Managers: Employee Participation in Goal Setting May Not Be What You Think

Employee participation in goal-setting occurs when the manager directly involves the employee in the defining and setting of their own goals. It has long been shown to impact goal achievement by impacting an employee’s commitment to and perceived importance of their goals. Participation is linked to employee satisfaction, performance, and engagement—things all good managers want. 

Here’s the reality about employee participation in the goal setting process: Most managers in corporate America don’t seek employees’ participation. Even managers who are skilled in creating kickass goals, by and large, don’t include employee input in their goal setting process. And any time they try to have conversation with their direct reports about the goals they set, they get about as much enthusiasm as Jim has in this clip:

What a drag. So why would good managers ignore best practice, especially if it raised their people’s enthusiasm about Jim Halpert-levels?  

The cold, hard truth is that most managers don’t understand what exactly it means and how to involve employees without giving up their say in the process. Let’s clear the air…

What employee participation DOES NOT mean:

  • Handing over the goal setting reigns to your direct report
  • Accepting any or all of their input
  • Allowing them to redefine their role
  • Negotiating with your direct report’s desire to do more work
  • Getting less output from your people

If that’s what was meant by employee participation, I’d be scared too. No one likes giving up their control, especially when they’re paid to be in control.

Here’s what employee participation does mean:

  • Employees who understands the broader picture. When employees know how their goals impact the business unit or organization, they perceive hitting or crushing their goal as personally important.
  • Recalibration. It’s easy to lose focus of what’s really important when juggling multiple, and sometimes, competing job responsibilities. As their manager, your job is to influence what direct reports view as “mission critical” in their role to hone their focus. Participation conversations help identify when an employee’s view of their role doesn’t match yours.
  • Employees trust. Valuing employees’ voice builds confidence that you, as the manager, value their input.
  • Employee buy-in. Employees who participate are more committed to achieving their goals.

I think most managers love the idea of more performance, employee satisfaction and engagement. I also think most managers are tired of managing employees with comparable amounts of enthusiasm as a pizza box. Giving your employees a chance to participate in setting their goals is a way to do that. Do it the right way, and you’ll be more likely to get all those things you want as a manager, which can’t be bad.

Dilbert comic on employee participation and employee voice

A version of this post was originally featured on Tremendous Upside — a digital talent digest from Kinetix HQ

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