The entire point of performance management is to help grow your team members. To build a successful team that can help your organization thrive. Performance reviews are critical tools that enable you to achieve that, but you must be able to set goals for performance improvement.

Performance Management and Goal Setting: A How-To Guide

Of course, setting goals can be challenging. They need to be relevant to the situation, the employee, and the business. They need to be meaningful, as well. Thankfully, there are ways you can ensure that the goals you set do measure up and deliver the means to improve performance.


The SMART goal-setting method has been around for a very long time, but it is more relevant today than ever before. This is particularly true given the shift away from annual performance reviews and toward more informal, more frequent check-ins and reviews. The acronym breaks down as follows:

  • S – Specific – Be as specific as possible. Don’t say, “Improve your attendance.” Say, “We need to see you taking fewer personal days”. Better yet, ask, “What can we do to help support your situation?”.
  • M – Measurable – What good is it to set a goal if you cannot measure progress towards it? Set measurable goals and ensure that both you and the employee understand how progress will be measured. For instance, “What do you need from the company to deliver 25% more of X?”.
  • A – Achievable – The goals must be achievable. They cannot be unrealistic, outside the employee’s capabilities, or beyond their reach. This applies to each goal, but also the scope of all goals assigned during the review. Too many goals can be as unachievable as a goal that’s outside an employee’s abilities. The beauty of frequent check-ins is that you can set goals incrementally, accomplishing a few and then moving on to others.
  • R – Realistic – Does the employee realistically have the resources necessary to accomplish the goal? If not, what can the company do? What can you do as the leader to support the employee’s success and make those goals more realistic?
  • T – Time-Bound – Specify when the goal needs to be reached. Again, more frequently check-ins allow you to set smaller goals with shorter timeframes that allow you to build them into larger, overarching strategies. For example, ask, “What would you need to reach this goal by the next check-in date?”.


When setting goals during an employee review, you must ensure they are relevant. This seems like a simple thing, but it’s deceptively complex. For instance, consider the following:

  • To the Organization – Is the goal relevant to the organization? How? In what way does achieving the goal help the organization reach a specific target? How visible is this, or how clearly have you communicated this to the employee or team member?
  • To the Employee – How relevant is the goal to the employee? Why does it matter to them? In what way does it affect them? How is it related to their role in the organization? Again, how clearly is this relevance communicated to the employee?


It is the organization’s responsibility to ensure that employees and team members have the resources necessary to achieve the goals set for them. What methods of support have you provided here? How will the employee achieve the goals you’re setting? Have you asked them what they will need in the form of training, education, productivity tools, software, or other supports to achieve the goals you’re setting?

Providing support achieves several things. First, and most obviously, it gives the employee the means to reach the goal set during the review. However, it goes deeper than this. By providing vital resources, help, and support, you also show the employee that they are valued. You show them that the organization is committed to helping them perform their job. You also help them develop both professionally and personally. In this sort of environment, employees can thrive.

Involve Your Employees

Too often, employee reviews are one-sided affairs. The manager speaks and the employee listens. Thankfully, things are changing. As more and more employers realize that the annual employee review should be dead and buried, they are coming to the conclusion that check-ins and more frequent, less formal reviews are the best way to help ensure organizational success as well as employee growth.

To that end, make sure that you’re involving your employees in the goal-setting process. This requires more than just making sure that they understand the goals you set for them. They should be part of the goal-setting process itself, from start to finish. If you’re struggling to gain employee buy-in, this can help a great deal.

By involving your employees, you inspire their commitment while simultaneously fostering a sense of ownership over the goals. They helped to set them, so they’re personally involved and have a greater stake in achieving them. It’s not some arbitrary, meaningless goal that has no impact on them.

Be Dynamic

Goals cannot be static. They cannot become set in stone. They should be dynamic. Make sure that you are able to adapt goals in real-time. The check-in and frequent review model ensures that you’re able to adapt on the fly and change pace to suit the speed of modern business. Revisit goals that are no longer realistic or relevant. Update targets when their base assumptions change. By doing so, you create a performance management system that actually motivates performance.

In Conclusion

Goal-setting is one of the most challenging parts of performance management. However, it doesn’t have to be an insurmountable challenge. Use the tips above to set SMART goals that offer relevance to the organization and the employee, that ensure you are providing support at all times, and that are dynamic and can be altered in real-time. With the right approach, you can create a performance management system that supports success for the employee and the business without any tradeoffs.