Setting goals and objectives for employees can be an area of concern for any manager – if they aren’t well thought out and relevant, not just to the staff member but to the organisation as a whole, there’s no point to them whatsoever.
All managers should be aware of SMART objective setting. In case you’re not already au fait with this acronym, SMART sets out all five characteristics for well-designed objectives:
Objectives must be totally clear and unambiguous; they should tell employees exactly what is expected of them, when you expect it to be done by, and other variables, such as how many units you expect them to sell, or how many new clients you expect them to get on board.
You must be able to clearly see when a goal has been achieved. Exact numbers, dates and timescales are vital when setting an effective objective – vague examples such as ‘improve customer service’ or ‘increase area sales’ are not measurable.
Make sure that objectives are realistic and that employees can reasonably achieve them. It’s OK to make them challenging, but don’t make them completely out of reach for the employee in question.
Objectives should have a demonstrable point to them, either for the company or for the employee. Setting an objective that doesn’t have any real meaning will be hard to implement and if the employee feels it’s pointless, they won’t make much effort to achieve it.
There must be a start and an end point, and fixed review dates during the year for longer-term objectives that will keep each employee on board with their goals.
One good way to set effective objectives is to involve employees from the start. Hold staff meetings to discuss the organisation’s objectives for the coming year, and ask everyone for suggestions about how the business goals could be achieved.
Make staff aware of where the business is headed and then, when it’s time to set personal objectives, make sure that you can show each employee where their objective fits into the grand scheme of things. It can also help motivate employees if they have a say in their own goal-setting, so involve them as much as possible from the start.
Once the objectives are set, the next issue is implementation. A good manager needs to ensure that each employee has the knowledge, tools and support to be able to carry out all of their agreed tasks. It’s also vital to schedule in time for regular reviews, so that if there are any problems or obstacles preventing the employee from effectively doing what’s expected of them, they are picked up early on and dealt with.
Accurate progress tracking helps when it comes to reviewing objectives at the end of each reporting period. Managers need a way of keeping up to date with progress so that they can step in and motivate where necessary and take action if it starts to look as if the staff member may be having difficulty, or there’s a reason a goal is not likely to be met.
It’s possible to track objective setting with performance management software, which can be especially useful for a busy office with lots of employees and objectives to keep track of. Performance management software can do everything from recording individual objectives and employees’ progress against each one, to scheduling staff appraisals, and can even give an overview of the strengths and weaknesses within an organisation so that managers can make effective staffing decisions.
It’s inevitable that in some cases, an employee will fail to achieve one of more of their objectives. The first thing to consider is – why wasn’t this picked up earlier? If objectives are being properly monitored, difficulties should be identified well before it’s too late.
There are four major reasons why a staff member might not be able to reach their particular goal. These are:
• They didn’t appreciate the importance of the goal to their career progression, their team or the organisation.
• They lacked the correct knowledge or skills.
• They were not sufficiently motivated.
• They didn’t have the right tools or support to be able to carry out their objective.
It’s a manager’s responsibility to ensure that all of these four issues are addressed as soon as they appear, although, in some situations, an employee may just not be sufficiently engaged and despite all the right efforts just can’t be helped.
In most cases, once you’ve identified the reason behind the failure to achieve the objective, you can work with your staff member to overcome it. Re-engage them with the business goals, impress on them why their input is so important, and ask if there’s anything you can do as a manager to help them achieve the objective. Provide any training in areas that are lacking and make sure that the staff member understands you’re there to support them with this.
Objective setting needn’t be painful; with the right tools, approach and planning, you can make them work for everybody concerned.
Written by John Clarke, a human resources specialist.