by Rachel Ernst | May 09, 2017
Goal setting in the workplace can be a challenge for anyone. For some, a fear of failure keeps them from putting a stake in the ground. But for others, it's simply a matter of distraction -- our instant-gratification society, the proliferation of technology, and short attention spans can make it difficult to maintain sufficient focus to work toward a stated goal. 

With Millennials now dominating the workforce, companies can benefit from their innate ability to multitask and shift gears quickly. But, by the same token, that sometimes translates into difficulties when it comes to setting goals. Specifically, it can be hard for short-term thinkers to focus on long-term aims. As a result, companies must work to keep Millennials engaged, on their toes, willing to check off goals, and ready to move on to the next thing that keeps the organization moving forward. Here are some tips:

1. Look at the big picture. Millennials have a strong desire to make a "big picture" impact with their work. They want to know that what they do on an individual level contributes to a greater good. Leverage that desire to your advantage by creating individual goals that tie directly to company goals. Help them to understand the business challenges your company and leaders face, and work together to define how individual employees can help solve them. Encourage employees to stay abreast of competitors' strategies and tactics and contribute ideas about how to make your company stand out.

2. Be specific about skills needed for career growth. Most Millennials want to grow and be promoted. Despite all the focus on career latticing and lateral growth, they still want to understand how to move up.  It is important that managers can clearly articulate the skillset needed for the next level so they can help their employees understand where they stand currently, relative to this skill level. One way to motivate Millennials is to help them gain clarity on the gap they need to close in order to advance. A large portion of employee dissatisfaction around growth is not due to lack of a promotion, but due to lack of understanding about what to work on in order to get promoted.  

3. Focus on impact. Set goals that define what you and your employees imagine success to be. Instead of making the goal a "to do" item, make the goal about how the impact of your work will manifest. For instance, for Customer Success team members, instead of a goal to "return customer inquiries within 24 hours," make the goal "My customers have written me emails to let me know they are very satisfied with my work."

4. Define the path to success. A goal without a plan is merely a wish. And, no matter what your generation or mindset, goals are difficult to achieve without specific direction on how you'll get there. Once goals are established, work with employees to include the steps they'll need to take in order to achieve that goal. This not only makes it feel more realistically attainable, but also less abstract. They'll know exactly what to do -- the rest is up to them.

5. Incorporate real-time feedback. I once worked with a marketing leader who, when making to-do lists, would write down things she'd already accomplished, just for the joy of crossing them off her list. Why? Because a feeling of accomplishment creates a surge of energy, motivation, and encouragement to do more. Tracking incremental progress and providing real-time feedback gives your employees that same sense of accomplishment to keep them engaged and moving forward. And, it helps to ensure that their day-to-day work is tracking in sync with their stated goals. That way, if their activity veers off, or goals need to be adjusted based on a strategic shift or competitive forces, those realignments can happen in real time.

Understanding how to adjust to our instant gratification society is a learning process, so be patient. Particularly when working with Millennials, matching their cadence by setting aggressive, short-term goals, supported with real-time feedback, is the most effective way to keep your team on task and on time to meet both their professional and your organizational goals.

Rachel Ernst is the director of employee success at Reflektive. In her role, she focuses both on internal employee development, as well as building knowledge for Reflektive's customers on change management, goal management, check-ins, real-time feedback, and employee engagement polling. Her background in HR spans across compensation, learning and development, leadership coaching, people analytics and organizational design. She is particularly passionate about evolving the performance management ecosystem to fulfill its ultimate goal of inspiring high performance through ongoing, real-time feedback.