Ready, Set, Goal: Annual Goal Setting for Water Testing Labs

Goal setting can help prepare your lab for success in 2021. As a lab manager, you are the guiding force that helps link larger business objectives, such as financial targets set by executives, and the daily reality of the bench. It's important to help employees set goals for the new year that align with your company's strategies and objectives.

Review Last Year's Progress

Before setting new goals, reflect on the last year. If employees met their annual targets, be sure to celebrate them so they know their hard work is appreciated. If they fell short, investigate why. Even the best efforts could lead to failure if the goal was unrealistic or if they didn't have the required resources.

This year, you'll need to be more flexible and understanding. The unprecedented challenges of 2020 proved that water testing is an essential service. This is an important lesson to carry into your goals for the next year: your work matters for the health and safety of your community.

Map Individual Goals to the Lab's Targets

Whether you manage an independent lab or one that is part of a larger organization, individual goals should be linked to the lab's overall goals. Once you have clearly defined targets from upper management, such as a percentage increase over previous revenue, make sure that employees' annual goals help achieve it.

Some target goals your lab might set for the year include adding new clients, achieving a new accreditation, reducing costs, and increasing overall sales.

Use the SMART Framework

Once you have a sense of where your lab stands in relation to last year's progress, and you have clearly outlined targets for the coming year, it's time to narrow in on how your employees will contribute.

Many organizations use the "SMART" framework for performance goals. This acronym stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-based

Let's say your overall lab goal is to boost customer satisfaction. This could be achieved by improving your turnaround times. Lab Manager suggests tracking turnaround time in your LIMS for each analyst. Then, you can get specific, for example, by narrowing the goal down to a specific bacteria. The turnaround time is clearly measurable — in days or hours, depending on the test. Make sure the goal is realistic. Everyone would like to give instant results, but with pandemic-related supply chain challenges and other priorities in lab, set an achievable timeline. Next, make sure the goal is relevant to the overall objectives; in this case, by getting test results to your customers quickly, you are working toward greater customer satisfaction. Lastly, make the goal time-based by setting a deadline. You can't expect your team to magically speed up overnight. Aim to shave time off by mid-year, for example.

Empower Your Team to Own Their Goals

Schedule a team meeting to kick off the annual goal-setting season. Brainstorm as a group to come up with goals for specific teams or departments. You may be surprised to find that those who work at the bench every day want to improve on details that you hadn't thought of yet.

As their manager, you should set the overall tone and make sure that individual goals are "SMART" and related to larger plans for the lab. But that doesn't mean you should set aside days of work to craft the perfect goal for each employee. Ask each team member to draft their own goals so they can focus on what makes sense for their position. Then, you can review what they've chosen to offer additional input.

You want to create goals that are achievable but challenging enough to push everyone to grow and improve throughout the year. points out that goals that are clear and challenging are proven to drive higher levels of performance.

Follow Up and Check In

Goal setting is only the first step. You can't simply set goals in December and forget about them for six months. Check in several times throughout the year — monthly, if possible — to see the progress your team is making and to identify any obstacles in the way. If you have monthly one-on-one meetings, build goal checking into the agendas.

By keeping goals top of mind, you build accountability and help employees focus on what matters to the lab and their professional ambitions.

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Kelly McSweeney
Science and Technology Writer
Armed with a master's degree in writing and a decade of professional work in scientific publishing, Kelly McSweeney writes about science and technology innovations. She translates complicated topics into stories that capture the curiosity of everyone from casual readers to technical experts. Kelly has degrees from Emerson College and the University of Vermont, and has worked on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics publications at Wiley, In Compliance magazine, and Pearson. Her articles about the latest research are published by ZDNet, Northrop Grumman, and Wiley.