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The Three Ps of Employee Goal-Setting

Incentives do not guarantee behaviour change, but they can motivate and reinforce desirable behaviours among your employees.

NBS’s research on how to drive social change revealed that, indeed, goal- and pledge-setting are some of the most effective techniques for motivating employees. Key to successful goal setting is the credibility of both the message and the organization encouraging such behaviour change. Workplace interventions can use goal-setting to direct attention and pique employee interest in the desired outcome(s). Positive feedback that recognizes employee progress on keeping pledges and meeting goals can provide the incentive employees are looking for as your firm makes its journey to sustainability.

Three important implications surfaced from the systematic review. Managers should consider these three Ps when setting goals and pledges with their employees:


Make sure your employees set personal goals.

Results are most effective when employees set individual goals for themselves; encouraging people to set meaningful personal goals makes them more likely to engage in your firms’ environmental and social initiatives.

Plain & Simple

Keep pledges plain and simple.

A synthesis of experimental studies revealed that simple pledges can effectively increase recycling and conserving energy, water and gasoline. For example, employees might be asked whether they would pledge to conserve energy by turning off lights each evening as they leave the office. Or they may be asked to consider recycling each time they are about to dispose of an item in the workplace. These are simple requests that require little investment of employee time but can have big impacts when the whole workforce participates.

Positive Feedback

Give positive feedback to employees when engaging them in CSR activities or when encouraging behaviour change.

People must accept and commit to goals. Feedback on goal attainment increases the effectiveness of goal setting and strengthens this commitment. Feedback may include a simple overall evaluation or more specific information about the level of performance or the nature of the behaviour. Positive feedback that reinforces feelings of confidence, pride and satisfaction in your employees can sustain behaviour change and provide incentive to further improve.

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  • Lauren Turner

    Lauren completed a Bachelor of Health Sciences and a Master’s in Environment and Sustainability at Western University. She interned with the Network for Business Sustainability as part of the MES program, and continued to edit and contribute content to the network in the years following. She later completed a Master’s in Insurance and Risk Management from the MIB School of Management in Italy, where she focused on environmental risk mitigation strategies in the face of changing market sentiments towards low carbon. Lauren has worked primarily in the non-profit and higher-ed sectors in Toronto and London over the past decade. Her work has revolved around corporate social responsibility in mining and minerals governance, stakeholder engagement, project and program management, and writing/editing for corporate audiences. Her writing has focused on the intersection of sustainability and finance, access to capital, investor risk, consumer behaviour, and sustainable marketing. She is interested in conversations around how industry can hedge against risk and benefit financially from improving the sustainability of their operations.

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