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The Ins and Outs of Employee Goals

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Empowering Employees

In the pages of FenderBender, it’s not a rare occurrence to see shop owners talking about goals—typically their own. And while having and striving toward achieving goals is an indisputable important part of business ownership, so is doing the same for your employees. Chances are, your employees have goals and dreams of their own and by helping them achieve those goals, you can set yourself apart as a stellar manager. 

Doing so can even be a retention tool, says author and leadership expert Dorie Clark. FenderBender recently caught up with Clark, the author of newly published The Long Game, to discuss how to encourage employee goals and how you, as the leader, can help them grow in their personal and professional lives.


Why is it important to encourage an employee's goals or dreams, especially their goals outside of your workplace? What can the impact on your business be?


It's certainly important to encourage an employee's goals and dreams, because that enables them to feel more motivated and excited about life in general, which translates to feeling more positive about work. And especially if you are the engine of encouraging them to pursue their dreams, that creates a sense of loyalty.

That sometimes is rare in the business world. They will be extraordinarily appreciative that you are taking enough time and interest to understand what their goals are and help them think through how they might achieve them. And that ultimately leads to better performance and greater employee retention, at least at least in the short term.


How can this be used as a retention tool? 


The concern, which you allude to in a subsequent question, is that if you're helping your employees pursue their dreams, those dreams might lead them right out the door. But the truth is it is extraordinarily rare in contemporary business life for someone to be a lifetime employee; odds are this person will depart your company at some point.

And the real question is, do you want it to be a year or two from now where they depart for a competitor because they're unhappy for some reason, or they can make a little extra money per hour, or would you rather have an engaged and inspired employee who leaves after a number of years because you have helped them level up in their careers and in their lives and they're moving on to pursue something that is truly meaningful?

We have to recognize that there is the possibility that in helping them pursue their goals, that may actually equip them with new skills that they need so that they could advance in your company in ways that may not have been possible before given the existing skill set with which they arrived.

It's possible that pursuing their dreams may lead them to a different job or a different career, but it is also possible that it equips them for long-term growth within your company that may not have been possible previously. 


How can you help your employees create SMART goals if they don't have any experience doing so?


Well, ultimately when it comes to goal creation,  the first step is helping them identify what they're interested in and their vision for their overall life And more specifically, their career over different time horizons. Where do they see themselves in 10 years? How about five years? How about one year from now? And then from each of those places, it's a question of identifying the steps that are necessary to get them there and boiling it down to current action steps and things that you actually can accomplish. If you have a 10 year goal to do X, but it turns out that you need some kind of a degree for it, well, then, all right, we've got to get that degree. How do we get that degree? Well, certainly you have to apply for admittance. You may have to take a test in order to qualify.

It’s all helping them understand how to go from the general, the big-picture goals, to the specific tactics, and then putting that on a timeline. If you can help them think that through, that is extraordinarily valuable for people who may not have a lot of experience doing it.


What kind of goals should you as their employer be encouraging or helping them with? 


There are a wide variety of goals that one could have. Certainly the obvious candidate is professional goals about how to level up certain skills that are relevant in the workplace. I have a goal, for instance, to be better at delegation or I might have a goal to be a better public speaker.

You might also have an employee with broader goals. Perhaps there is an employee whose health has not been great and they want to get back into shape. That's certainly something that, again, is a win-win because they will likely be healthier in their performance and energy levels will be better. And so thinking about how to encourage and support that. People might have family goals that they want to be more attentive with their family.

This is the place where you might rub up against something—they want to spend more time with their family, but does that mean that they want to cut back on hours at work? This is the time when we really have to walk our talk on values. If someone is looking for some flexibility in their valuable employee, it may not be a bad idea to have an in-depth conversation about what that might look like. Obviously, if they want to cut back so much that they can't do the job, that's a problem. But if there are ways that you can be thoughtful about what their needs are and think about shifting some timing so that they are able to do important things, that is something that can actually engender extreme gratitude and loyalty, and may help you retain your employees.


How can you make sure to do this consistently and regularly?


Typically most companies have some form of regular performance evaluation, and it's not a bad idea to think about including a broad conversation about their goals, both for their work inside the company and their general life and career goals so that you can get a sense of what they care about and where they want to go.

Because there may be ways that you can help facilitate that—maybe it's even small things. They want to get better at X, Y, or Z, and you could sign them up for a subscription or a training class.


What if some of your employees don't really have goals for any number of reasons? How can you help them develop those? 


Well, you know, It's not mandatory. Of course, for somebody to have goals, you don't want to force it down their throat. But one strategy I talk about in my book is what I call “optimize for.” And I think we often put a lot of pressure on ourselves about finding our passion or our meaning, but ultimately the way to that is not by thinking so hard about what it is. The way it is by discovering what we find interesting and then just pursuing more of that. So, helping your employees actually think through, well, what parts of your job do you like best? In an ideal world, what would you be doing more—or less—of? What do you like to do in your free time?

By thinking through that, you can get patterns and can begin to understand, oh, this person really seems drawn to more mathematical or quantitative stuff, maybe we should see if there's ways that we can encourage them even more in those directions.


What if they set goals that result in them changing careers or leaving your shop? Is that OK?


Obviously we don't want to expedite driving people out the door, but again, it is unlikely that you're going to retain and employ them forever. If you can provide a pathway for them so that you are encouraging, supportive and helping them advance within the context of things that matter to them, that means that they are extremely likely to stay with you as long as it's feasible. For instance, if someone has a goal of changing careers, that often takes quite a while, and if you are supportive of them, that's going to make you an employer of choice during that extended process while they're doing that.

Also, we don't necessarily have to see it as saying goodbye, depending on what their goal is. Again, they may be training in such a way that they can advance within your company, or they may be developing a skill that could be quite useful. So there's a lot of possibilities. 


When would you recommend helping them create short, mid- and long-term goals? Or what should the frequency be? 


I'm a fan, certainly, of short-, mid- and long-term goals. I think that we don't necessarily have to have a magic number, per se, but ultimately it's useful for people to ask themselves the question, “Where do I want to be in, you know, a decade or so?” Any long-term goal, if you're going to achieve it, you probably do need to be starting in the short term.

Again, I don't think it makes sense to force employees to have a goal. That's counterproductive, but what is very productive is helping employees who do have goals think them through and show them that you care. What's also helpful is introducing employees who may not really have thought a lot about goals to the concept, to see if they're interested. 


If you're helping team members do this, is it important for them to see you, as the owner, also working toward and achieving goals? 


Absolutely. Management is not dissimilar to parenting in that people learn far more from you based on what you do rather than what you tell them. The best way, if you believe that it's useful for your employees to have goals, is to encourage.

Adherence to that is to be a role model and to fulfill that for yourself because when they see you having success based on the goals that you've set, and the actions that you've taken, that can often be really encouraging and really inspiring for them. 


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