They Why and How of Setting Employee Performance Goals and Objectives

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Using This Book to Write Better Performance Goals - Free Book Excerpt From Perfect Phrases for Setting Performance Goals


Before we start you on the path to writing better performance goals and before we explain how to use this book to help improve both individual work performance and overall performance of your work unit or company, we need to place performance goals within the business and management context and examine why it's important to take the time to establish performance goals for employees.

After all, if you don't see the sense or value in working with employees to set goals, it's not likely you're going to do it. And employees also need to understand what goals are, how they can be used, and, most importantly, what value there is in having them.

What Are Performance Goals Used For?

There's a popular misconception that the way to improve performance, whether on an individual basis or for a work unit, is to appraise and evaluate it after the fact. You're probably familiar with the performance appraisal process that is often used once a year. Manager and employee sit down to discuss and evaluate performance for the past year.Some forms are used to record the
conversation. Sometimes the process goes smoothly and sometimes not. More often than not, the appraisal meetings do little to meet the needs of the employee or the manager and neither considers them helpful. Or worse, they dread them.

Performance appraisals can be valuable, but not on their own. In fact, the many benefits of managing and appraising performance are lost when managers focus solely on the appraisal process or the end point. It's like driving while looking in the rearview mirror: you see what's already past and beyond your control. If we want to improve performance, we need a forwardlooking process so we prevent performance problems. And we need some way of harnessing and coordinating the work of individual employees so we increase the effectiveness of the work unit and the company in general. After all, that's what we really want-for each employee to contribute to the effectiveness of the whole.

The secret of success-for organizations, managers, and employees-is to put more emphasis on making sure every employee and every manager knows what he or she needs to accomplish in the present and future.When an employee understands what he or she needs to do to succeed, it's much easier to contribute. It's also much easier for managers to do their jobs, to improve productivity, and to manage proactively, rather than have to spend time stamping out small fires after the fact. Clear purpose helps everyone succeed and, bottom line, that's what we all want.

Enter performance goals. Like the bull's-eye on an archery target, performance goals specify what the employee needs to aim at. Let's look at how they can help.

For the Organization

To succeed, organizations need to be able to coordinate the work of individual employees and work units, so that everyone is pulling in the same direction. Performance goals provide the foundation to allow this kind of coordination to occur.
The process of setting individual performance goals provides the mechanism for translating the goals of the organization as a whole into smaller chunks that are then assigned or delegated to individual employees.That's necessary because organizations achieve their overall goals to the extent that each employee does his or her part in completing the right job tasks in effective ways.

For the Manager

It's easy to think about performance management and goal setting as"overhead."In a world where many managers are exceedingly busy, there's a tendency to think that performance management and goal setting are simply a paper chase that has little to do with the manager's life.

That's not true. Yes, the process takes time and effort. What's easy to miss is that goal setting is an investment that pays off through higher productivity. Let's look at how properly set goals help managers.

First, most managers want employees to do their jobs with a minimum of direct supervision. Employees who require constant guidance and direction eat up a lot of managerial time.Where do performance goals fit? When an employee knows what he or she needs to accomplish and what is expected, it's a lot easier for that employee to work without constant supervision. Also, by helping employees understand how their individual work contributes to the overall goals of the organization, we enable them to make their own decisions about how to spend their work time so that their work is consistent with the priorities of the organization. The result? The employees know what they must do, how well they must do it, and why they are doing it. That means there's much less need for ongoing supervision. Also, clear performance goals allow managers to empower their staff to make decisions relevant to their work without having to consult the manager on every little question.

Second, clear goals allow employees to monitor their own progress all year 'round and correct their efforts as necessary. If employees know what they need to accomplish, they can look at their results as they go and identify barriers to achieving those goals. Once again, this ability to self-monitor and self-correct means less managerial time is needed to supervise and guide employees.

Third, the performance appraisal/review becomes much easier, causes far less anxiety, and goes much faster when there are clear performance goals. In fact, the better the performance goals,the clearer they are and the more measurable they are,the less managers and employees have to venture into the realm of vague opinions about performance during the appraisal process.Combine this with the fact that performance goals allow employees to monitor their efforts and the results throughout the year and we get an appraisal process that is much more effective and yields no surprises for the employee.

Finally, let's consider the value of performance goals in helping to proactively identify barriers to performance. It does little good to identify poor performance after the fact or after it has affected the organization. Clear performance goals make it much easier to monitor performance throughout the year and catch situations where performance may be veering off course. Then what follows is a diagnostic process in which employee and manager can figure out what might be causing performance deficits and take action early. In other words, the goals serve as the basis for an "early warning system," because they are specific enough to allow employee and manager to gauge progress all year long.

For the Employee

Most employees want and need to know four things about their work so they can contribute and feel comfortable about where they are in the organization:

• What do I need to accomplish?
• Why am I doing what I'm doing?
• How well must I do it?
• How am I doing?

