If you want to perform better – set some goals

03 May 19

“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve” Bill Gates


For all the debate about scrapping annual performance reviews (or not!), there has been remarkably little discussion about what research tells us can improve performance.  And if you look at the evidence you won’t find much to support the annual appraisal.


Setting goals, on the other hand, is closely linked to performance improvement.  But, there’s always a but, there are a few factors that can influence this link.


First is you need to write down the goal,  Second is progress against the goal should be monitored regularly.  Thirdly, accurate, timely and well-delivered feedback on progress is essential.  Finally, the more complex the goal the less the link to performance improvement.


Here’s some guidance from us on setting goals and giving feedback.


Goal Setting

Setting goals provides an incentive for every employee not only to develop themselves but to move towards a shared organisational vision. In order to feel engaged in this vision employees need to know their contribution is valued and if they are reaching their individual goals.


Every organisation wants performance reviews to be a positive experience, where employees feel empowered to learn and grow within their roles. But clear and challenging goal setting isn’t just about performance reviews, it can drive higher levels of performance and learning in any number of situations.


If you don’t set meaningful goals this can affect the way employees see you because they may question your approach to their development, whether you are able to make the right decisions or treat them fairly.


Performance and learning goals


Setting your employees specific and challenging goals can result in increased task complexity. If you don’t carefully manage the goals you are setting, they can cause the individual to lose motivation in attaining the objective. One method of managing these complex tasks is to create a plan and break the goal down into smaller sub-tasks to prevent the individual getting overwhelmed. The key to this is to define and consider the process as the measure of success.


Learning goals can also be used rather than performance goals when dealing with complex tasks. This is because complex tasks require an element of learning and ‘thinking outside the box’. If an individual does not have prior experience or training and there is pressure to perform they can become infective. As well as developing a plan you need to work with the employee to identify where knowledge and skills gaps exist and then set learning goals. This is a much longer-term process to achieve challenging goals, so you must provide reassurance and accurate, well delivered feedback.


There are a number of points to keep in mind when setting goals with members of your team:


  • Involve employees – from start to finish make sure you develop the goals together to promote buy in, inspire commitment and encourage ongoing development. Ensure you develop both short and longer term SMART goals that are clearly defined and easy to measure to increase the likelihood for success.
  • Link individual goals to business objectives– the process will be more effective if they see how their individual goals relate to the bigger picture. This encourages accountability and they can grasp the impact of their performance on the organisation.
  • Focus on a few big goals – 5/6 goals should the maximum, don’t include routine work unless it’s something big and always have a personal development goal.
  • Adapt goals in real time– don’t let their goals be stagnant but instead dynamic and evolving as the environment changes.
  • Make sure goals are attainable but challenging– don’t aim too low and miss opportunities but don’t aim too high so they are not attainable.
  • Monitor progress– review goals on a regular basis to see if the individual needs feedback or coaching.
  • Things don’t go to plan– build relationships so if something doesn’t go to plan they will feel comfortable coming to you. Coach them through by asking how they would solve it rather than telling them what to do.
  • Link to personal goals – learn about their interests and incorporate these into their professional goals.
  • Identify if the goal is complex and/or multi-factorial – if so consider chunking the goal into manageable steps or setting a learning goal.




Giving good feedback is an essential part of your role, not only to get the best out of your team, but also to motivate and develop them. From annual performance reviews and personal development plans to weekly one to one meetings, if employees don’t get any feedback they can feel ignored.


Use this checklist when planning an effective feedback meeting:


  • Check your motives– why are you doing it? Does a situation need to be improved, has something happened or do you need to talk about performance? In any situation have a positive approach, focus on the improvement needed and be fair and objective in your approach.
  • Be timely– if it relates to a specific event, don’t waste time, have the meeting sooner rather than later.
  • Prepare– think about what you’re going to say. An open question/coaching style can be appropriate in some circumstances but you may need to be direct in your approach. Listen, understand and act.
  • Be specific– focus on what needs to happen to ensure you are accurate. Use SMART objectives to motivate and achieve the desired change. Be specific to the behaviour you want to see.
  • Talk about negatives and positives– although positive feedback allows them to see what success looks like, it’s important to explain what steps are needed to improve even more in the future.
  • Make it frequent– feedback needs to be a constant process between you and the individual.
  • Acknowledge emotions – there can often be an emotional response to the giving and receiving of feedback, especially when the issues you are discussing are around conflict. For example, an individual’s performance or behaviour, team dynamics or personal issues. Think about how you are going to manage and deal with these problems if they arise during your meeting. This will also develop your emotional intelligence.
  • Allow them to feedback on you– feedback is a two-way street and a good manager will encourage employees to give them feedback, allowing them to develop as a leader too.
  • Document and plan– ensure you take note of actions and determine how you are going to support moving forward. Commit to continued learning and regular feedback.


Norman’s pragmatism and no-nonsense approach has kept the Charity going long enough to ensure the multi-million pound asset we have, can be used for the purposes it was designed for.

We went through some difficult times but with Norman’s insight and support we secured a merger and the future now looks much more positive.

Steven Clarke, Chair, Smile Support and Care