^^live footage of me in every organization, friendship and relationship. 

I’ve covered the biggest mistake when it comes to goals and impacts of setting goals poorly. 

HR has a somewhat interesting role to play when it comes to goals. 

Our responsibilities can be anything from:

  • Determining the goal philosophy 
  • Setting the goal strategy 
  • Communicating goals 
  • Supporting effective goal writing 
  • Owning the system and process for goal updates
  • Reinforcing realistic goal setting 
  • Determining the relationship between goals <> performance 
  • Supporting headcount needs to achieve goals. 

As always, the cup runneth over

Let me help you tackle that first part: determining your goal philosophy. 

Here are 3 methods to set goals and what you need to know to do it well. 

#1: S.M.A.R.T Goals 

The S.M.A.R.T. goal method is one of the most recognized frameworks. 

It stands for:

  • Specific 
  • Measurable 
  • Achievable 
  • Relevant 
  • Time bound 

Let’s dig into each aspect.

Specific: answers the question of who, what, when, where and why 

  • Bad: Increase sales
  • Better: Increase sales by XX% in a specific product or area.

Measurable: what are the quantifiable metrics? The goal should have some indication of progress or a measure of success. 

  • Bad: increase sales 
  • Better: Increase sales by XX% by doing XYZ (outreach, setting customer meetings, improving reporting) 

Achievable: is this goal realistic and attainable? Goals need to be feasible!

  • Bad: increase sales by 100% this quarter
  • Better: Increase sales by 10% this quarter 
  • A note on being realistic: everyone wants to shoot for the moon but setting unrealistic goals is troubling for your organization and employee morale. 

Relevant: Aligning the goal with the broader organization strategy. 

  • Bad: setting a goal that has nothing to do with the company’s broader goals 
  • Better: anything aligned with the company’s strategy 
  • A note: your organization needs to have goals for teams and employees to be able to set their goals well. 

Time bound: does this goal have a deadline? Having a deadline gives the goal a sense of urgency and helps with planning and prioritizing. 

  • Bad:  Achieve a 10% increase in sales
  • Better: Achieve a 10% increase in sales in the next quarter 

3 steps to implementing SMART goals at your organization: 


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1. Set company goals and communicate them broadly. If I’ve already lost you because you know that isn’t possible at your organization, don’t despair! 

Pro-tip: Start with getting your executive team comfortable with goal setting. Share the impact on performance and productivity clear goals can have and share this easy to use framework. 

2. Train your managers on this framework. Their buy-in is crucial as they will be working with their individual teammates to set goals. This framework is super easy to use. 

Watch out: If your managers don’t know OR don’t understand the company’s objectives they won’t be able to effectively set goals with their team. 

3. Roll out goal setting to employees.  Okay you got leaders and managers aligned and trained now it’s time to roll out to employees! The key here is to have a deadline by which goals are due. 

Pro-tip: have a system where everyone can input and share their goals! Many performance management softwares do this. If you don’t have budget a Notion page or Google Doc can go a LONG WAY. The goal here is TRANSPARENCY and ALIGNMENT. 

Cons: One of the cons with S.M.A.R.T goals is sometimes they can lack flexibility. Meaning if things change suddenly in the middle of the quarter you might have to scrap the whole goal and write something new. Having guidelines for how to handle this type of situation will be impactful for your leaders and employees! 

Now, onto another way to set goals… OKRs. 

#2: OKRs

OKRs stand for: Objective and Key Results. 

OKRs have gained popularity in the last few years with some major companies like Google, Amazon, Airbnb and Intel. 

Andy Grove is considered the father of OKRs. When he was the CEO of Intel he adopted the idea of MBO from Peter Drucker (the godfather of modern management) but added key results. Thus OKRs became a reality!

in 1999 John Doerr brought the OKRs framework to Google and the rest is history. OKRs are credited for contributing to Google’s massive growth. 

Okay, WTF are OKRs? Can they solve all your goal problems??? 

O is for Objective. This is a qualitative, overarching goal your organization wants to achieve. 

Objectives are meant to be: 

✨ Inspirational 

✨ Aspirational 

✨ Answer the question: where do I want to go?  

The objective you set should motivate and engage the team!

Example objective: Improve employee satisfaction. 

