How to set objectives effectively: a comprehensive guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 19 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Setting objectives is a great way for organisations to continually improve the way they perform. Objectives are important for employees and management at all levels because they are the key to an organisation's success. Whether you want to enhance your performance, learn new skills or add to your CV, the process you take to set goals can make an immense impact on how you achieve them. In this article, we show you how to set objectives using some common goal-setting strategies.

Related: CV objectives: tips and examples

What is objective setting?

Objective setting is a process where organisations create goals and implement an action plan for achieving them. It's best for objectives to be realistic and achievable. This means organisations can create goals that are attainable and apply a reasonable timescale to them. Objectives define the different responsibilities of employees and departments. This is an important part of managing performance, understanding which key performance indicators (KPIs) to track and setting employee expectations.

The setting of objectives is a more deliberate process than simply outlining visions or intentions for an organisation. When an organisation sets a goal, the business has made a commitment to attain it. This means objective setting is an actionable strategy with real intentions behind it.

Related: What KPI stands for and how to use it in your career

How to set objectives

Setting objectives helps any organisation grow. It's a vital process for planning for the future and ensuring a company stays on the right path. Objective setting can help employees at all levels of an organisation as it helps them develop new skills and improve their performance. From individuals to departments, setting objectives can improve capability. Quite simply, if you want to see continued growth and strong performance, it's advisable to have goals in place. Understanding how to set objectives the right way and write an effective action plan can help you to increase your chances of success. Objective setting can involve the following steps and processes:

1. Create simple objectives

The first step is to simplify goals and objectives as much as possible. An organisation's achievements can often be complex, but this doesn't mean goal-setting is complicated. Rather, goals can be as straightforward, which can make them easier to understand, follow and achieve. When setting objectives, keep them within dedicated time frames. Ensure goals are easy to explain to those who work towards them. Whenever you communicate a goal to a team, it is important for each team member to understand their role and responsibilities regarding the goal. This means it's best to make goals orderly and simple to follow.

2. Make objectives specific

When setting objectives, start by understanding the outcome you want to achieve and create a detailed path to achieving this outcome. This path can be as specific as possible, with clearly outlined steps and processes. By clearly illustrating an objective and making it specific, individuals can follow and achieve the goal much more easily. The more specific an objective, the greater chance of success.

3. Properly explain objectives

Once you set the goals, you can explain them to the people who plan to achieve them. The best way to do this is to describe only the objectives to those who benefit from understanding them. There's no obligation to explain the entire plan to each employee. Rather, analyse the overall plan and describe each process to the relevant person. This allows each individual and department to focus on the objectives that matter to them. By clearly defining the roles, each objective can be easier to follow and achieve stronger results.

4. Make objectives measurable

It is important for objectives to be measurable to execute them properly. If an objective is too open-ended, it may be difficult or even impossible to accomplish it. The other scenario is that individuals may not know when they've reached an objective, so they continue to work on it beyond what is necessary. An example of a measurable objective is increasing sales revenue on a specific product by 30% before a set date. This objective is easy to understand. An example of a bad objective that you cannot measure is simply saying you want to increase sales revenue.

5. Break down each objective

The key to keeping objectives clear and measurable is to break them down into smaller objectives. If you have one large goal, divide this into smaller goals that form a series of steps to achieving the overarching goal. Many smaller goals are less intimidating and easier to understand and implement. If you set an objective that is too ambitious, it can scare away the people working on it. Objectives that are too large can also be confusing to achieve. By breaking down objectives into smaller, more manageable tasks, they become a lot easier to follow and understand.

6. Celebrate each step

When you break down objectives, recognise and celebrate the achievement of each step. Don't focus on only the major end goal because this can diminish employee morale. Rather, make sure that you recognise every small accomplishment. This goes a long way in improving communication and motivation.

7. Make each objective realistic

It's always good to challenge employees, but don't make your objectives too unattainable. Making goals attainable and realistic keeps teams motivated and improves productivity. If you want to expand on an objective, implement stretch goals. These are objectives that continually grow as performance improves. For example, your initial objective may be to increase revenue by 30%. Once you've achieved this, the stretch goal can be pushing this up to 40%. This process continues. If you set your initial goal as growing revenue to 90%, it might seem unattainable. This lowers morale and slows down progress towards achieving the main goal.

8. Provide incentives

An essential part of setting objectives is making sure you follow through with the goals. When creating objectives, always ensure that employees have enough reason to work towards them. A good strategy is to provide incentives when they meet the objectives. For example, salespeople can earn commissions when they hit certain targets. This keeps them motivated to achieve target incentives, especially if they're stretch goals.

Related: How to write an action plan to help you achieve your goals

Types of objective setting

Creating and implementing your set objectives can include a variety of types. Here's a list of elements that your objectives may encompass:

Role objectives

It is necessary to attach an objective to every role in any organisation. Role objectives are part of any job description. They outline what the roles require, what individuals in these roles are expected to achieve and why their roles are important. Performance standards can be used to evaluate role objectives. For example, a chef's role is to serve high-quality food at a fast pace that meets the establishment's standards.

Task objectives

Task objectives are based on finishing specific projects within a dedicated timeframe. Any project or task has a clear objective that defines it. A deadline for completing the project is an example of a task objective.

Target objectives

Employees can set targets that they want to achieve. Target objectives refer to measurable and achievable results in their role. For example, a chef's target objective can be the number of dishes they send out within a service.

Performance goals

Performance goals focus on setting objectives to improve the results of a certain role or project. They exist to define ways to achieve a better outcome. These goals can also include actionable improvement plans that detail the actions people can take to improve performance.

Behavioural goals

These goals cover any behavioural expectations of individuals or teams within an organisation. Behavioural goals generally include how an individual represents a company. This can cover how they dress, what language they use and the actions they take when representing the company or department. Organisations can create behavioural goals for individuals or departments.

Learning goals

These are goals that focus on learning, developing and improving areas of weakness. Employees and managers can set learning goals to help them improve skills and knowledge in the workplace. Organisations can also create learning goals for an entire department that can develop or improve their skills in a certain area. A common way to implement a learning goal is through training sessions and courses that upskill individuals.

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