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Goal setting – how HR can inspire people through purpose to develop and stay for the long haul

Embrace the opportunities presented by a diverse workforce by finding the common threads that connect us as a whole, writes Alexandra P. Bäck.

A quick search for #millennials on LinkedIn turns up an endless feed of posts covering subjects like what millennials actually want, how millennials will change the characteristics of the workforce, and millennials vs. boomers – which group is more sensitive? (Spoiler: it’s not who you think).

As is all too usual today, the conversation has neatly placed different workforce demographics into separate camps and has taken an “us versus them” approach to the topic, framing evolving demographics more as a problem than an opportunity. This needs to change.

Yes – disruption, technology, education, sustainability and other trends are accelerating the pace of change at work, but siloing the workforce into separate camps is not the best approach. This both creates friction between groups and overlooks the individual. Instead, we need to embrace the opportunities presented by a diverse workforce by finding the common threads that connect us as a whole.

Depending on what you read, the average time people currently wait before changing jobs is around four years, with millennials averaging closer to two years before looking to switch roles. Employee retention is far from being a young-only challenge. In fact, people today have the freedom to scout roles in companies around the world and decide what style of work, responsibilities and missions appeal to them most.

This is actually a positive development, as it forces employers to deeply consider how they can inspire people to stay with their organisations long term. A constructive way to do this is to focus on goals – both personal and company-level. Companies with a very clearly communicated, long-term vision help employees to understand how their work contributes towards the larger mission.

“Yes – disruption, technology, education, sustainability, and other trends are accelerating the pace of change at work, but siloing the workforce into separate camps is not the best approach.”

On the other hand, everyone has personal goals, so it is critical that companies listen to the ambitions of their employees and set realistic expectations for their progress. As long as there is synergy between the two, people will be motivated to stay and to grow. If an employee feels their own goals do not match those of the company, they do not have a clear opportunity to level up or if they are not fairly recognised for their ambition, they will leave.

Company-wide goals are set from the top level, yet they are not set in stone. As a company grows and changes, so may its business direction. Equally, personal goals should also be an open field, as a new business landscape may open up different opportunities for your employees.

HR plays a critical role in creating a formal system for individual goal-setting. A good practice is for managers to hold one-to-one meetings with their team to jointly approve individual goals that can be updated and adjusted but still feel good to the employee. This data can offer top-level management deep insights into how their organisation is thinking, as well as help employees to set meaningful goals that connect to the top goal.

Goal-setting strategies themselves also need to change as companies develop. If your company has everyone working towards the same goal, then it is highly likely your goals are misaligned or heavily biased towards one business function. Yes, a company needs to work in the same direction, but if everyone is focused solely on product sales, then employees who value for instance wellbeing at work will feel marginalised. Yes, sales may be the number-one priority, but many people can work in support of this goal without directly contributing to its progress.

Top-level goals need to be motivating. HR and leadership need to ensure their employees are aware of the purpose of their business, and this purpose needs to encompass as many of their employees’ motivations as possible. This is why it is essential managers talk to their employees about their hopes, goals and aims in a structured way. This will lift vital information that will help top-level management to build goals and purpose that keep people on-board longer. Your employees know your business better than you – it’s time to listen to what they care about.

Alexandra P. Bäck
Solution advisor, Sympa HR