Here’s how to have a planning conversation that does get results

by Danique Geskus | Sep 27, 2023

The planning meeting, also known as the goal setting meeting, is held at the beginning of the year to discuss goals and plans for the coming year. During this conversation, the expectations of both parties are central and agreements on objectives are made. Learned recommends separating this conversation from the appraisal interview. This is because the purpose of a performance review is to look back on the past year, and salary or other promotions may be discussed. By conducting the assessment interview and the planning interview separately, you create space for the employee’s input in the planning interview.


New year, new good intentions

The beginning of a new year lends itself perfectly to setting new goals for the period ahead. On a personal level, these good intentions have been a familiar stick to change course drastically or slightly less drastically for years. It is also good to set goals in the business field. Setting (ambitious) goals motivates employees to achieve maximum results.

In the traditional appraisal cycle, the goal setting interview is at the beginning of the year. Many companies argue that the annual conversation about goals should be completed before the end of Q1. That way, there is plenty of room during the year to actively work on the set goals.


Preparing for a planning meeting

A good planning conversation starts with preparation. The employee takes the initiative in setting the goals and the supervisor completes the goals. By letting employees figure out for themselves what their goals are, you put some of the responsibility on the employees. This is in line with the principles of The New Assessment*. By applying this method in the HR cycle, you create a continuous dialogue between the employee and manager. A method that focuses on more than just employee performance and where feedback is seen as synonymous with working on personal development and growth.

*The New Appraisal is a method that replaces the traditional appraisal cycle, in which you engage in ongoing conversations with each other to provide feedback. Jacco van den Berg (author of “The New Assessment”) did the research for his book in collaboration with Marianne van Woerkom, Charissa Freese affiliated with the Department of Human Resource Studies at Tilburg University.


The purpose and usefulness of a planning meeting

The purpose of the planning interview is to be clear at the beginning of the (annual) assessment cycle on where the focus will be. By specifically defining what the objectives will be and thereby the intended outcome, you can measure the goals set against the goals and vision of the organization. This is called goal alignment. Depending on the type of organization, the type of objectives will be determined. Objectives fall into business goals and learning goals. Learning goals, in turn, fall into goals for competencies (behaviors) and professional/technical skills.

Objectives are best set according to the SMART (specific, measurable, acceptable, realistic and time-bound), or OKR (objectives and key results) principle.
In the next paragraph, we explain the differences between SMART and OKR.


Make goals measurable by making them concrete

Making sure goals are always SMART makes them clear and concrete. This contributes to the feasibility of the goal. An objective is SMART if it consists of the following criteria
Specific Indicates clearly what exactly you need to do to accomplish this.
Measurable Indicates the expected end result in qualitative or quantitative standards.
Acceptable Fits within departmental and organizational goals.
Realistic The objective is achievable within, for example, the set time, money and resources.
Time-bound Clearly indicates start and end dates and any important milestones.


Examples of SMART stated objectives:
    • Reducing long-term sick leave by 5% by the end of this year, within the existing budget.
    • Increasing employee satisfaction 5% over last year in the area of job happiness, within the existing budget.
    • In 5 years, I want to be HR director, responsible for the entire HR department of an organization with at least 500 employees.

The objective must be challenging to motivate enough. For this reason, the A of Acceptable is also sometimes replaced by Ambitious and the R of Realistic by Relevant.


In short, the OKR method ensures that as an organization you can link goals to measurable results. First you determine the Objectives. This is the long-term goal that comes from vision and mission. Importantly, the objectives should be directional, inspiring and understandable. This focuses on 2 questions; (1) what do I want to achieve and (2) how am I going to achieve it. You ask these questions from the organizational perspective and also from the team and employee perspective. Next, several Key Results will appear under the Objectives. They should be measurable, lead to an objective assessment, and be challenging but not unrealistic.

Generally, they are related to topics such as growth, performance or engagement. It is important to remember that Key Results are not the same as tasks. Key Results are the outcomes of performing a series of tasks. Determine objectives per year but also per quarter. HIthis allows you to remain flexible to change and not lose sight of the main goal.


Setting appointments during a planning meeting

To track progress, it is important to record the agreements made. You do this in a supporting tool where progress and convenience are key. Within Learned’s software, various templates allow employees to create business goals and learning objectives independently. While completing the form, Learned makes suggestions for activities to be done to achieve the desired goal. These suggestions can be modified and supplemented to align with the company’s strategic goals.

In this way, it automatically becomes clear what results are expected at the time of a follow-up interview or end date. In addition, employees can request immediate (internal and external) feedback on these goals at the touch of a button. This keeps the lines of communication short and ensures that obstacles are overcome more quickly.


Follow up on goals after the planning meeting

To make sure you don’t forget goals, set automatic reminders within Learned’s software. Employees are then asked every week or every month to update the progression of their goals. That’s how goals stay top-of-mind. In addition, scheduling interim 1-on-1 meetings is prerequisite for securing progress on set goals. Staying in frequent conversation about these goals and providing interim feedback on the corresponding actions will ensure that you can achieve goals.


Getting started yourself?

At Learned, we believe that companies can grow faster if they empower their employees to do their best work. Providing continuous feedback increases performance by 12% and the moment goals are set during these conversations, average performance increases by 14%(Gartner research, 2018) Want to know how you can get started with the Planning Conversation or the Good Conversation? Watch the video demo or try the software for free for 14 days.

conduct appraisal interviews and planning interviews easily with benchmarking of results


1. Why is it recommended to separate the planning interview from the appraisal interview?

The planning interview and the appraisal interview are best conducted separately to create space for the employee’s input into the planning process. The appraisal interview looks back on the past year and may be about salary and promotions, while the planning interview focuses on setting goals and plans for the coming year.


2. What is the purpose of a planning meeting and how does it contribute to the organization?

The purpose of a planning meeting is to be clear at the beginning of an assessment cycle what the focus will be for the coming year. By setting concrete goals and measuring them against the goals and vision of the organization, “goal alignment” is achieved. This contributes to employee motivation and performance.


3. How can goals best be formulated for a planning meeting?

Objectives are best formulated using the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Acceptable, Realistic, Time-bound) method or the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) principle. SMART goals are clear and concrete, while OKR ensures that goals are linked to measurable outcomes and inspiring long-term goals.

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