ATD Blog

Engage Employees in Ongoing Goal Discussion

Monday, December 2, 2013

Most corporate executives invest a lot of energy defining and fine-tuning their organization’s business strategy and goals. But a company's goals have little value if employees do not know what the goals are or what they are expected to do to help the organization reach those goals.

A successful company creates a culture of transparency in which employees are vigorously engaged in understanding and carrying out organizational objectives. Below are four steps that will help to move organizations toward transparency, thereby encouraging employee engagement and alignment.

Communicate corporate goals. It is startling how many organizations fail to convey business strategies and goals to their employees. One survey found that just 37 percent of employees know their corporate goals. Another even more sobering study found that only 14 percent of employees understand their company's strategy and direction.

Does that make any sense? Failing to communicate corporate goals to the workforce is like hailing a cab, but never telling the driver where you want to go. That's not a very effective way to move from Point A to Point B.

There is no shortage of possible ways to communicate corporate goals to team members. Such communication begins with leaders incorporating the goals into their everyday vocabulary. Goals should be continuously reinforced: at meetings, one-on-one, in emails and newsletters, and so forth. The creative geniuses whose job it is to communicate your company's message to clients and customers should be recruited to promote company goals to the workforce as well.

Engage employees in the discussion. The days when a company could tack a list of goals on the wall and expect employees to salute are long gone. To achieve genuine employee engagement and alignment with corporate goals, workers must be invited to participate in the discussion about setting the goals and fulfilling them.

A couple of decades ago, it was much harder to carry on that kind of company-wide conversation. But the digital age has changed all of that. Several social networking tools for businesses have sprung up in the past five years; these collaboration platforms are excellent methods for communicating effectively and continuously across an organization. One key to success is to ensure that leaders actively participate in the conversation.

Identify individual goals that support the corporate goals. Corporate goals are hardly enough. When a company has hundreds or thousands of employees, the only way for employees to be engaged is to identify their individual goals. Each employee should know the specific activities, skills, and behaviors expected of him. Many organizations overlook this crucial step.


It may seem like an enormous challenge to break corporate goals down to specific expectations for each individual worker. Social tools for business can make that challenge easier.

In 2012, Best Practice Institute introduced Skillrater, a social collaboration tool that facilitates goal-setting and fulfillment. Many leaders use Skillrater to identify specific activities and skills for their direct reports, and ambitious employees use Skillrater to request guidance and feedback.

Another tool, Saba Pulse, tracks goals, achievements, and missed deadlines, and encourages companies to funnel that feedback into the formal review process. MangoApps includes a task management function that can be shared by a team to track individual and group performance.

Make performance management a friendly process. Employee evaluations at many companies are largely a negative experience. Feedback is focused on the past, with discussion about failures dominating any recognition of good work. For example: "You did a good job this past year, but…". All an employee hears is what comes after the "but."

Most employees want to do well. Many complain that they don't know what their bosses expect, and when they do perform well, their bosses don't even notice. When expectations are clear and good work is recognized, productivity will skyrocket.


Business social networks such as Yammer and provide a platform for managers to acknowledge daily victories and steer employee performance toward alignment with key goals. Globoforce advocates positive feedback by facilitating what it calls “strategic recognition.”

Skillrater provides employees a platform to request feedback and ratings from customers or employees at any level on specific customized activities and skills. It also provides a way for employees to “self-rate,” so they can compare how they perceive themselves with how they are perceived by others. Skillrater gives workers a way to improve their goal-oriented activities and competencies over time, and it provides managers objective feedback that is goal-oriented, rather than negative feedback that defeats goal fulfillment. Such continuous ratings-based performance management creates a positive, future-focused culture of continuous improvement.

The transparent 21st century organization

Imagine an organization in which each team member knows:

  • what the company is trying to accomplish
  • her own role in that process
  • the activities, skills, and behaviors needed to excel
  • that when she does well, her success will be noticed, appreciated, and rewarded.

This is a description of an organization that not only knows how to set goals, but how to achieve them by cultivating an enthusiastic, engaged, and ambitious workforce.

About the Author

Louis Carter, founder and CEO of Best Practice Institute, has led BPI to become one of the world’s top associations for leadership and human resource development, with more than 42,000 subscribers. Carter is creator of, the cloud-based anytime feedback tool on a social collaboration platform, and the BPI Online Learning Portal at Carter has written 11 books on best practices and organizational leadership, including the Best Practice series and the Change Champion’s Field Guide;

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