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Goal-Setting Collaboration: A How To Guide for Managers and Employees

Harry Lees
June 15, 2021

Goal-Setting Collaboration: A How To Guide for Managers and Employees

How many of your employees and managers know the direction the company wants to go? How well do they understand the company’s short term and long terms goals?

David Witt, of Blanchard LeaderChat reported that only 14% of employees have a good understanding of their company’s strategy and direction. If only 14% of employees understand the strategy and direction, the majority of employees are spending time and effort without knowing how their actions contribute to the future of the company.

As a leader looking around your organization, can you confidently say your teams know what you want to do next? If not, a formalized goal and objective setting process can help.

A “formal process” doesn’t have to be daunting or elaborate. All you need is a structured way to communicate goals, organize priorities, and document a plan. Check out this free template for goal setting and development planning. Along with the tips in this article, it will help you drive collaboration between management and individual contributors.

The best way to improve is to start small. It doesn’t need to be adopted by the whole organization to make a difference. You can use the template to have a conversation with your manager or your team about goals and objectives.

Dan Feliciano of Fast Company defined the difference between goals and objectives: “A goal is where you want to be, and objectives are the steps taken to reach the goal.” He expands on his definition of the two, stating that goals are a broad, general, tangible, and descriptive statement, while objectives are the actions that must be taken within a year to reach the strategic goals. In essence, both are needed to fulfill a vision.

In the rest of this article, the term “Goal-setting” will be used to describe the process of forming goals and objectives. Goal-setting at all levels of the company can clarify business priorities, move the team forward in the direction you envision, increase results and increase employee satisfaction–if implemented correctly.  

But as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry famously wrote, “A goal without a plan is a wish.” We say a goal-setting process without a plan or procedures is a futile exercise. There are many different steps that a manager can take to ensure that their employees not only understand company goals but also understand how their own individual goals fit into the larger picture. We’ve laid out a few steps and tips to ensure that you set yourself, your employees, and your company up for success.

It starts at the top

A goal-setting process starts at the top. While most agree that setting goals at the executive level, then setting goals at the next level of management, and so on until you reach employees (called cascading goals) does not work, goal-setting still begins with a clear overall vision for the company objectives. Each group can then ask:

  • How do our roles fit into this vision?
  • What are we going to do to help move the needle towards achieving this vision?
  • What skills do I need in my position, now and in the future?

Individual buy-in

The goal-setting process, while it starts at the top, should be collaborative. Employees and managers are going to need to provide input. They know their role and group the best. In short, they are the ones that can translate the company vision into their day-to-day work.

For individual and team goals and objectives to work, the plan has to be meaningful to each person on the team. An employee needs to buy into the goal and see the “why” of the goal to put in the time and effort required to meet the objectives and achieve the goal.

Collaboration between manager and employee in the goal-setting process is key. The manager helps the employee see the vision and guides the goals to fit the business priorities. The manager should also know what the employee’s own objectives are so that the manager can provide timely feedback to the employee on performance while identifying growth opportunities employees need to build their knowledge, skills, and abilities.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals & Objectives

When it comes to forming objectives, one of the most popular methods is the S.M.A.R.T. method. S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timebound. These are the guidelines for what a productive objective should include.

Certain parts of the S.M.A.R.T. model are used to form goals, too, though goals will always be more broad in nature than objectives. For example, an employee could provide a goal like “Increase event registration.” However, more information is needed to make the goal less vague and leave less room for interpretation, so that the goal is more achievable. 

IBy using the S.M.A.R.T. guidelines, this goal could be: “Enhance brand awareness by publicizing upcoming events on additional social media outlets, resulting in 20% more registrations on our website.” 

An example of a S.M.A.R.T. objective to meet this goal could be: “To enhance brand awareness I will add a Facebook event page and add the event to our LinkedIn page to increase registrations by February 28. Space will be added on the registration form to see if the additional social media advertisements contributed to increased registration.”

Business leaders and managers should be prepared to teach employees how to form S.M.A.R.T. goals and objectives. Keep in mind that S.M.A.R.T. is just a guideline; the focus should not be on checking all the boxes of S.M.A.R.T. Instead the focus should be on fleshing out objectives and goals to make them more meaningful and results-oriented.

Business and Professional Development Goals

Organizations can approach the types of goals formed in many different ways. There are many different types of goals, including:

  • Project-specific goals
  • Job description goals (goals directly related to the role)
  • Behavioral goals
  • Stretch goals
  • Short-term and long-term goals
  • Goals aligned with the business
  • Professional development goals 

Individual goals that are aligned with the business goals and professional development goals are the most common types of long-term goals that will directly shape the vision of the company. The business goals are those that are tied directly to the organization’s objectives. As such, these goals define what department/team/role goals or deliverables will contribute to the strategy and direction of the company.  

Professional development goals are tied to the individual’s goals to improve or increase their knowledge, skills, and abilities. While these goals are related to an individual, do not make the mistake of thinking they are not tied to the business. 

Professional development goals pose an important question leaders should be asking themselves: What skills, knowledge, and abilities do my staff need now and in the future to achieve our organizational goals?

Time, money and effort are invested in any goal, and the results should enhance the individual as well as the team.

Professional development goals are often things like “attend a conference,” “speak in front of a professional group,” or “take a course.” Challenge employees to expand on the PD goal and define how achieving this goal will build KSAs, as well as how reaching the goal will benefit the company. Forming business-aligned goals and professional development goals is useful because it helps employees pinpoint what they need to achieve and what skills they need to continue to deliver.

Goal Resistance

There are several reasons employees and managers may resist formal goal-setting processes. Lack of experience is a common reason for goal resistance. They may never have been asked to set goals in their previous roles. It might be a smart idea to take the time to teach these individuals about the S.M.A.R.T. method, providing a solid foundation to move forward with more goal-setting processes.  

Another reason could be past experiences with annualized “form over substance” goal-setting processes. A process where goal-setting is something to get done, a box that needs to be checked, with nothing meaningful ever coming out of the process. A lack-luster goal setting process can produce an attitude that taking the time to set goals takes away time from doing more “important” things.

It is imperative to define the other “why” during the goal-setting process. Not just “why” this particular goal, but why are we expected to make goals? What will the company do with the goal setting process? 

Communicate and reinforce the idea that having a plan will help the company and individual achieve more. By challenging managers and employees to make S.M.A.R.T. goals and define what the individual and company will get out of achieving the goals, you can reduce resistance and reinforce the importance of goal setting.

Spirit of The Goal Vs. Quantitative Achievement

This is a section that goes outside of the standard model, but one that is important to address and comes from professional experience

Another area of goal resistance can come from nervousness around setting targets around projects with evolving details. This is particularly common in fast moving organizations. In these environments, with changing criteria, deadlines, it can be stressful to set a goal, for fear of missing it.

A way around this is to have a two-pronged approach. On one hand, set a numerical target. This could be something like a sales number objective. This should line up with company initiatives and manager’s goals for larger teams. This is a clear target that gives you something to reach for. These milestones give a sense of purpose and align with more trackable performance goals. 

On the other hand, knowing the “spirit of the goal” is important. Here at TrustRadius, we try to publish content regularly. We have a certain number of posts and pages we strive to hit. This is the numerical criteria. We also understand that life happens. People get sick, projects take longer, or the context surrounding what we are doing changes. As a result, the spirit of the goal, maintaining a regular posting schedule, is considered.

For example, say you are working on a project after setting quarterly goals. It was not going to be a long one, but new information suggests this is an opportunity to drive sales for your organization. 

Your numerical goal may suggest you move on to the next one to hit the quantity goal. Understanding the “spirit” of the goal allows you to see that objectives are working towards an end. Qualitative goals are a means to an end. Their purposes ishelping your organization grow. Keeping an eye on the bigger picture gives employees and managers important perspectives.

Beyond just being less stressful and allowing goal-setting to be more applicable, this is good for employee creativity. This lets them have action plans and the benefits of target-setting in a world that is messy and full of surprises.  

Documenting Goals

Part of creating accountability for these goals and promoting follow-through is to implement a process for employees and managers to document their goals. A written down goal is 42% more likely to be achieved. Recording the goals will allow the employee, the manager, and the leadership to review these goals on a regular basis. It will keep the objectives at the forefront of the employee’s mind.

Employees and managers can also document their progress and results, preferably in real time. Documentation of progress on goals, especially overall department or function goals, can then be shared between departments and with executives. Communicating the objectives for each team will align team efforts, ensuring everyone knows where everyone else is trying to go.  

Methods to document goals can include a simple worksheet that is completed, with a copy filed in the employee’s file. There are also many different software programs for objective and goal tracking. If you’re interested in reviewing options, TrustRadius has collected user reviews of many different systems for employee performance management and goal setting. Reading through these reviews will give you an idea of what each system offers. Which method of documentation works best will depend on your company size, culture, and depth of the performance management process.

Follow Up and Feedback

As part of the collaboration process, it is imperative for managers to check on progress early and often. Long gone are the days when an annual review is enough. Employees are now looking for timely feedback. It does not make sense to only review goals at the end of the year; at that point, it is too late to course correct, and environments are changing at a rapid pace.

Goals and objectives should be discussed in real time, keeping both the goals and the progress updates in the forefront of the employee’s and manager’s minds. Managers could consider implementing progress discussions within their daily or weekly check-ins.

Goals and objectives can also be discussed when an employee achieves their target. If the business environment alters or as company objectives change, it may require updates or modifications to the current goals and objectives. Even quarterly discussions would allow for individuals to adjust course as needed and refocus their efforts.

Follow-up and feedback are not just about checking in and recognizing progress; it also allows the manager to note any performance improvement required. Documentation of performance improvement is part of the follow-up. While an end of year review is still needed, regular feedback will increase commitment, accountability, and results. An employee should not be surprised by anything in his or her annual review. More timely feedback allows for a manager and an employee to communicate regularly about progress, achievements, and development areas.  


Recognition and rewards for achievements are also vital parts of the goal-setting process. Recognizing when individuals and teams meet their mark will reinforce what is most important to the company.  Highlighting the critical accomplishments across the organization and celebrating the achievements will boost morale and employees will see that individual action and results are rewarded.

There are many ways to reward and recognize achievements. It can be as simple as verbal recognition by a manager. Additionally, achievements can be singled out across the organization in an email or announcement at a meeting. Some organizations set up formal peer to peer recognition programs.  Many tie monetary rewards to goal performance with bonuses or annual salary increases.

You might want to use a mixture of formal and informal recognition. Use whichever recognition and rewards method works to increase individual motivation and fits best with the company culture. That will help cement the goal-setting process.

Do you want to increase the “14%” of employees who understand your company strategy and direction? Implement a goal-setting process. Start by communicating the company vision and overall objectives for the year to guide the goal setting organization-wide.

The goal-setting process needs individual buy-in– employees and managers need to feel connected to their goals. The process may require training for managers and employees on the S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting method. Review, follow-up, and feedback are needed at every level. Highlight critical accomplishments company-wide. You’ll be surprised what can be achieved when a goal is written down, and the goal-setting process is executed well.

About the Author

Harry Lees
I am a proud University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, with a Comprehensive Honors degree in Political Science and Journalism. Go Badgers! A dual-citizen with the U.S and U.K, in my free time I support Liverpool Football Club, obsessively follow politics and do extremely nerdy things with my friends.

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