Business Leadership Today

How To Set Clear Goals and Expectations To Motivate Employees (6 Strategies)


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

Accountability plays an important role in employee motivation. Employees who hold themselves accountable are motivated to meet deadlines, produce quality work, and collaborate with teammates to achieve shared goals. 

Accountability can even motivate employees to exceed expectations and cultivate a growth mindset that embraces challenges and seeks continuous improvement. 

But to stay motivated, and for leadership to effectively measure an employee’s performance, employees need to have clear goals to work toward. They also need to know what is expected of them as they work to achieve their goals so that they can hold themselves accountable.  

When employees are unsure about what is expected of them in their roles, it creates a situation where they experience conflict on a daily basis about their duties and responsibilities, which can raise stress levels, erode confidence, and decrease motivation. In situations where job responsibilities and duties may shift regularly, clarity becomes even more important.

Providing clarity on goals and expectations makes it easier to increase alignment between an employee’s goals and the larger goals of the organization, helps employees focus more energy on achievement, and allows leaders to better gauge an employee’s performance. 

Here are six strategies organizations can utilize to set clear goals and expectations to motivate employees:

  • Maintain a strong system of communication
  • Give regular feedback
  • Recognize achievements
  • Offer incentives and rewards
  • Ask the right questions
  • Set S.M.A.R.T. goals

This article will look at how these strategies can boost employee motivation and create a high-performance team where individual members hold themselves accountable.

1. Maintain a Strong System of Communication

Clearly communicating goals, objectives, and expectations helps employees stay motivated to do great work because it boosts accountability and self-confidence. Transparent, respectful communication can promote trust and provide clarity for employees, creating a culture of improvement through frequent feedback between employees and leadership.

Leaders should be skilled at receiving communications from employees and responding to them in a timely manner, and in a way that makes them feel truly heard. They should be approachable and accessible, focus on transparency, and address any issues that impede communication. 

Communicating effectively to motivate employees requires strategies that are focused on building authentic, respectful relationships, helping employees build confidence, and removing obstacles to doing great work.

2. Give Regular Feedback

Establishing a system of feedback in your organization can increase employee motivation because it provides the clarity on goals and expectations that employees need to perform well, and it invites employees into the goal-setting process, which can help leaders ensure they are setting attainable goals. 

In organizations that emphasize feedback as an important part of their culture, employees receive regular, helpful feedback from direct supervisors and are empowered and encouraged to provide meaningful feedback to co-workers and leadership. 

This helps both employees and management know when to course correct or where improvements can be made. This feedback habit can create a high-performance environment where employees have an improvement mindset and think about creative and innovative ways to help the company succeed.

3. Recognize Achievements

One of the best ways to set clear goals and expectations to motivate employees is to recognize them when they achieve these goals and meet (or exceed) these expectations. This increases both motivation and accountability and positively reinforces the behaviors you want in your organization. 

Recognition should always be part of the feedback leaders provide to employees because it meets a core human need for both the employee and the leader, and it can profoundly impact motivation.  

For recognition to be most effective, it should be genuine, and it should be specific and single out an employee’s efforts so employees know the work they do in their individual roles is seen and appreciated.

4. Offer Incentives and Rewards

Like recognition, incentives and rewards boost motivation because they reward the behaviors that underlie achievements and can improve values alignment. They can increase employee performance by as much as 44% and motivate up to 66% of employees to stay with their organization. 

Rewarding employees for their efforts and celebrating their hard work, achievements, and successes lets them know they are valued and the work they do has an impact. It helps them connect the dots between their day-to-day job duties and the larger mission, vision, and goals of the organization and demonstrates to employees that they are essential to the organization’s long-term success.  
Immediate rewards increase intrinsic motivation because they link activities and goals. To see the benefits associated with immediate rewards, organizations have to move beyond annual recognition programs and embed recognition in the workplace culture.

5. Ask the Right Questions

To make the most of communications and ensure employees have clear goals and expectations in mind when they come into work each day, it’s important to ask questions. But make sure you are asking the right questions.

Asking the right questions is key to understanding where your team is at and how they can get to where they need to be. It’s also key for effective delegation. Asking the right questions empowers employees to achieve goals and meet expectations without the need for constant direction. 
I recently sat down with Dr. Wanda T. Wallace, author of You Can’t Know It All: Leading in the Age of Deep Expertise, to discuss the importance of asking the right questions when delegating and how it motivates employees by providing them with the tools they need to succeed.

YouTube video

6. Set SMART Goals

This objective-setting technique provides clarity for employees and helps them establish a plan for achieving their goals. S.M.A.R.T. goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

  • Specific: Setting a specific goal helps employees narrow their focus and ensures there is no ambiguity around what is expected of them. 
  • Measurable: Making the goal measurable connects it to a single performance result and helps employees chart their progress. 
  • Achievable: Setting achievable goals ensures that expectations are reasonable and possible to meet. 
  • Relevant: Making sure the goal is relevant to the larger purpose or vision can keep employees intrinsically motivated. 
  • Time-bound: Making the goal time-bound can help employees avoid procrastination.

While growing profits is always a goal in any business, S.M.A.R.T. goals can help your employees formulate a plan of action for how they can contribute on an individual level to the process of achieving greater profitability and hold themselves accountable.

Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

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