting at work can bring a strong sense of direction and accomplishment whilst encouraging everyone to push for greatness. 

The importance of goal setting in uncertain times  

Effective performance management systems utilise goal setting at employee, team and department levels. They create alignment between ‘how and what’ an individual needs to do to help the organisation achieve success. In its simplest form, goal setting creates clarity to employees about what is expected from them whilst improving motivation, engagement and productivity. 

Remote working, changing priorities, loss of customers and restrictions to trade all contribute to an organisation’s ability to reach goals. However, goal setting has also proven to be an effective tool in encouraging employees to overcome obstacles by using innovation, collaboration and right brain thinking.  

Competing priorities and the lack of ability to predict the future has been enough for some employers to forget the art of goal setting, however helping team members to see the vision of the business encourages them to see clarity through overwise murky waters. 

Some key reasons to set goals in uncertain times include: 

  • Goals create a focus on forward thinking and how day to day actions contribute to success; 
  • Innovation and creativity is embraced as employees seek new and interesting ways to achieve targets; 
  • Team collaboration is increased;  
  • A sense of direction and positivity is generated by a forward looking focus; 
  • The art of persistence and resilience are fine-tuned;  
  • Trust with leadership is built when employees feel that there is transparency of expectations; 
  • Team work is enhanced when there is a common sense of unity. Individual goals that feed into team goals generate comradery and focus; 
  • A focus on performance positively positions the business when the business climate settles; and 
  • Important decisions on remuneration, training and promotions continue. 

The role of goal adjustment 

Many businesses roll out similar goals each year, but irrespective of whether the business climate is uncertain, it is important to have an agile goal setting process. Even in stable times, it is a good idea to revisit goals to ensure that they are relevant, attainable and motivating. 

It is recommended that during uncertain times, employers ask themselves: 

  • What is happening in the market that would enhance or prevent these goals?; 
  • What is the most important goal right now? E.g. increase sales; 
  • What is considered to be the most critical business goal to achieve?; 
  • What goal could be dropped without significant impact?; 
  • How do the goals need to be adjusted?; 
  • How do they need to be stretched?; 
  • How do we motivate employees to overcome obstacles to achieve goal success?; and 
  • Are there any parts/locations of the business that need goal amendment due to those nuances? 

It is imperative that employers adopt transparency and increased communication in the goal setting process. Employee engagement and buy in is essential for leaders that want to trigger new behaviours and drive positive change. 

Organisational goals 

Goal planning starts with the business as this flows down to each team member. Where there is a significant change to the economic climate, there is a key need for the employer to reflect and adjust the overarching goals, mission and objectives. Perhaps the changed environment has even resulted in the business pivoting to survive. Considerations include: 

  • What goals need to change at the organisational level?; 
  • What has fundamentally changed in the business that will drive a different focus?; 
  • How will the employee group be engaged with and communicated to?; 
  • Is there something that is no longer possible to achieve?; and 
  • What should be added or deleted from organisational goals? 

Team goals  

Team goals fall out of the business goals, so when there is a change at organisation level, there is also a need to review team and individual goals. During uncertain times, senior leaders are busy putting out fires and trying to innovate new ways to survive. In these circumstances, it is important that leaders work with their teams to redefine what success looks like. It does not mean that there will necessarily be less goals, but they are most likely going to be different. Considerations include: 

  • How can the team define goals to feed into the broader business objectives?; 
  • What existing goals are no longer relevant?; 
  • What should be added or removed?; 
  • What are the likely hurdles to achieving the team goals?; 
  • What are the anticipated employee hurdles or resistance points?; and 
  • How will the team members be engaged with throughout the process? 

Individual team member goals  

Sometimes employers omit to include team members in the goal setting process, however this is not recommended. Employees want to be a part of setting their own goals and they are much more likely to take ownership and responsibility for success when they feel included in the process. 

Employee participation also generates mutual understanding and clarity around performance expectations with considerations such as:

  • How will each employee be engaged with to set and agree upon goals?; 
  • What part of the employee goal setting process needs to change?; 
  • How does the individual contribution vary given the new organisational goals?; 
  • How will the employee goal be aligned to the team and broader business goals?; 
  • How do the goals links to the performance management system?; 
  • What leverage has been included in the process to enable goal setting agility?; and 
  • Are the goals utilising the S.M.A.R.T principle? 

Goals create the roadmap 

Even the best employees can lose focus and drop the ball when times are tough. Employees do not set out to underperform, however when there is not a clear roadmap of where to go and how to get there – derailing is almost a certainty. Goals support employee wellbeing, provide a sense of purpose and ignite passion with new challenges. Most importantly, they validate the ‘why’ behind each task, generate accountability and enable a platform where success can be celebrated.  

Further information

For assistance with your workplace matters, Members of Ai Group can contact us or call our Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for further information.

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Georgina Pacor
Georgina is Senior Content Writer and HR Specialist – Publications at Ai Group. She is an accomplished Human Resource professional with over 20 years of generalist and leadership experience in a broad range of industries including financial services, tourism, travel, government and agriculture. She has successfully advised and partnered with senior leaders to implement people and performance initiatives that align to business strategy. Georgina is committed to utilising her experience to create resources that educate and engage and is passionate about supporting members to optimise an inclusive workforce culture that drives performance.