One of the easiest ways to ensure high levels of employee engagement is to provide employees with a purpose, and the best way to do this is through effective goal setting. However, due to most employers only seeing goal setting as a yearly administrative exercise, as opposed to the key building block to high performance and engagement that it is, most new hires rarely have proper goals until the new year arrives. This means that employees can feel directionless when joining a new company and then get a big shock when they get given a load of annual goals several months in to their new role and told they haven’t hit the goals expected of them so far, as they were never told what they were! So how should you set goals for new employees?

Set the goals before you start hiring

The truth is most businesses have a headcount and not a deliverables focused mentality. Someone in the team quits, and so the instinct is that as someone has quit, they need to be replaced. Very rarely does someone take a step back for a moment and think “well what was that person doing, what did it deliver and what do we need to deliver moving forward?” A business should first identify what needs to be achieved and then hire on that basis. Note, this is related to specific outcomes, not the performance of specific tasks. This is an important nuance that most miss. For example, if hiring a salesperson, there is a big difference between needing someone to make sales calls, and someone to increase revenue, one does not naturally lead to the other. If you have clear goals that need to be achieved, it also makes the hiring process easier as you have key criteria to assess potential hires against, as opposed to asking generic interview questions and hiring someone who seems to have performed similar activities before.

Get input from the new hire

Due to the ever increasing impatience of businesses to train employees and instead require folks who can “hit the ground running” its highly likely that the person the business have hired has demonstrated that they have delivered the required results before. Do you know what a good idea could be? How about sitting down with the new hire once they have accepted the offer and collaborating on the goals that have been set? I have worked for businesses who have had the right goal but the wrong method in place before, its incredibly frustrating. What sets apart the good businesses from the bad ones is the willingness to listen. Having a business that has never achieved the objective before, telling an employee the method a goal must be achieved, when the employee has achieved it before and knows that method will fail is one of the quickest ways to make the new hire regret having joined the company. Make use of their experience and empower them to actively contribute to the work being done, not just performing the tasks they are told to do.

Create an ongoing dialogue

Finally, as with performance management and assessment of any employee, it is important to have ongoing dialogue around performance pertaining to their goals. One of the leading frustrations of all employees when it comes to the annual performance review is that most consider it unfair. If an employee has been working for several month and no one has told them there are issues around performance, their assumption is that their performance is fine. However, they then get told at year end that there are several gaps in performance, and they are not going to get a good pay rise / bonus / promotion. Employees are not frustrated that their performance can be improved but frustrated that they have not been told about it until the end of the year. So by ensuring an ongoing dialogue, employees are very clear on what is and is not working and how their performance is perceived.