I am currently working with 3 different clients on some aspect of setting employee performance or personal development goals and how these will be used to measure and reward employees. While all 3 organizations have slightly different issues they, as well as many of the organizations I have worked with in the past, struggle with setting the right employee performance goals, determining how to measure them, and getting employees to partcipate in setting goals.
It often surprises me how strongly employees at all levels resist setting their goals and resent when goals are set for them. It seems to me that by suggesting and/or participating in your own goal setting you have the opportunity to manage expectations and focus your work or personal development goals on something that is important, relevant, and realistic. If you have one ambitious, career-oriented, bone in your body you do what I describe below already and often unconsciously. Ask yourself: “What is the one really big thing I can do, learn, and show that will get me ____ (a promotion, more money, visibility, or responsibility). Who will I involve in helping me to set or reach this goal? Whose ‘buy-in” do I need? How will I measure the goal and know if I am making progress? How will I make sure my progress and focus is visible to my boss?
Earlier in the year I wrote an article on How to Create an Executable Strategic Plan that described principles from Stephen Covey’s Book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution. Many of the points I made in the article are just as relevant to personal goal setting, such as:
1. Take a Stakeholder Centered Approach and involve others. To ensure that you are choosing the right goals involve other people in helping you determine what will have the most impact. This includes your boss, and might include your direct reports, your customers, or peers in other departments. It is especially important to involve these stakeholders if their cooperation, action, resources, or timeliness will be require for you to succeed in reaching the goal. As with everything, involving people early increases buy-in.
2. Pick the right goals and limit the number of Goals to no more than 3. Your performance and personal goals (or those of your direct reports) should focus on your top 1-3 Wildly Important Goals (WIG). A WIG is a Goal that if you fail to achieve, nothing else will matter. Picking the right goals is your key to success. Covey’s book outlines these WIG Rules:
a. No more than 1-3 WIGs per person/team/organization at a time
b. Sub WIGs must ensure the success of the Parent-WIGs
c. A clear Finish Line - A WIG must have a measurable gap (From X to
Y by When)
For more on setting team WIGs check out this Fast Company article, How To Set Wildly Important Goals, And What They'll Do For You
3. Choose and Understand the Best Measures for Your Goals. There is much that has already been said about the value of setting SMART Goals, but more important is understanding what to measure and how to measure the goal. Covey describes the importance of distinguishing between lag measures (the target result) and lead measures (things that affect your ability to hit the target – often called drivers). For example, if I am trying to lose weight, the goal might be to lose 10 pounds. This is a lag measure – it doesn’t tell me what to do – it just tells me how well I did. The lead measure, the real drivers of weight loss, might be how many hours of exercise I got this week, or how many calories I ate today. Thus, my best measures might be calories a day and how long/often I exercise. Look at your goals and measures, are they leading or lagging?
4. Create and Frequently Use a Compelling Score Board. Covey teaches that once you have your important goals and key measures you need to create a scorecard or dashboard that is
b. Is Highly Visible to the Players
c. Has the Right Lead and Lag Measure
d. Tells you immediately if you are Winning or Losing
And in the case of performance goals this is … The Performance Review Goals Section. This should be a living one page document that you re-visit at least once a month, if not more often, that allows you to keep score of your progress toward the goal. The companies or professionals who use these performance goals as only an annual exercise to get HR off their backs fail to grasp the point of focusing energy of the most important goals. My advice? Print out your goals and measures, blow them up, and post them on your desktop and calendar so they stare you in the face each day.
5. Create A Cadence Of Accountability – and Visibility. When organizations set strategic goals they must have a regular way to review the scoreboard and reinforce the WIGs. In the case of your own personal goals, every meeting with your manager is an opportunity to describe what you have done in pursuit of the goal and to remind the boss of your Priorities and Focus. When coaching clients using the stakeholder centered approach, I insist that they not only set personal development goals, but that they regularly check-in with stakeholders to discuss progress and ask for advice. This simple act has the ability to change people’s perceptions of you and to ensure they frequently see your ongoing commitment to your goals.
While on the topic of Employee Goal Setting and Measuring, I refer you to an article that was published in September’s Mckinsey Quarterly: Encouraging Your People to Take the Long View. The authors make similar points to those above and tie performance goal setting to organizational health.
“Measuring the performance of people, especially managers and senior executives, presents a perennial conundrum. Without quantifiable goals, it’s difficult to measure progress objectively. At the same time, companies that rely too much on financial or other “hard” performance targets risk putting short-term success ahead of long-term health—for example, by tolerating flawed “stars” who drive top performance but intimidate others, ignore staff development, or fail to collaborate with colleagues. The fact is that when people don’t have real targets and incentives to focus on the long term, they don’t; over time, performance declines because not enough people have the attention, or the capabilities, to sustain and renew it.”
Do you have any thoughts on the issues you encounter when setting your own goals or those of your team? Please share what works for you.