Employees are often tasked with meeting two types of goals: performance goals and learning goals. Typically, performance goals are focused on how the employee impacts business outcomes. Learning goals center on the employee improving a skill that grows their career. 

Performance goals drive short-term accomplishments such as increasing a quarterly sales metric. While learning goals place a higher value on the long-term success of an employee. Learning goals empower employees to acquire knowledge that helps them in the present and will build their expertise in the future. When performance and learning goals are paired together, both employees and employers benefit. 

But, workplace training can get a bad rap with some employees resisting company-provided training. They cite unengaging material, content unrelated to their roles, or time-consuming training that prevents them from meeting performance goals. To change the narrative, leaders must motivate employees to bring learning into the flow of their work by establishing the right kind of learning goals.

1. Make learning goals part of company culture

Managers are vital in driving employee engagement and performance. Good managers care about their team’s short-term performance and long-term growth. They can also set the example that learning isn’t just a “nice to have” if there’s time. It’s part of the job. 

Before building learning goals for employees, leaders must recognize their foundational role in creating a company culture that centers learning in everything. The responsibility of learning is shared by everyone in an organization — especially people managers. In a company with a strong culture of learning, managers help team members identify skills gaps and then use those to build learning goals. 

2. Identify learning goals that can boost personal performance goals

Before connecting learning goals to performance outcomes, help the learner identify their own desired outcomes. Learning goals built on a personal statement or personal vision allow the learner to see how learning ties to business goals and keeps the learner accountable to their goals. 

Whatever their vision is, it’ll serve as a jumping-off point for mapping out a self-directed learning plan. Within the broad strokes of their personal vision, work with your employees to identify skills that help them reach their learning goals. 

For example, say your marketing department has a quarterly goal to increase site traffic from Google search. A learning goal for your employee could focus on improving their search engine optimization skills. By building their knowledge in this area not only are they becoming an internal expert on the subject, but they’re also helping the company to meet its goals.

3. Connect learning with business goals

Learning goals should not only benefit an employee’s current role, but also the company’s bottom line. Tie the employee’s learning vision to larger organizational needs so that their training paths directly relate to organizational outcomes. This helps secure buy-in from executive stakeholders for the expense and time spent on learning. It also allows employees to see the connection between a technical skillset and a business outcome. 

For example, your company’s goal is to increase its market share in a specific product category but your team is having a hard time understanding the data they’re receiving from the data science department. By building up your and your team’s data analysis skills, you can better identify opportunities based on data and make business decisions rooted in that data. Your team learns data skills that will help them far past this scenario. Plus, your company sees meaningful gains in the desired product category based on decisions made from the data. 

4. Get specific with SMART goal structure

To help your employee achieve their learning goals, make the goals smart. The SMART goal structure allows a learner to flesh out their objectives in a clear manner. It works as a quick and easy checklist for the learner to hone in on exactly why and how they’ll achieve their goals.

A SMART goal incorporates five characteristics. They must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based.

Specific: The more specific the goal, the easier it will be to achieve. Get granular. Don’t be vague. Start with a defined learning objective that clearly states exactly what needs to be accomplished.

Have the learner reflect on questions like “What exactly is it that I want to accomplish?” and “Why am I setting this goal for myself?” Answering these questions will help formulate the next steps.

Measurable: Build accountability into the goal by setting a timeline. Create benchmarks at the mid-point or during other notable milestones to prevent the learner from falling behind.

Encourage the learner to leave a daily reminder for themselves somewhere to help them stay on track. A sticky note on their computer or an alert on their phone can do the trick. 

Attainable: Set your learner up for success by ensuring that SMART goals are attainable. To gauge if a goal is attainable, consider the commitments required to reach it. Can the learner take on these commitments alongside their present work schedule and projects?

If a goal has too many roadblocks to achieving it, look at a different goal or reconstruct the current goal to make it achievable. 

Relevant: Identifying a relevant goal means understanding how it fits within the learner’s and the company’s long-term goals. This is when the learner should take the time to assess their current skill level versus the knowledge they want to have. 

If a learner suggests a goal to become conversational in Spanish, have them state its relevancy. Will it help them work more closely with Spanish-speaking colleagues on shared goals? If the goal doesn’t apply to long-term objectives, find one that does. 

Time-based: A smart goal should have a deadline. It helps with motivation and allows the learner to prioritize how to achieve the goal. A realistic sense of urgency in achieving a goal will help learners continue the momentum that inches them closer to the goal.

To give SMART goals a schedule, have the learner reflect on questions like: “Where should I be with my goal in 3 weeks? What do I need to help me reach this goal by the end of the quarter?” This helps to create an actionable timeline.

Put learning goals into action with Skills Academies

When a company emphasizes a learning culture, employees know that setting learning goals for themselves is an ongoing expectation. Leaders can support continued learning by offering comprehensive training in the form of a Skills Academy. These in-depth, internal training programs should relate directly to employees’ learning goals while prioritizing a company’s long-term strategy. 

Start developing a Skills Academy based around common learning goals of your employees by using insights from the guide, Train Up Your Team With a Skills Academy.