Manager/Supervisor Tips: Setting Job-Specific Goals and Expectations

While the world has changed a lot since the 2016 Gallup study that suggested only 33% of employees were engaged at work, we feel, as we begin the new EPA online process, it is still worth looking at the report from the Gallup study again. 

In this report, the authors (Rigioni and Nelson, 2016) suggest that setting clear goals and expectations may be the most fundamental element to employee engagement: 

Only about half of all workers strongly indicate that they know what is expected of them at work.  Expectations--or the lack thereof--have the power to make or break worker engagement.  Even if employees feel energized and motivated, those who lack clear expectations and spend too much time working on the wrong things can’t advance key initiatives to create value for an organization. (para 7)

But what are goals and expectations? How do you write them? In essence, a goal is something that you want and that you are willing to stick with until it is accomplished. When applying it to work, this still applies.  It is something you want the employee to stick with and accomplish to help push forward the mission of the team and agency.  Here are a few ideas on writing goals and expectations:

  1. 1.​​ Word them positively: For example, instead of saying that you want the employee to be less distracted at work, say work with managers to develop and apply strategies to increase time on task.  As you work with the employee those goals can get more specific, such as using a timer to allow for a set amount of time to work without distractions. Take a break after the allotted time has expired. 

  1. 2. Make them clearly defined: For example, let’s say your agency wants to improve in the area of customer service. How will you know that by the end of the performance year, you have achieved this goal? To better define it, you may state that positive customer service surveys need to increase by 30%. While not every goal is quantifiable, many are and can give a concrete measure of success to evaluate on.

  1. 3. Make it actionable: Explain how you or your employee(s) will reach the goal. For example, your goal is to publish 12 newsletters during the year. One of the action steps could be to publish one newsletter per month. You can then break it down further to describe what needs to be done so that each newsletter can be released and at what level of quality, etc.. 

  1. 4. If possible, connect it to the employees' interests and motivation: We all know that there will be goals and expectations that we cannot get excited about. Because of this, it might be even more important to include a few goals that your employee(s) look forward to accomplishing. Ask them before you formalize goals and expectations for the year what they really enjoy about their job?  Are there ways they can add value to the unit in new ways while also developing professionally.  Ask what they’d like to accomplish next year with the understanding that they have to complete all the regular duties as well.

  1. 5. Realistically consider the obstacles: When you talk about goals and expectations, they have to reflect reality, and the employee should have an opportunity to discuss with you  anything that might stand in their way.   Ask your employee(s) what they might need from you. Depending on the goal/expectation, you may even want to go through different scenarios of “What-If” and plan for those situations. If it is a bigger project you are considering, you may want to begin with the deep dive until it is close to the project start. 

For more ideas and information on writing goals and expectations, check out these articles:

Do employees really know what’s expected of them?

Why using SMART goals are outdated and what you should use instead

How to set goals

20 tips on how to set goals at work

Setting clear expectations for employees