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I’ve worked in HR teams where goal setting wasn’t taken seriously and, looking back, what was lacking was a proper framework to set goals and create action plans to attain them.

The most effective goals drive individual, team, and organizational performance; a true win-win scenario.

Here I’ll take you through the importance of effective goal-setting and how you can set your own HR goals.

What Are HR Goals?

HR goals are set by the human resources department of an organization to guide its functions, align HR strategies with the company's overall business strategy, and ensure effective talent management. These goals are aimed at maximizing the performance of employees and ensuring the organization's long-term success.

Why Set HR Goals?

HR goals should stem from broader organizational goals. I’m reminded of intense planning sessions where organizational strategies and objectives are defined and then each leader has to go away and figure out how they can play their part in meeting them.

This is a primary reason HR deserves a seat at the table and also why HR goals are important.

HR goals help align the HR department's initiatives with the overall business strategy, ensuring that HR efforts support the organization's mission, vision, and objectives.

Goals can be used to guide the gamut of HR responsibilities and help individuals know how their efforts are contributing to the overall success of the organization.

How to Set Effective HR Goals

Effective goal setting is an art in itself. I’m a huge advocate of Liz Lockhart’s cascading goals method aligning goals across the organization.

As the name suggests, the process starts with setting high-level organizational goals that then cascade down to the individual level.

Cascading goals model to align organizational and individual goals.
The cascading goals model.

For example, an HR leader might have a goal focused on accelerating hiring and onboarding to meet company growth goals, as measured by the number of hires in a quarter, with specific numerical targets per recruiter.

When it comes to writing these goals, she’s a fan of the popular SMART methodology, although some organizations prefer OKRs. Prepare to learn some ACRONYMS.

SMART Goal-Setting Framework

SMART is an acronym that breaks down like this:

Specific. Setting goals that have very focused outcomes by identifying what it is you’re trying to accomplish. The broader a goal is the more difficult it will be to track and actually achieve.

Measurable. After identifying what specifically our goal should be, we then need to define how we’re going to quantify the goal itself in terms of progress and completion.

Achievable. This is a very important caveat. While moonshots do have their place in the corporate world, generally speaking, it's important for a goal to be attainable. A goal that is too grand to ever achieve can end demoralizing those working toward it.

Relevant. Much like achieveability, the relevance of a goal is also very important. Whether the goal is for an individual employee or a team, it must be relevant to the overall goal of the organization.

Time-bound. The last, and arguably most important, step is to create a timeline or some kind of time constraint for the goal. We’ve all had open-ended goals before, and we all know how they usually turn out.

An example of an HR goal using the SMART framework might be:

Reduce employee turnover from 15-10% by the beginning of Q3 next year.

It’s specific because it focuses on turnover, easy to measure because it has a %, achievable as 10% is about average, relevant because decreasing turnover will benefit the organization, and time-bound because there’s a timeframe.

Download our 2024 Workplace Trends Report to stay ahead in a transforming HR landscape. Get insights from leaders on trends that will define your strategies in AI, talent dynamics, and DEI.

Download our 2024 Workplace Trends Report to stay ahead in a transforming HR landscape. Get insights from leaders on trends that will define your strategies in AI, talent dynamics, and DEI.

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The OKR framework

OKR stands for objective and key results and acts as a goal-setting framework that can be used to help measure and track your goals. 

The goal of this framework is to break down the objectives of your goals into measurable key results, usually 3 to 5.

You see this kind of approach used by human resources departments to ensure all employees working toward a goal have a clear idea of the objectives at hand, the measurements that will be used to track those objectives, and the milestones along the way. 

An example of an OKR for HR might be to standardize performance management across the business (objective), with the key results being to select a performance management system, roll it out across the org, and then gather employee feedback.

As you’re likely surmising, the similarities between SMART goals and OKRs are readily apparent with both frameworks being popular.

You can check out some HR OKR examples later as we’ll look at some SMART goals examples.

HR Goals Examples

Now finished adding two new acronyms to your life, I bet you’re wondering what some HR goals might look like in practice.

Here are 10 HR goal examples using the SMART framework above.

1. Employee engagement goal

Increasing employee engagement is top of everyone’s minds lately and for a good reason. 

Recent statistics have shown that only 34% of Americans are engaged while at work, and 41% of the global workforce is considering quitting their jobs. 

