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How to Write Job Performance Goals

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Most companies assess employee performance based on whether or not they've met their job performance goals -- but performance goals aren't always clear. If there's ambiguity, a manager and employee could enter into a yearly performance review with vastly different expectations. The employee might expect a promotion but get reprimanded instead. To avoid surprises, write job goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

Choose Goals That Are SMART

Goals that are specific prevent ambiguity that can cause employees to go in one direction while managers expect another. Measurable goals provide clear targets rather than abstract ones that could lead employees to thinking they're succeeding while their managers might think the opposite. Goals that aren't truly achievable are more likely to frustrate than to motivate employees to do their best. Relevant goals have meaning and value to both the employee and the manager, aligning with the employee's direct responsibilities and career aspirations. Making goals time-bound provides the employee and the manager with a timeline to schedule reports, discussions and assessments. Taken all together, these factors represent SMART goals that can enable success for the employee, the manager and the company.

Zero in on the Details

The process of writing performance goals typically starts with a high-level corporate objective and then trickles downward, with each new group or person zeroing in on more details. For a nonspecific corporate objective to "increase production efficiency by 5 percent," one department might set a target to "reduce machine down time by 5 percent." Next, each employee of the department sets goals based on individual responsibilities, addressing preventive maintenance, shift changeovers and other factors that can cause or extend machine down time. Think of this process as moving from an airplane view of the general terrain to a ground level view. Employee performance goals must reflect what's happening on the ground. Managers can then assess employees based on clear facts rather than feelings or perceptions.

Facts Leave No Room for Argument

Before submitting written performance goals to management for approval or accepting responsibility for meeting them, make sure the goal statements provide for fact based assessments. Remember to apply SMART. Check for specific details; that sky-high "improve efficiency" objective isn't specific enough. Look for measurable targets using numbers, such as percentages, dollar amounts or quantities. Validate that every goal is truly achievable and relevant: A finance employee who spends every day processing invoices can't prevent poor quality products from shipping. If there's no room for argument from either the manager or the employee as to what's expected, the only thing left to do is to apply a time limit that shows when results are due and when progress is evaluated.

Keep Moving Toward Goals

After goals are defined, it's the employee's responsibility to take action -- which is hard to do if the goals are forgotten after they're submitted. Don't just type performance goal statements into a human resource database. Write them down in a format that can be posted on a bulletin board, a cubicle wall or even a computer's wallpaper so the goals are visible every day. Consider using a spreadsheet to track progress. State the goal in the first column. Each subsequent column can then identify months, weeks or days, depending on the expected time to complete it. Monitor progress based on percentage or the number of subordinate tasks completed.


A careers content writer, Debra Kraft is a former English teacher whose 25-plus year corporate career includes training and mentoring. She holds a senior management position with a global automotive supplier and is a senior member of the American Society for Quality. Her areas of expertise include quality auditing, corporate compliance, Lean, ERP and IT business analysis.

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