Goals and OKRs

4 Reasons Why Workplaces Should Set Quarterly Goals

May 21, 2021
June 23, 2022
Andy Przystanski
Lattice Team

Setting goals for your team? You might want to consider taking a quarterly approach.

Don’t just take our word for it — data from the 2,500+ customers using Lattice shows that over 70% of goal cycles were for a quarterly period, making it by far the most popular frequency. While organizations may opt for different cadences for engagement surveys, performance reviews, and other essential People programs, Lattice’s Advisory Services team recommends quarterly goals in most cases.

To find out why this cadence is so popular, we asked HR and business leaders to share why they prefer setting quarterly goals.

1. It keeps companies agile (but not too agile). 

Goals aren’t set in stone. As much as we’d like to plan them a year in advance (and successfully follow through), life has a knack for disrupting even the best-laid plans. Setting goals on a quarterly cadence offers teams the right balance between accountability and flexibility.

“Setting goals for longer than a quarter — even six months out — might be challenging in terms of agility in planning. This means having an opportunity to adjust the targets to adapt to internal and external factors,” said Magda Klimkiewicz, HR Manager and Business Partner at Zety. The coronavirus pandemic gave companies a crash course in just how disruptive those external factors can be. “The past year, especially, has shown us how events worldwide can directly influence the economy, our businesses, and business goals,” she said.

Still, that isn’t to say you should set or adjust goals as frequently as possible. More often isn’t necessarily merrier when it comes to goal setting — for most companies, monthly goals might distract from the actual work being done.

“Setting more frequent goals may not provide time to finish more elaborate projects, and splitting larger projects into smaller bits might be more distracting than productive,” Klimkiewicz noted. She added that it’s also harder for managers to track individuals’ development in increments less than three months.

2. It fast-tracks recognition.

Praise and recognition are essential elements of engaged company cultures. Over 80% of employees consider praise an important part of their happiness at work, and nearly two-thirds say adequate recognition would dissuade them from taking a job elsewhere.

Meeting and exceeding goals is one of the clearest triggers for recognition. But setting goals six or even twelve months in advance pushes these opportunities out, giving managers and peers fewer opportunities to acknowledge a job well done. HR leaders recommended a shorter-term approach.

“Short-term goals, like quarterly goals, require less time and commitment, making it easier for our employees to stay focused and motivated. At the same time, they're able to see quick results from their time and efforts, giving them a sense of accomplishment and an opportunity to celebrate their wins,” said Jessica Lim, HR Manager at MyPerfectResume.

“Managers also benefit from setting quarterly goals as they can check their team's progress more effectively and recognize their reports,” she added. Technology helps facilitate this process. For example, Lattice’s praise and recognition software integrates with Slack, making it easy for managers and peers to broadcast kudos to the whole company.

3. It makes for better managers.

While goals give employees the chance to reflect on performance, they can give managers the context they need to coach and develop their teams. But when goals are set long-term and feel out of sight, ongoing development conversations may get neglected or lack specificity.

“Quarterly goals are so popular among managers because it gives them a clearer view of employee progress,” said Jake Smith, Managing Director at Absolute Reg. The quarterly cadence also allows managers to check in at least once a month on goal progress during one-on-ones, allowing employees to course-correct if needed.

“It's difficult to see change when we're trapped in the day-to-day routines of our work. Short-term quarterly goals, on the other hand, include a natural stopping point, allowing us to check in and evaluate how much we have or haven't progressed,” Smith said. He added that quarterly goals also lessen the chance employees might be caught off guard during their semi-annual or annual employee performance review with their manager.

4. It even works in specialized cases.

As discussed in Lattice’s ebook, People Program Models, your industry and pace of business dictate your approach to HR focuses like employee engagement surveys, performance reviews, and goal setting. But while companies may opt to run quarterly, semiannual, or even annual reviews and surveys based on their day-to-day reality, quarterly goals work for most businesses — even those with highly specialized needs.

Alison Pearson is the Head of HR at Hal Waldman and Associates, a Pennsylvania law firm. For her organization, opting for quarterly goals was a no-brainer, as that cadence paired well with the firm’s rate of case closures.

“Breaking down our benchmarks for case closures on a quarterly basis aligns perfectly for us,” Pearson said. “Working within these quarterly target dates also prevents our case managers from reaching their thresholds too quickly, since they can see how quickly the quarter will actually pass as they continue to focus on their output.”

For large publicly traded companies, quarterly goals also align with financial reporting requirements — making them as intuitive of a choice as they’d be for private startups. “For companies like these, quarterly goal setting gives you enough room to adapt to sudden changes in the market, which are more and more common nowadays. It's the best mixture of data and timespan for making outcome-driven goals,” said Nate Tsang, founder of WallStreetZen.

While quarterly goals work for the vast majority of businesses, other aspects of your People strategy, like surveying and performance reviews, require a bit more tailoring to get just right.

We’ve worked with organizations that conduct quarterly, semi-annual, and annual surveys and reviews — and a handful somewhere in between. Those experiences gave Lattice Advisory Services a deeper understanding of not just what approaches companies can choose but which they should choose. We’ve broken these down into six easy-to-remember archetypes, which you can read about in People Program Models.