What these numbers should tell you above all else is that there is an opportunity, or perhaps a vital need, to reach your employees so that they feel engaged and you don’t experience high levels of turnover.   

Creating a SMART goal to increase engagement would need a specific and measurable objective, along with a time frame; we already know this goal is relevant and achievable. 

Our goal could be to increase employee engagement by 10% within the next 6 months, and we could measure this with the results of regular employee engagement surveys.

2. Effective hiring and onboarding goal

We all know that replacing someone is significantly more expensive than retaining them.

As such, we want to be sure that, when it comes to talent acquisition and onboarding, we are doing so effectively and in a way that will create a positive employee experience for new hires and to help with employee retention rates. 

If we were to create a SMART goal for this objective it could look something like: reduce turnover of newly hired employees by 10% in the next year. 

This gives us a specific goal, a way to measure it in terms of turnover, and especially turnover within the first 90 days, along with a time frame to gather meaningful data. 

We have to believe this goal is achievable, and it can certainly be relevant if there is a high degree of turnover in your organization. 

The other great thing about this goal is the degree to which you can build more goals off of this one. 

If you increase retention in newly hired employees, you can then pivot to retention across the entire organization, which may overlap with your company culture, and so on.

3. Increase team collaboration goal

It can be difficult to foster team collaboration and camaraderie, especially in remote teams. 

These types of collaborations can be important not just for improving morale but also checking in on the well-being and mental health of remote employees who you may not see frequently.

A SMART goal made here could be to increase the number of team collaboration meetings by 10% over the next six months. This is a goal that should be achievable as all it really requires is increasing meetings or strategy sessions with your team.

4. Improve employee experience goal

Creating a great employee experience across the employee life cycle is key to retaining and attracting top talent. Something you can use to track this is the employee net promoter score (eNPS) which tells you how likely current employees are to recommend your organization as a great place to work. 

Therefore, an example goal could be to increase our employee net promoter score from 55-65 over the next year.

From here, you could maybe combine with OKRs to lay out some key results that will help you achieve this goal e.g.

  • Write a flexible working policy and have it approved and communicated in the next 60 days.
  • Survey all workers to gather ideas on how we can improve the working environment.

5. Empower executives as cultural leaders

A phrase you’re likely familiar with is that change starts at the top. This is true for many changes, but perhaps culture most of all. 

The most impactful leaders are those who are highly visible and truly embody the cultural values they want to see in the organization.

If your organization boasts about work-life balance, then you need to make sure your executives are leaving on time every day because, if they don't, no one else will. 

A good goal to create around this would involve looking at your cultural values and making sure your executives are leading by example. 

To provide a practical example, we could make a SMART goal wherein the aim would be to increase participation by executives in culture planning sessions by 25% in the next 6 months. 

This goal itself provides a call to action for the entire organization. 

We're going to start actively working on our culture and we’re going to make sure that at least 25% of executives participate in these sessions; or at least that is our goal. This sets a metric for leadership but also shows all employees that we are taking culture seriously by involving the key stakeholders of the organization.

This may also require some training or education to your executives where you remind them that the organization as a whole looks to them to set the tone for the culture.

6. Increase emphasis on learning and development

Earlier we cited some statistics about current workforce trends, specifically how we’ve been seeing higher rates of attrition across the board. 

In an environment like this, it’s important to make sure your employees have the skills they need to succeed in their jobs, and not just for the current moment. It's also important to make sure you’re upskilling employees for the future needs of your organization. 

This is another goal that is symbiotic in nature—it's good for the organization to help address any current or future skill gaps that exist and it’s beneficial for the employee’s development. 

If we think of an example of a SMART goal focused on training we could aim for something like increasing the availability of training programs and courses by 20% in the next year.

7. Create employee volunteer programs

With the shift in generational participation in today’s workforce, organizations are finding that different things are being asked of them than with prior generations. 

We’ve seen that Millennials and Zoomers are much more socially conscious than their peers, and what is interesting is that they’re expecting a level of participation from their workplaces which historically has not been done.

A tangible goal here could be to create a volunteer program and aim for 25% of employees to use the volunteer program in the next year.

There are a lot of angles we can take in designing the program but the goal is to make sure employees actually contribute to the program. 

