Confession: I am an “I’ll know it when I see it” kind of manager — particularly when it comes to setting goals for individuals on my team and reflecting on their performance. Defining performance expectations is difficult because, well, “I’ll know it when I see it.”
Now, because I am usually the one designing and administering the performance management program, I do what I am supposed to do. I set goals collaboratively with my team, try my best to review them regularly with team members, ask for their input on their performance and complete the evaluation process. I struggle to find the value in the administrative requirements of the process.
What Setting Goals Really Looks Like in Practice
Something I started with my own team about five years ago was to create a goal map. It was just a plain old Excel spreadsheet, but it showed the organization’s goals, cascaded to my team’s goals, and then to each individual. It became a one page print out that everyone would keep handy. We didn’t have a technology solution for goals, so this worked for me as I couldn’t justify putting all of the energy in setting goals without having them paint a picture of how our work drove the organization’s success.
My peers thought I was going overboard. Oh well.
I know that there are technology products that can do this flow chart, goal setting for you and I’ve used many of them. Some are very good, but many are clunky and seem overwhelming both to frontline managers, and to those who administer the system. Plus, the concept of cascading goals down or linking individual goals up seems to baffle managers who aren’t very good at writing goals anyway.
Truth be told, setting goals is a valuable way to clarify expectations and facilitate conversations around progress so that managers can do what managers should do: set expectations, drive performance and develop talent.
It just doesn’t seem to work out quite that simply, though. In reality, the process means the organization has to first set its operational goals for the performance period — usually annually with its planning process. Here’s where it starts to break down: many organizations either don’t set operational goals, or don’t do it in a timely manner.
Why? Perhaps the business landscape is changing or perhaps there is an unwillingness to set incentive targets (operational goals) in a concrete manner for fear of not knowing where the market is going. For whatever reason, the uncertain cyclicality of setting goals has put a ding in the credibility of the process.
Performance Management Matters
Let’s step back for a minute and remember the purpose of performance management, in the first place.
Most programs have a report card design. You have what you do (e.g., grades or goals) and you have how you do it (e.g. behaviors or competencies). Typically the purpose of the program is twofold:
- Measure and improve performance
- Develop talent.
The “what you do” is reflected in the goals portion and the competency portion provides a guiding beacon for development.
What would happen if we didn’t spend up front time writing goals for every individual on a team, but, instead, wrote a business plan for the department?
Help me think this through…
- The organization sets operational business plan and goals.
- The department/team reviews the operational and business goals, and writes their operational business plan which is approved at the next level up.
- The approved plan is dissected into chunks of work and employees are assigned to the chunks and their regular work (that stuff they have to do even without goals set) is discussed in terms of where it fits in the business plan. Existing metrics are included in the business plan as a team.
- Each month, the leader has a discussion with each team member, using this business plan as a frame of reference.
- At the end of the year, the employee reflects in writing on his or her contribution to the overall plan, and the leader provides commentary as well.
Of course, this would need highly skilled and motivated leaders. Part of the reason we have such onerous performance management programs is really to force managers to do what they’re supposed to do anyway — talk about performance and development.
Would it be a better investment of time in teaching leaders to lead,and not on building infrastructures that they’re just going to complain about anyway?
I’m still noodling, obviously. I’d really like to hear from you. What are your thoughts about replacing goals with a business plan?