The end of a calendar year invites you to think hard about what needs to be accomplished next in your business. Writing personal and team objectives is a natural beginning to the new year. As you embark on writing your business objectives – or those of your staff – here are a few concepts to keep in mind to ensure that your objectives are more than just words on paper.
- First, align to a few strategic priorities. You indicate priorities to the whole organization by what you pay attention to. Everyone should be paying attention to the same key indicators. If you use a balanced scorecard approach, write your objectives in the same categories all the way down the organization’s ladder. If client and employee surveys are used to track results, write measures that link to these. If the CEO talks about three key indicators, link to them.
- Simplify and generalize rather than splice it too finely. Too many objectives, and too many details about how they will be achieved, stifle people’s creativity and create an expectation of “adherence” rather than encouraging creativity and self-empowerment. Do the objectives clearly state what’s important in this role, and how success will be measured? Great. That’s enough. If many people share the same role, give them the same objectives with room to shine.
- Separate the “measure” from the objective. For each objective, write out the measures. Ask the question “how will we know when we have succeeded?” The outcome is your success measure, but some people confuse the outcome with the objective. The acid test is to ask “Why are we doing this?” The true objective reflects your strategic intent. For example, “Reaching an 80% satisfaction rating in our next client survey” is not an objective – it’s a measure. The real objective might be to create a satisfying relationship with the most profitable clients in order to retain their business. Same with “Make 30 phone calls a day.” The real objective might be “Ensure high potential clients know about the advantages of our product and service offerings.” Action items below such objectives can be varied and creative, and even emerge as the year progresses. The idea is that every action is taken because of the likelihood it will cause the intent of the objective. If your objectives are measures, your people will focus on attaining the right “measures” instead of reaching for the intent of the objectives.
- Everything can be measured. Some organizations shy away from setting objectives that they think are too subjective – “how would we measure that?” Generally, the more distrust in an organization, the more emphasis on numerical statistics for performance measurement, by both leaders and staff. Any objective is easier to measure when you use behavioural descriptions of the expectation. Actual, demonstrated behaviour is the best measure for objectives around teamwork, client service, showing initiative and the like. If the work set-up makes it difficult for leaders to observe behaviour directly, write down who they’ll be tapping into for this information. And don’t neglect to ask the person doing the job to provide their own proof of how they met these objectives.
- No matter what the written objectives say, what you publicly pay attention to is what is deemed most important. If your leaders publish or compare stats, or speak publicly and often about certain projects or behaviours, those will be the expectations people pick up on. Leaders should be consistently talking about the strategic intent behind the objectives.
- Changing expectations need to be articulated, and even then, it takes time for people to make the transition. People will cling to old expectations until they are confident they can be successful in the new ones. And leaders, through habit, will inadvertently continue to pay attention to the old indicators instead of the new ones! Re-write objectives to reflect business changes throughout the year. It forces clear articulation and dialogue.
- Setting unrealistic or unreachable goals de-motivates people. It’s amazing how many times objectives are set by the leader and then totally ignored by staff, who know they are unrealistic. When everyone knows the goal isn’t really the goal but a “pie in the sky” number, than writing the goal is just a game. Who’s kidding who? Make the objectives challenging but attainable. Don’t forget that the main reason for writing objectives is to motivate people to achieve business goals. Set people up to succeed.