If they don’t, it then becomes a question of why and making a course correction, but it's our SMART goal that will tell us how successful the program is or is not. 

8. Leadership development SMART goal

Do you have the right employees in the right positions? Do you have a plan in place in the event one of your leaders abruptly leaves your organization? 

Leadership development is a critical area for HR teams to focus on because it can hugely impact the performance of your organization.

Creating a SMART goal around leadership development is one area where you have a lot of paths you can take. 

You can create a program for your high-potential employees, you can work on succession planning to make sure you have a plan for all the critical roles in your organization, or you can even examine your selection criteria for leaders to see if there is room for improvement. 

As an example, if we’re starting from scratch, we could make a goal to create succession plans for 50% of key positions in the next 6 months. 

As discussed this is a goal that is very specific, easy to measure in terms of having a succession plan or not, and, most of all, it is relevant and time-sensitive.   

9. Management SMART goal

As we’ve mentioned, SMART goals don’t just have to be for a team, they can be individual as well.

If you’re someone who struggles with time management, whether that’s meeting deadlines or wanting to improve your work-life balance to avoid burnout, a SMART goal can help to hold yourself accountable.

An example would be to create a goal for yourself where you commit to logging off on time for at least 75% of the days you work in the next 3 months. 

A goal like this is a good reminder to make sure your SMART goals are achievable; if you make the goal 100% of the time you would be setting yourself up for failure. 

However, it's also alright if you don’t meet your goal, if logging off on time 3 days out of 4 is a goal you feel is realistic, or you would like it to be, then make that your goal. 

If business needs do not allow for it and you end up at less than 75%, you can always reassess and make your target more realistic for the next 3 months; or maybe there are some changes you can make at work to get closer to that number?

It's alright if you don’t always hit your goal; what you do in those cases is look critically at why you missed your target and make adjustments moving forward. After all, a mistake you make once is a lesson, a mistake you keep making is a decision.

10. Earning a human resources certification

Another example of an individual goal, and one that many human resources professionals are likely aiming for to help their careers to help their own professional development. 

Many HR pros aspire to earn a credential to show their expertise in the field, and these credentials are highly valued with some employers offering incentives in terms of bonuses or raises for completion. 

What is great about creating a SMART goal for yourself to earn a certification is the time aspect, many people can procrastinate and keep pushing things off forever. 

By design, a SMART goal will give you a deadline to stick to which can be just the motivation some people need to finally take that next step in advancing their career.

Whether you set the goal for yourself to earn a credential in 3 months or a year, setting the goal and sticking to it is certainly a smart decision you can make to keep yourself motivated.

HR Goal Setting Best Practices

We’ve touched on some of these above, but here are some best practices to ensure your HR goals are aligned, achievable, and met with a sense of ownership.

  • Align goals with organizational objectives: Ensure that individual and team goals are aligned with the broader objectives of the organization.
  • Engage stakeholders in the goal-setting process: As much as possible, involve employees, teams, and other stakeholders in setting their own goals. This participatory approach increases commitment and motivation, as individuals are more likely to be invested in outcomes they have had a hand in creating.
  • Monitor and review progress regularly: Regularly review goals and progress towards them, I suggest either quarterly or bi-annually. This allows for adjustments based on performance and changing circumstances, keeping goals relevant and achievable.
  • Celebrate achievements: Be sure to recognize and celebrate when goals are achieved. Here are some employee recognition ideas
  • Learn from the process: Reflect on both successes and setbacks in the goal-setting process. Learning from experiences can improve future goal-setting practices, making them more effective over time.

Use Goals To Drive Operational Performance

I hope by now you see the value in creating HR goals to help drive team performance, focus your initiatives, and make HR operations more efficient.

If you’re an HR manager reading this, you’ve probably already realized that utilizing the SMART or OKR frameworks is a great way to hold yourself and your team accountable and report back to leadership on your performance.

OKR software and more general goal-setting software can help with this process.

For more goal inspiration, check out our articles on DEI goals and how to write SMART goals.

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By Drew Lewis

Drew is a Human Resources professional widley experienced in the corporate world. Both internally and as a consultant, he has worked all in areas of HR operations and strategy with particular focus on compensation, benefits, leave management, and organizational development. When not at work you'll find him relaxing with his wife, skiing (weather permitting), or playing with his dog.