What Are Performance Goals?

Employment performance goals are exactly what they sound like. They specifically address different aspects of an employee's performance in the workplace while working towards ways to improve. It is difficult for employees to know if their performance measures up to the expectations of their employers. By the same token, employers may have difficulty accurately expressing or pointing them in the right direction. Setting employment performance goals is one way to take the mystery out of improving performance in the workplace.

A lot of employers use performance management systems to help keep track of what employees do in the workplace. This tracking supports employment decisions like pay raises, giving promotions, and transferring employees. Implementing employment goals sets out a path for each employee to follow as they work towards a new position, an increase in salary, or a transfer.

Performance goals give an incentive to employees to do their best work while pointing them in the direction that the employer wants them to be in. Writing a performance goal is difficult for some people. Since these goals are short, finding the right words is crucial.

Understanding what goes into employment performance goals helps determine what goals should be set and how they are written.


Everyone has different motivations. Before writing goals for an employee, consider what motivates them. In order to streamline performance monitoring and keep track of an employee's progress, some organizations use employment management systems. These systems typically contain:

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Professional goals

Identifying and tracking these aspects is important because it helps an employer determine whether an employee is ready for additional duties in their current job. Employers also use insights gained through the system to consider people for promotions. A management system is a valuable tool that shows, through data, which employees are ready to take on different roles.


Productivity is another important component of performance goal creation. In a management system, evaluations and appraisals are examined to determine productivity and look for ways that it can be improved. During the examination process, obstacles that keep the employee from achieving a higher level of productivity come to light. By finding out how productivity is interrupted, the employer uses the insights gained to assess the overall processes and procedures in the company that helps employees get their jobs done.

If productivity is lacking, certain policies and procedures may need revising. Appropriate training and development techniques can help to remove barriers to improved performance.


Accountability is essential when it comes to creating performance goals. Some employers and managers use performance evaluations as a method of determining whether an employee is actually doing the job for which they were hired.

Other tactics include observation and guidance to assess accountability. Employers and managers study quality, efficiency, and production to discern if the job is being done.

Performance has a correlation to accountability too. If an employee does not show accountability, then it is not likely that the employee is motivated, productive, or wants work in the future.

Job Satisfaction

The majority of employers have a goal of creating an environment for work that encourages collaboration and synergy because it increases the likelihood of satisfaction among employees and they will want to stay with the company.

By including a job satisfaction component in an evaluation, employers are able to use the results to determine how successful an employee is in other aspects of their jobs.

Employees who are happy with work assignments and receive support from supervisors and managers are productive, engaged, and likely accountable for their jobs as well. Feeling satisfied with their work increases whenever the employee is recognized.

Employers decide when this is appropriate after evaluating job performance. But upon recognizing the contributions of an employee, the employee will be more likely to prove their worth by handling more complex jobs or tasks. This leads to a more productive workplace overall.

Samples for How to Write a Performance Goal

The following goals are samples of performance goals designed to encourage improvement in different areas.

  • To encourage initiative: Look for opportunities to assist co-workers or your organization as a whole beyond what is in your current role.
  • To require punctuality: Show consideration for others by being punctual for meetings.
  • To foster a better attitude: Be mindful of the way you may come across to others. Things like tone and body language as well as other cues have a significant impact on the respect and attitude shown to others.
  • To improve communication: Learn to anticipate. Observe what a manager or co-worker likes to know, make a note of it, and give the information when asked. Be sure to inform others of action to ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • To spur creativity: Work with others, talk about different ideas, and bring them together to create a solution or improvement.
  • To improve planning: Begin projects by identifying all the resources required, including staff, funding, materials, and other support.
  • To promote better listening: Ask open-ended questions that incorporate information from a discussion to demonstrate listening and understanding.
  • To foster leadership: Discover the problems that prevent team members from performing at the highest possible levels.

What Are SMART Goals?

SMART is an acronym that encourages the creation of goals that are clear, understandable, outline the expectation of performance levels, and will lead to an increase in professional development. They also help clarify performance goals. SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Sensitive

The SMART Philosophy is a good method for identifying performance goals and laying out a path for achievement.

SMART Goals have development goals in them too.

What Is the SMART Method for Setting Goals?

In order to set SMART goals, it is important to understand what productivity, development, and professional goals are:

Performance goals:

  • Relate to the position at hand
  • Focus on the duties of the job and what it produces
  • Aim to get an employee to meet a higher-level goal

Development goals:

  • Focus on learning and improvement
  • Encourage an improved performance

Professional development goals are goals focused on plans for learning and development.

