You need employee buy-in on goals if you want them to commit to achieving them

Dear Joan:
I am responsible for yearly evaluations of a manager and a supervisor. How would you address the fact in the next evaluation, that neither one has improved themselves, nor taken the initiative to try to accomplish any of the goals that I included in the evaluation (not to mention issues from the previous one)?  

This is despite the fact that both of them signed off on the evaluations and made comments on how detailed and fair they were.  

Both are, essentially, long-time employees, and from almost any perspective, “good employees.” I understand the evaluation process is year long and continuous and that your answer may say that I am primarily to blame. My question comes down to this: Since I put so much time and effort in the evaluation and take it very seriously. I feel like it’s a waste of that valuable time if they are just going to give it “lip service” and not even so much as make an attempt to improve. I hope that you understand the frustration.  

It’s refreshing to hear about a manager who spends time and energy on thorough performance evaluations. I’m sure your employees appreciate the effort.  

It’s not clear whether the missed goals are performance related, or career related. If they are performance related, I assume the problems are not serious, since they are good employees. Because of this, they may not think improvement is important or necessary. They will continue to blow it off until they understand why it’s important.  

I suggest you have a heart-to-heart conversation about the goals and explain the advantages of meeting the goals, as well as the impact if they are ignored.  This raises another issue: Are these goals important or just “desired”? If they are critical, and nothing is done, will there be any consequences? If the issues don’t warrant any consequences, is it worth pushing?  

Another factor inhibiting their commitment to the goals may be that you are developing the goals—not them. It sounds as if you are the one writing them, handing it to them and asking them to sign…hardly a prescription for buy in. Why not ask them to do a self-assessment of their own performance, along with an action plan for future development and bring it to the performance review? That will set up a more dynamic performance discussion and create more commitment to the goals.

In addition, long-term employees may feel they are “good enough.” Are they? Have they slipped into complacency? Are you trying to raise the bar because you need a higher level of performance from them? Just because they are good employees, it may not be enough for the changing dynamics in your business. 

If they have been rated “good” for years and there has been no real push for better performance, they will wonder why all the fuss? Unless you can make the case for why they should improve, I don’t think you will get much effort.  

If the goals are career related, there are a different set of issues. Career goals are largely in the hands of the employee. Your responsibility is to find out what their career ambitions are regarding growth or advancement. Then you will be in a better position to tie what they want to what the company needs.  

For example, if one of the managers wants to get a promotion, and he needs work on his people skills, his goals can be designed accordingly. Then if he doesn’t complete his goals, you can discuss how that will negatively impact his promotability.  

On the other hand, if one of the managers is happy where she is, and doesn’t aspire to a bigger job, her goals should be centered on how to develop mastery in some part of her job.
Finally, why not set up quarterly reviews? Good managers set up brief meetings throughout the year to avoid the once-a-year feedback trap. If you only talk about goals when they cross the annual finish line, there is no opportunity to coach them and help them along the way.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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