Doesn’t that objective inspire you???

KR is for Key Results. Your KRs are the metrics you are going to use to measure progress. It’s recommended to have 2 – 5 key results for each objective. 

Key Results must be:

✅ Quantitative 

✅ Measurable 

Example key results: for the objective to improve employee satisfaction. 

KR1: Achieve an average of a XX% increase in the upcoming employee engagement survey scores compared to the previous year. 

KR2: Reduce turnover rate from XX% to XX%. 

KR3: Leverage bi-weekly pulse surveys to track employee satisfaction aiming for a consistent positive trend in responses throughout the quarter. 

KR4: Increase eNPS from XX to XX. 

The key here: your key results should speak directly to how you can measure something. What does “employee satisfaction” really mean?? In the example above the key results measure it through a combination of overall engagement scores, turnover, quarterly sentiments, eNPS. 

The pros of using OKRs:

  • Agility. Since OKRs are usually set quarterly there is more room for flexibility and change. 
  • Simplicity. OKRs are easy to understand and straightforward. Fun fact: at Intel they set OKRs monthly at first! It’s so lightweight that companies can reduce goal setting from taking months to taking days… JUST SAYIN’! 
  • Transparency: usually most companies that set OKRs share them for everyone’s visibility. 

The best part of OKRs? They acknowledge that strategy and tactical work have different rhythms! OKRs can be nested in the following way: 

  • Annual strategic company level OKRs
  • Quarterly tactical OKRs 
  • Operational cadence for weekly initiative tracking 

There’s so much more out there on ORKs! If you are really interested in this way of setting goals, here are some additional resources:

#3: Locke & Latham’s 5 Principles of Goal Setting

Here’s the 411:

  • Edwin Locke & Gary P. Latham are considered the fathers of goal-setting theory. (and i’m the queen of HR memes, same same but different) 
  • Locke’s research started in the 60’s and in 1968 and he published “Toward a Theory of task motivation and incentives” exploring goals and intentions
  • Latham studied goal setting in workplaces (THRILLING STUFF!!!) 
  • In the 90s they co-wrote a “A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance” outlining 5 characteristics for successful goal setting 

The 5 characteristics:

  • Clarity 
  • Challenge 
  • Commitment 
  • Feedback 
  • Task Complexity 

If a goal has these 5 characteristics, the more likely you are to be successful at achieving the goal! Here’s what each means: 

✅ Clarity: an understanding of EXACTLY what is expected. 

✅ Challenge: a goal that isn’t too easy yet still realistic. 

✅ Commitment: ownership in achieving the goal. When employees are involved in the goal setting process they feel ownership and therefore accountability in achieving the goal! 

✅ Feedback: Regular feedback and checking in on the goals. It’s crucial to highlight what’s going well and where someone may need to pivot. 

✅ Task Complexity: some goals are complex and need to be broken down (cough key results cough) 

I included this as 1 of the 3 ways you can set goals because it feels like the most holistic approach

To leverage this framework you can create a very collaborative and iterative goal-setting process. 

Here’s what that could look like:

Step 1: Start with writing specific and challenging goals. This can be at the company and/or team level. 

Step 2: Involve individuals. Encourage employees to write their own specific and challenging goals that can help contribute to achieving team and/or company goals. 

Step 3: Establish a system for regular feedback. What cadence is your organization checking in on the progress of goals? My suggestion is company-wide: at least once a month, team/individual goals: at least once a week. 

Frankly, I love this method because its quite lightweight and it includes feedback as something crucial to achieving goals – BECAUSE IT IS!!!

You do you!!

Okay, wow what a journey of goal setting we just went on!! 

If you’re wondering which goal setting style I recommend, I have 3 words for you: 


Meaning what each organization needs is unique to that environment! But I leave you with some things to consider.. 

  • What challenges your organization is facing?
  • What level of intensity can the organization handle?
  • How much convincing are your leaders going to need?
  • How much training and support do your managers need?
  • What are the limitations to your team in terms of systems? 

After thinking through those questions you might be in a better position to assess what goal setting process will work best for your organization. 

Next week I’m diving into how to actually track goals effectively. 

Because goals need to be set AND not forgotten.

Hebba Youssef
Hebba Youssef

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