Setting Goals

Goals define desired outcomes. They are the building blocks for performance planning, appraisal and improvement. If this isn’t reason enough to pay attention to goals then consider Parkinson’s Law. It states that work expands to fill the time available; that without goals people will occupy themselves with activities that keep them busy, usually on activities they are most comfortable doing, but contribute very little to the organizations success.

Every organization and its members need goals – and plans for achieving them. Goals focus the limited resources, such as time, on the things that matter most.  As a manager, you are responsible for setting goals for your team. These include shared goals – so that everyone on the team has a common aim and works towards it – and personal goals, such as sales targets.

Successful goal-setting starts at the top

It makes sense for goal-setting to be a top-down exercise that begins with organization strategy. The organization exists to achieve a number of goals/outcomes so everyone in it should be linked to these goals/outcomes.  Team and individual goals should serve that strategy.

When the system works perfectly, there is a cascading of linked and aligned goals from the top of the organization to the bottom. The strategic goal of the organization sits at the top, while each of the operating units or departments have goals that directly support the strategic objective.

Within the operating units or departments, teams and individuals are assigned goals that directly support the goals of their units. The real power of these cascading goals is their alignment with the highest purposes of the organization.

Every team member and manager should understand his or her goals, how assigned activities advance the goals of the team, and how the team’s activities contribute to the strategic objective of the organization. The result is that everyone’s energy is focussed on the things that matter most.

Activities are not goals. And vice versa.

You’d be surprised how many managers don’t recognize the difference. Activities describe how people spend their time, whereas goals are the results that they seek.

Confusing activities and goals can mean that you focus on doing tasks and not achieving outcomes.  The problems can be:

  • You potentially reward activity that does not contribute to your organizations goals.
  • Your team believe that they are responsible for activity and not results.
  • You and your team waste lots of time doing stuff that adds no value.
  • The tasks required to achieve a goal will change as circumstances do, if you continue with the same list of tasks you are unlikely to achieve your goals.

Writing a goal

The Beginning: Start with an active verb, an action word that implies doing something either now or in the future. For example: devise, introduce, develop, implement, reduce and produce.

The Middle: This is the place for ‘the what’: exactly what it is you want to deliver, develop, produce… and so on. It should be written in a way that everyone understands.

The End: Here you set out a specific measure and also a date by which the goal will be achieved.

What effective goals look like:

Effective goals are:

  • Recognized as important
  • Clear
  • Written in specific terms
  • Measurable and framed in time
  • Aligned with organizational strategy
  • Achievable but challenging
  • Connected to increasing revenue, reducing cost or reducing risk

Three common mistakes you should avoid

  1. Many companies fail to create performance metrics.
  2. They fail to align rewards (monetary and others) with organization, team and individual goals.
  3. The achievement bar is set too low. An appropriately challenging goal is one that the staff member believes they have a slightly better than 50 /50 chance of achieving.

Setting Performance Metrics

Performance metrics are simply measures of an organization’s activities and how well they function. These measurements provide objective evidence of goal achievement— or progress toward it. Sales revenues, output per machine, errors per thousand units of product, and time to market for new products are all examples of performance metrics. Whichever ones you use, be sure that they are linked to goals.

Some jobs involve goals and work for which performance metrics are easily determined. If the goal is to increase revenues, you will simply create quantitative, measurable metrics for the sales staff.

But how do you create a performance metric for goals that are not easy to quantify, such as improving customer relations? Measuring customer relations is an impossible task. You may, however, be able to measure many things that contribute to improved customer relations, like the number of customer complaints handled satisfactorily during a quarter or the average time required to resolve a customer problem. So, don’t assume that qualitative goals cannot be assigned performance metrics..