It’s that time of year again where many teams and organisations are in the process of setting performance objectives.

Setting the right objectives for your staff is critical in developing high performing teams.  Staff take their objectives very seriously and it has a considerable impact on where staff put their discretionary time and effort throughout the year.    What gets measured gets managed and improved so the importance of taking a little time to get them right should not be undersold.

In many cases objectives are set bottom up whereby staff prepare their own objectives, and then undertake a negotiation with their manager to agree their objectives.   This approach in theory encourages staff to have ownership over their objectives, however in practice it creates a number of problems.  This includes:

  • There is a tendency to set objectives which safe and easily achieved;
  • There is a tendency to set objectives which are controllable, in isolation and don’t take a big picture perspective;
  • There will often be incongruence between objectives set through a bottom up process and those at corporate level driven by a top down approach that is best for business;
  • They can tend to reward the wrong behaviours in an organisation; and
  • There is little focus on collaboration with other teams, units and organisations.

The underlying impact of this process is that people are not accountable for outcomes that are best for business and that drive an alignment process across the organisation.  It also drives silo rather than a one team approach across the organisation which is important given that time, resources and energy are finite.  We need to be intentional with our focus areas and where we allocate our staff resources.

So in getting ready for the next 12 months my recommendation in setting objectives for the next 12 months is to adopt the following principles:

  • Set objectives top down so that they link to the overall corporate strategy.  This can be done through planning workshops involving all staff;
  • Link your objectives to clear measures and explain the why behind them so that staff understand the context;
  • Incorporate objectives which require peers to collaborate and be accountable not only for the performance of their team but also the performance of their peers.  This is where the sum of the parts occurs in organisations as true collaboration leads to outstanding outcomes and gains that are not possible when teams work in silos;
  • Link objectives to outcomes – this may mean that staff don’t have full control in achieving the objective and may be uncomfortable.  This is important in ensuring they are leading, influencing and collaborating to achieve best for business outcomes;
  • Make sure your objectives have a balance of behaviours and tasks.  This balance is critical in ensuring outcomes are achieved constructively and there is a focus on ensuring there is a long term sustainable culture being built in the organisation;
  • Less is more – focus on fewer things and achieve them rather than a long wish list which is exactly that;
  • Ensure that all objectives are tested against the SMARTA principles. That is they are specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, have time constraints and are agreed with all involved; and
  • Involve staff in setting the targets so they have ownership.  This includes follow up from the workshops in 1:1’s to ensure there is alignment on what needs to be achieved and why.

By taking a little time to slow down to get these objectives right, it will ensure you have created the right environment for successful outcomes to be delivered.  It will also ensure that you are focused on the right things with the right people delivering the right outcomes.