4 min read

The Number 1 Reason Employee Goals Fall Flat

The Number 1 Reason Employee Goals Fall Flat

Why do employee goals fall flat? Many people leaders find themselves questioning why hours are spent creating professional goals only to be forgotten or abandoned within months or even weeks.

If you’re one of those leaders whose employee goals never seem to achieve their intended purpose, then you may be surprised to find out it may actually have a great deal to do with you. Yes, that’s right. Research indicates that the reason goals for an employee fall flat may largely be due to the fact that managers, supervisors, and leaders are not actively involved in the employee goal-setting process when they should be. 

In the following article, we’ll dive into the research that has been conducted regarding employee goals so you can refine your approach to professional goal setting. 


Why Are Employee Goals Important?

Employee goals have a positive impact on the individual, the leader, and the greater organization. In fact, here is what the research has to say about the benefits of creating goals for employees.


The Benefits for the employee

  • Helps Employees Know What’s Expected of Them: Nearly half of all U.S. employees don't know what's expected of them at work. But when they are included in establishing their goals, 76% strongly agree that they know what is expected of them. - Gallup
  • Gives Employees a Sense of Purpose: By setting goals that have personal meaning and purpose, employees are less likely to feel that empty, unsatisfied feeling while pursuing it and once they have attained it. Not only that, they’ll be less likely to feel stressed out over the goals that have been set. - Journal of Research in Personality


The Benefits for the direct leader

  • Helps Leaders Hold Employees Accountable: In a landmark, multi-year study, 82% of managers reported that they have “limited to no” ability to hold others accountable successfully. Setting employee goals gives those in people leadership positions something tangible to reference and holds employees accountable to. - Partners in Leadership
  • Encourages Objective Performance Management: 70% of employees feel their managers aren’t objective in evaluating their performance. Fortunately, if you establish goals collaboratively with your employees, then you have mutually agreed upon goals to reference regarding their performance. Instead of citing your personal preferences or annoyances, employee goals allow you to connect a problem or improvement to the goal, so it does not feel like a personal attack. - Brandon Hall Group and Reflektive
  • Encourages Consistent, Constructive Feedback: According to a Gallup study, 26% of employees report getting feedback less than once per year. While 80% of respondents in a study by another organization, said that feedback was only provided by their leader when something went wrong. By establishing employee goals, you have a reason to provide constructive feedback more frequently and fulfill the need employees have for knowing where they stand in regards to their performance. - Gallup/Partners in Leadership


The Benefits for the Organization

  • Creates Alignment That Positively Contributes to the Bottomline: When employee goals are linked to the organization’s goals, it creates alignment, allowing organizations to grow revenue 58% faster, be 72% more profitable, and outperform unaligned organizations in employee engagement, customer satisfaction and retainment, and leadership. - LSA Global
  • Increases Employee Engagement, Optimism, and Performance: Formal, structured goal-setting processes lead to higher levels of employee engagement. Higher levels of employee engagement lead to increased employee optimism. Strong workplace optimism, in turn, leads to improved employee performance. - Journal of Industrial Management & Data Systems

Make your goals a reality with the editable templates and worksheets in our  Goal Setting Workbook.


Unfortunately, Many Leaders Are Not As Involved in Employee Goals as They Should Be

While the benefits of effective employee goal-setting are clear, research conducted by Gallup indicates that many people leaders are not as involved in the process as they should be. More specifically, just 30% of employees strongly agree that their manager involves them in goal setting, and even fewer (19%) strongly agree that they talked to their manager about steps to reach their goals. Moreover, less than one-half (40%) of employees surveyed strongly agree that their manager holds them accountable for their performance goals. If they did, employees would be up to 2.5 times more likely to be engaged in their work.

3 Things People Leaders Can Do to Support Employee Goals

In light of the research, you may choose to refine your approach to professional goal setting with employees the next time an opportunity arises by considering the following: 

Lead by Example

One of the most powerful ways to lead people is to lead by example. This means you simply show them what you want them to do by doing it yourself. In other words, you don’t say one thing and do another. For example, regarding goal setting, leading by example starts with making your team members aware of your goals, walking them through how you selected your goals and demonstrating your commitment to achieving them through your actions. When you do so, your employees will be more likely to emulate that behavior when setting their own goals.


Tweak the Current Goal Setting Process to Align with Rapid Change

According to a study by Gartner, 40% of employees feel that their current roles are evolving rapidly and that they need to learn new skills and new ways of working with people to support changing business priorities. However, they point out that despite this, employee goal setting continues to be an activity done yearly.

As any people leader today knows, things can change drastically in a month, let alone an entire year. Therefore, if you want your employee goals to succeed, you may need to tweak the current goal-setting process you have in place to keep up with the current pace of change. For some teams, this may mean setting goals regularly and then using a one-on-one meeting quarterly to discuss their progress and update the goals they have set accordingly.


Take a collaborative approach

Formulating goals is never an effortless endeavor, especially if you don’t have the support or guidance of your leader. However, as a people leader, you can make the experience that much easier by collaborating with your employee to create their goals and action plan, as well as the implementation and measurement of them.

You may even consider taking a step further by involving your entire team. According to Gartner's 2019 Performance Management Benchmarking Survey, 82% of employees work closely with their colleagues, and 73% regularly check in or work with other colleagues. Yet, 3% of organizations involve peers in the goal-setting process, and only 20% involve teams. If you take the goal-setting experience to this level, you may find your team displays a greater sense of shared accountability towards each other's goals and are more willing to collaborate to make them happen.

To help you do exactly that, we created a Goal Setting Workbook that you can work through with your employees.



For employee goals to be optimally effective, leaders must play an active role. In doing so, you will need the skills to hold employees accountable, speak with clarity, set expectations, deliver feedback, and provide coaching when difficult performance-related conversations occur. If you do not feel prepared to do so, you may look to a leadership development program such as Leadership Fundamentals or Advanced Leadership Development to not only build your competence but your confidence as well.

Professional Goals Workbook: A Step-by-Step Guide With Editable Worksheets

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