Culture & Engagement

Expert Interview: SMART goal setting to motivate your staff

employees communicating

Image by Robert Kneschke / Shutterstock, Inc

Last month, we talked to business psychologist Simon Kilpatrick. We asked him about why motivation is important and talked about the differences between internal and external motivation.

In summary, Simon told us:

  • Motivation is all about giving employees a reason to want to work
  • “External” motivators, like cash incentives, physically encourage people to come to work
  • “Internal” motivators, like a varied workload, engage people’s minds

Catch up on our last interview here, to learn more about internal and external motivation.

Today, Simon is back on our blog answering even more questions about motivation. This time, we look at some more actionable tips for boosting employee motivation – including how to use SMART goal setting to get better results.

Fear isn’t the smartest approach

First, I asked Simon what most companies are doing wrong when trying to motivate their staff.

“Most companies try the carrot first, but get impatient and quickly move onto the stick,” says Simon. “This is bad practice. Using fear to motivate your team might seem to work, but the benefits will quickly disappear. Staff will become stressed and despondent, and eventually, they’ll leave. It sets a bad tone.”

It’s pretty obvious that fear is a bad motivator. But I played devil’s advocate and asked him why.

“It is partly because fear takes away control” he explains. “The best way to motivate your staff is to put them in control of their situation – they will not only be more motivated, but they will make fewer mistakes.”

Setting “SMART” goals to motivate your team

This made sense. But it got me thinking. How do you put your employees in control, while making sure they’re still doing their job properly? The answer, according to Simon, is SMART goal setting.

“SMART goal setting lets you give your employees a degree of flexibility and control while making sure they are working towards a specific end result,” Simon says. “SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Time scaled.”

Simon explained to me how this works:

 * Specific. Making goals specific ensures that intentions are aimed in the right direction.

 * Measurable. Making goals measurable lets you keep track of progress.

 * Agreed. Making sure goals are agreed upon in advance ensures both you and your employee are on the same page.

 * Realistic. Making goals realistic will help employees feel more driven to complete them – they don’t feel “impossible”.

 * Time scaled. Giving goals a time scale adds pace and rhythm to the workload, and helps you plan around the end result.

“If you structure regular performance appraisals using SMART goal setting, employees will feel more like they are making a relevant impact on your organisation’s success. And because of the nature of SMART goals, they will feel more in control of their actions, accountable for achieving the agreed results, and more motivated to succeed.”

Keeping motivation levels topped up while working towards SMART goals

While SMART goal setting is an effective and productive way to motivate employees, I asked Simon if he had any other tips to share. Here are some more things Simon says you can do to motivate your staff:

1. Set high expectations. While these expectations should still be realistic, some people thrive on challenges.

2. Use positive reinforcement. This gives employees a nice morale boost and also reminds them which activities they want to see more of.

3. Show gratitude. Staff appreciate appreciation. You can show gratitude through sincere thanks, but you can also reward extra hard work. For example, if an employee stays an extra hour to help meet a looming deadline, you could give them an extra hour in bed the next day.

Do you have a question about the psychology behind motivation? Don’t be shy – ask Simon now

Simon is a Lecturer of Psychology at Leeds Beckett University. He is a Work Psychology expert and teaches the Organisational Psychology module and Individual Differences and Work Behaviour module at the university.

If you have a burning question about motivation, why not leave it in the comments below?

Or, if you’d rather bring Simon on board to help your team connect, you could check out his team building and eLearning company, Intrinsic Links. Intrinsic Links is a team of Psychologists with a wide range of expertise. They teach positive psychology and management techniques, to help companies develop great teams and top performers.

For further information, visit their website: