Every organization wants its employees to be as productive as possible. A lot of factors, however, can impact their productivity. Recent research by Gallup suggests that aligning employee goals with organizational goals can make a huge difference. The problem is, a lot of employees do not think that is possible. 

Betterworks’ CEO Doug Dennerline recently sat down for a Q&A session with James Davis, the editor HR Daily Advisor to help shed some light on how organizations can address this critical issue.

HR Daily Advisor: I read recently that employee productivity increases by 56% when managers are involved in helping employees align their goals with those of the organization. The same source (Gallup) said that only 44% of employees strongly agree that they can connect their own goals to the goals of their organization. Can a lack of awareness explain this gap?

Dennerline: It’s not an awareness problem, it’s a communication problem. For organizations to remain agile and meet their strategic objectives, their entire workforce has to feel their goals are personally meaningful. They also need to be able to clearly understand the impact their work has on the business as a whole. This connection has to be clearly established and continuously communicated by senior leadership and managers. It’s up to the managers to motivate their team members by connecting the dots between their daily work and the larger strategic goals of the organization. Frequent communications around this also helps managers, because they will always know that their team is focused on the most important work.  

HR Daily Advisor: What really holds back companies from implementing a program for bringing employee and organizational goals together?

Dennerline: It comes down to time, money, resistance to change or often all three. Historically, goal setting has often been an exercise in “set and forget.” People are comfortable with that because “it’s how we’ve always done things.” 

But in an environment where business priorities constantly shift as customers, competitors, and technology changes, it’s ridiculous to think that setting goals and then not evaluating them for six months or a year will achieve the desired results. 

Countless studies have shown that to be effective, organizational goal setting and management needs to be an ongoing, agile and continuous process. Making the change to a continuous model takes time and rigor as it requires new processes, additional training at all levels, and new technology to support it. But for those pioneering organizations that make the transition, the juice is definitely worth the squeeze. And those that don’t are at serious risk of being left in the dust by their more agile and motivated competition. 

HR Daily Advisor: How realistic is it to expect the diverse individual goals of workers to be compatible with the overall goals of an organization? Isn’t an organization by definition something that has an overarching set of goals in the face of the individuals that make it up?

Dennerline: It’s essential for the individual goals of workers to be compatible with the goals of the organization. To give a tangible example of this, just look at any big building in your city. It took an army of electricians, welders, architects, plumbers, engineers and myriad other individual workers to make that happen. And yet there it stands because everyone worked together and owned their component while contributing to the final objective.

Businesses need to be much more agile, which all comes down to good leadership, organizational transparency, and effective communication. Agile organizations are dependent on the ability of their people to perceive, react and adapt to changes in the environment in order to continually improve performance and achieve their strategic objectives. Individual and team goals must be directly and transparently linked to the broader strategies and purpose of the business. This shared sense of purpose and overall transparency is how networks of teams can seamlessly form, disband and reform as they stay aligned to the overall purpose.

HR Daily Advisor: What happens when an organization realizes that some of their employees’ goals can’t be aligned with the organizations?

Dennerline: In any company, there will be special situations. It may be that the company is experimenting with a new line of business or spinning up a cross-functional team to meet a rapidly emerging one-off need. Similarly, there are certain functional groups within the company such as accounting, legal and others whose work is vital but may not directly impact those types of strategic “mission-oriented” goals. 

Ultimately, this isn’t a problem. The objective isn’t “perfect alignment,” as perfect will always be the enemy of good. Instead, focus on doing your best to align the largest possible number of individuals, teams, and groups to the greatest extent possible. Any progress in this regard is beneficial and moves the company in a positive direction.  Once you do this for a few quarters, your organization “builds new muscles,” alignment will improve and the process of doing it will become more natural and easier for all involved. 

HR Daily Advisor: Do you think that organizations with poor employee engagement will find it harder to align their goals with those of their employees? 

Dennerline: Absolutely. Disengaged employees are unmotivated employees. They don’t feel connected to the mission of the business because they can’t see how what they do impacts the mission of the business. On the other hand, a motivated workforce is any company’s most valuable asset. They work hard on what matters, are agile and adaptable and able to meet today’s goals while developing themselves for tomorrow’s challenges. 

Two of the most important steps any business can take to build a motivated workforce are nurturing a sense of purpose within your workforce through transparent alignment, and making sure employee’s goals are not just about the business but are also meaningful and valuable to them individually. 

When your organization has a strong and active sense of purpose, Gallup found that engagement increases by 3.5x. Fostering this sense of purpose and ensuring that your employees clearly understand what they need to be working on unifies and engages managers, employees, and the entire organization. 

The second point is just as critical. Establishing and achieving goals keeps employees motivated to perform, but goals are a two-way street. They can’t ONLY be about achieving the objectives of the business; employees need to feel invested in and understand “what’s in it for them.” If they don’t, they’ll feel disillusioned and used. Make sure that your goals process includes career development objectives so that your employees understand how their hard work will ultimately reward them as well as the business.

This article was originally published in HR Daily Advisor 

Learn More About: OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), Aligning Your Workforce, Continuous Performance Management