The format and content for performance and development goals may vary and should meet the needs of employee and supervisor.

It is most important that goals are clear and measurable enough to evaluate at the end of a year.

A template for a SMART goal statement might read as follows: Do ______ (the action) in order to _____ (measurable, relevant result) by ______ (deadline or time frame).

Make sure your goal statement is achievable, meaning it has a realistic time frame, sufficient resources, and feasible target.

Action Plans

Action plans are the specific tasks or steps you will take to accomplish each goal. Action plans help determine whether the end result and time frame are achievable and the resources and support you will need to be successful. Action plans provide a roadmap to monitor and a focus for employee/supervisor feedback and coaching.

Setting the Right Scope for Smart Goals

Performance goals are meant to address all of an employee's major job responsibilities. Performance goals are not limited to things employees take on as extra credit above and beyond their day-to-day jobs; they are their day-to-day jobs.

To set the right scope for your performance goals, start by thinking about the employee's whole job and the broad areas (or "buckets") of responsibility and results for which they are accountable. Develop a performance goal statement for each bucket of responsibility. To get the scope right for performance goals, remember to focus on end results, not tasks.

Performance goals should be high level enough to encompass the core outcomes for which the employee is responsible, but specific and clear enough so success can be easily measured. Performance goals include both ongoing program responsibilities and any new projects, assignments, priorities, or initiatives that are specific to this performance cycle.

For most employees, the majority of their goals will articulate ongoing responsibilities and may not change much, if at all, from year to year. In general, employees at higher levels of the organization have broader and more complex responsibilities and therefore more performance goals.

Even executive level employees should be able to capture their entire job in less than 10 goals. Having too many goals can be an indicator that your goals are scoped at too low a level and are focused more on tasks than on end results. Tasks are most appropriate in the action plans supporting each goal, not in the goal itself. If it seems that your goals are becoming too numerous and task-oriented, it may be helpful to consider combining several goal statements into a broader outcome area, with specific tasks listed in the action plan.

If there are too many goals, it could be that some need to be removed or postponed. Goals are intended to focus attention and resources on what is most important so that employees can be successful in achieving their priorities. Having too many goals can have the same effect as not having any goals at all.

The focus and level of goals will be driven by the employee's role and the way their job contributes to the relevant end results. Different employees within or across work units may each have a piece of a broader goal, contributing in ways that are consistent with their areas of responsibility and expertise. One may be ultimately responsible for an outcome to which others who report to them also contribute.

Specific Actions for SMART GOALS

The "S" (specific action) for your goal should reflect your role and contribution.

The "S" (specific action) also helps communicate whether a goal reflects an ongoing program responsibility or a new, time-specific assignment.

"S" (specific action) actions may include: Oversee, Update, Write, Coordinate, Upgrade, Process, Supervise, Develop, Provide, Manage, Create, Maintain, Plan, Implement, Reconcile, Support, Evaluate, Dispatch, Direct, Transition, Produce, Administer, Establish, Generate.

The "S" (specific action) list does not include verbs like "improve," "reduce," or "increase" (e.g. "Improve customer service" or "reduce cost.") These imply the direction that you want a result to move in, but don't do much to explain the role or specific action that you will take to accomplish this change.

Common Measurements for SMART Goals

As the "M" in SMART states, there should be a source of information to measure or determine whether a goal has been achieved.

The M is a direct (or possibly indirect) indicator of what success for a particular goal will look like.

Sometimes measurement is difficult and managers, supervisors, and employees will need to work together to identify the most relevant and feasible data sources and collection methods. Data collection efforts needed to measure a goal can be included in that goal's action plan.

Even if a perfect, direct measurement source is not immediately feasible for a given goal, the discussion about the desired end result (why this goal is important) and what the measurement options are (what success might look like) is an important and valuable part of performance planning.

Measurement methods can be both quantitative and qualitative.

Importance of Development Goals

Development goals emphasize learning which is important for the organization and each individual employee. They are important for every member of the organization no matter how long they've been with a company, what they want to do next in their career, or what they currently do. Development goals expand and strengthen existing skill sets and encourage passion.

Setting development goals for an employee assists them with the development of new skills and knowledge that helps in a new position or area of responsibility.

Committing to employee development also helps organizations become more effective at recruiting, retaining, and motivating their employees. Development is an effective tool for managing employee performance.

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