Job descriptions are of some help in outlining what an employee needs to accomplish, but usually don't specify the "how well" part. Performance appraisals can provide information about how an employee is doing, but they are usually not done often enough to provide enough information.

Ideally, performance goals specify what accomplishments are necessary and how well the work should be done. They are much more specific than job descriptions.This helps the employee have a better understanding of his or her job.That's always a good thing. The more an employee understands the job, the more likely he or she can contribute.

Of course, employees want to know how they are doing. As we mentioned earlier regarding the organization and the manager, clear performance goals help employees to monitor their efforts and assess their results during the year and provide a basis for performance appraisals and reviews.The goals can also serve as a basis for ongoing discussion between manager and employee or,forthat matter,among employees,aimed at improving work contributions. Employees can receive recognition for accomplishments throughout the year, since it's easy to identify when an employee has met or exceeded a performance goal.

The bottom line here is that performance goals help employees know where they need to go and what they need to do to get there and help them determine how they are doing.

Where Do Performance Goals Come From?

Performance goals don't appear out of the blue and they aren't created from nothing. Where do they come from?

Since performance goals are used to coordinate and aim employees so they can contribute to the overall performance of the organizations, they need to link to the goals of the organization. Performance goals can't result in better performance unless they are derived from the goals and priorities of the work unit and the company. We recommend that performance goals be based upon the needs of the organization. That's where they must originate to be most effective. (In the next chapter, we'll map out the sequence that links individual goals to organizational goals.)

It's not uncommon for managers to pull or generate performance goals from job descriptions. That's not a good idea. Job descriptions are notorious for being out of date and far too general to provide meaningful yearly goals for employees. Also, they do not take into account the individual strengths and weaknesses of any particular employee, since they don't describe people, but positions. Job descriptions may be useful as background material for setting goals, but keep in mind that it's quite possible, and even desirable, for different people in the same position, with the same job description, to have somewhat different goals.

Finally, individual performance goals develop from corporate goals through discussion and dialogue between the manager and each employee. The goals are set and negotiated individually and collaboratively. They are not imposed, dictated, or "given" to the employee. Why? Here are the main reasons:

1. Most employees-those who have been in their positions for a while-know how they can best contribute. They know their jobs and how well they need to do them. Employees are in the best positions to set goals for themselves.
2. Since we want employees to buy into the goals and treat them as most important, they need to participate in the specification of the goals that apply to them. When people are active participants in setting goals, they tend to work harder to achieve them, since they have a feeling of ownership.
3. Performance goals, by themselves, are important, but so are the discussions that generate them. As you will see later, the discussion between manager and employee serves many purposes, the least of which involves writing down goals. The discussion helps employees understand where they fit in the organization and provides meaning and con text for their work. It helps employees understand the importance and the larger purpose of their work. We know that when employees feel their work has meaning, they tend to be much more motivated and diligent in their efforts to achieve those goals.

So, to summarize, performance goals are based on the needs of the organization and are generated through discussion and dialogue with employees. If you skip or gloss over the dialogue, the process becomes less meaningful and more a paper chase.

How to Use This Book

Developing performance goals isn't easy. It requires an investment of time and effort by the manager and each employee. The purpose of this book is to make the process a bit shorter, less frustrating, and easier for all parties.

The book is organized into two parts.The first part is this one. READ IT! Don't simply assume that you know what's in the first part, since it's absolutely critical that you understand the details of performance goals and goal setting.We'II provide those to you and map out how to go about setting goals so they work and how to go about using the goals you've set.

Once you've read this first part, you'll be ready to make use of the goal phrases in this book.You can use it in several ways.
First, you can use the statements in this book "as is," to the extent that they fit your situation. We've tried to generate goal phrases that will fit a wide variety of jobs and job responsibilities and we've categorized them to make them easy to find. However, you must make sure that the goals you use reflect your situation, your company, and the needs of company, management, and employee. So that means you may need to customize extensively.

Second, you may find that one of the strengths of this book is that it can stimulate employee and management thinking about goal setting. These phrases provide good starting points for reflection and discussion. Just keep in mind the point-performance improvement and coordination.

Generally, we suggest that you use this book prior to sitting down with employees to set goals. Before meeting with each employee, take a few minutes to go through the sections you think are relevant to him or her and take note or jot down any goals you think may be applicable.

Consider sharing the book with employees beforehand. To reduce the time you spend in goal-setting meetings, you can provide a copy of this book to the employee and ask him or her to go through and identify a certain number of goals-let's say, 10-15 goals-that might fit his or her job. This will work only if the employee understands the job well and also understands where your work unit and company are going in the next year, so consider spending a few minutes with the employee before the goal-setting meeting to discuss those issues.

What's Next?

Now that we've covered some of the basics, we'll guide you step by step through the goal-setting process and provide you with valuable suggestions for ensuring that everyone benefits from the investment in goal setting.

Learn more about Perfect Phrases for Setting Performance Goals