How many of us made a resolution on New Year’s Eve?
Many of us do, but for most of us our good intentions fall by the wayside after a few days, weeks – or even hours in some cases! Why? For many of us the reason for that we fall at the first fence is that a lot of these types of resolutions are made on the spur of the moment. They are not always the product of considered thought and are often an ad hoc reaction to a particular set of circumstances rather than an integral part of any long term ‘life plan’.
Transplant this logic to your work situation and replace the word resolution with ‘objective’ and is the situation so much different?
Setting objectives is one of the key components in the effective management of performance. Every organisation does it on a daily basis, whether they are aware of it or not. Even if your company has no formal systems there is no reason why any manager or supervisor should not set objectives for his or her team.
In the workplace, many of us set ourselves objectives or goals from time to time. These may range from simple things, like organisation of our desk to completing a report, or to more challenging targets such as gaining promotion or even changing our job!
Apart from personal goals, most organisations will set objectives, formally or informally, at least at senior levels, but many employees are not set objectives at all whilst others are set meaningless ones. Even where objectives are set, there is often no proper system in place to support the employee, or monitor or reward them when these objectives are achieved.
What is an objective?
The dictionary states that an objective is an aim, purpose or target and that it is something specific and finite that can be accomplished over a period of time. Objectives can appear in various guises, they can be highly structured, aimed at individuals or teams, general or specific, formal or informal, organisational biased or more personal.Why do we need objectives?
A properly set objective forms part of the management process that ensures everyone knows what part they play in the overall organisation. This should enable agreement of expectations, focus on a task or range of tasks, help to prioritisation, mean that success can be measured objectively, improve communication, motivation, team work and informs performance review. A lack of clear business objectives can lead to an organisation operating with a team of goldfish i.e. swimming around in circles with no obvious point or direction and no collective memory of their previous experiences.Main forms of objectives 1. Organisational
Where the organisation has already developed corporate or departmental objectives then these may be passed on to managers and other staff as appropriate. The normal manner of doing this is downwards through a cascade approach. As the objectives in this case are set “on high” they are likely to be fairly formal with little room for personalisation or negotiation, other than in agreeing on their interpretation and relevance for a particular manager or team.2. Team
Whether the team is a division of a large company or simply a small group of employees working together, it may be appropriate for the team to be set general objectives, especially where this involves targets such as production output, quality or customer service levels. These can then be divided into individual objectives where appropriate.
3. Individual (job related)
In most cases these will be built around the key accountabilities and responsibilities of a job with a number of specific objectives relating to performance and achievement within the role. It may be worth considering asking individual employees to suggest at least some of their own objectives as this may improve their perceived ownership of them. Others will be derived as a result of the cascade effect, passing on part or all of an objective that has been set from a higher level.
4. Individual (personal)
In some cases, the individual may be set objectives, or may seek to suggest objectives, which are orientated towards personal and / or career development. These may be more stretching and less likely to contribute to merit assessment in their current role and aimed more as targets relating longer-term personal development.5. Personal goals
Separate from objectives set / agreed by a manager, certain employees will set themselves personal goals. These may be focused on seeking promotion or a salary increase, personal job satisfaction, seeking a different work-life balance or maybe simply trying to enhance job security.What is a good objective?
Objectives should meet certain basic criteria with the obvious basic requirement being that individual and lower level ones should complement rather than conflict with broader organisational objectives.
A well-known acronym for objectives is that they should be “SMART”.S: specific
Objectives should be clear and understandable, relating to a specific target.
Although it is not always possible to be precise in every case, a vague phrase is not likely to help achievement of an objective. For example, “increasing productivity”, “increasing sales” or “improving customer service” are all vague statements that do not focus on what exactly is needed. To be meaningful as objectives these statements need to be quantified e.g. increase sales by 20% per annum, increase service levels to 99.9%, maintain working capital ratios at an agreed level throughout the year or reduce labour turnover to x% etc.M: measurable
Measurements can be made in many ways such as volume, time, money, headcount, ratios etc. The important factor is that it is clearly measurable and that the start point is known so that true results can be monitored and open to scrutiny by those being assessed.A: agreed
It is very important that, as far as possible, objectives are agreed in advance by those responsible for achieving them. Imposing objectives, especially if they are felt to be unachievable or unreasonable inevitably leads to resentment and more often than not to demotivation. Of course it is sometimes necessary to use a fair amount of persuasion to avoid individuals “ducking” responsibility but even a reluctant recipient should be given the opportunity to contribute to the discussion and understand why the company has to set a particular target in order to achieve it’s overall goals.R: realistic
This is where it is important to know something about the employee or capabilities within the team before setting their objectives. Some staff respond to more challenging and stretching targets. Others could be daunted or intimidated and need more realistic and achievable targets.
Either way objectives should be achievable and within the capability of the individual or team otherwise they will more than likely be self defeating as demotivation is likely to set in quickly which could lead to underperformance on a broader scale.T: timely
All objectives should be accompanied by a sensible timescale for achievement and a review date. Complex objectives may require regular progress checks.
In addition to the above, objectives should be set with a level of consistency between different individuals, especially where teamwork is essential or if reward structures are linked to their achievement.Developing or Rewarding?
There is an ongoing debate as to whether, and how, rewards such as salary increases and bonuses should be related to objectives, especially if the latter are part of an appraisal or developmental review process. Whichever way things are presented it is probably inevitable that they are linked in some way. However, in order to ensure an open discussion on the performance parts of any personal review care should be taken that this is kept separate from any talk relating to financial reward mechanisms as often most of the latter is influenced by factors outside the control of the individual. Here is where other non-financial motivators can become a factor e.g. training and development.When should objectives be set?
In terms of timing the simple answer is anytime to suit the business. Many organisations use some form of review or appraisal, sometimes but not necessarily linked to pay. These will normally follow an annual cycle with interim reviews where appropriate. However, waiting for the annual opportunity to come around is not always applicable. There are many instances where their is a need to set objectives on a more regular basis e.g. initial appointment, promotion, change of role, introduction of new work methods, or technology, a change in business priorities, reorganisation etc. The answer to when, now becomes that the time to set objectives is immediately upon identification of the business need.Appraisal
In many companies, appraisals do not always turn out to be positive experiences. This can often be because the past experiences of both managers and employees may have fostered a degree of cynicism towards the process. Also a factor is that there is often a reluctance, on both sides, to understand the value and methodology required to contribute to a successful appraisal process. This does not mean that the appraisal process is a bad one per se, it’s just that the way in which many organisations have used it means it’s value as a management tool is not always evident.
We will leave suggestions as to how to introduce and operate a successful appraisal scheme to another time but a key part of any scheme is that there are clear objectives which meet the “SMART” criteria as far as is possible.
Peter HuntThis article has been provided by Peter Hunt a Director of MorePeople.Peter is a CIMA qualified accountant who started his career in 1982 with Armitage Bros in Nottingham. Peter went on to work in the Produce and Fresh Food sectors for the last 20years setting up MorePeople, specialist recruiters in the Pet, Produce, Horticulture and Garden & Leisure sectors, in 2000 with fellow Director Guy Moreton.
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