How to set effective objectives

If you want your people to deliver great performances, then there are a few proven and important components that need to be in place to achieve this.

One of the most critical is to recognise that everyone, no matter who they are, needs clarity from the organisation and their line manager on what is expected of them.

Too many organisations make huge assumptions that their people know what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, and appear to believe that their people must be mind readers at the same time!

Any decent performance management process and the management behaviours that underpin it requires the initial direction and expectations to be understood and agreed by both parties.  

This can be relatively easily achieved by properly setting and documenting employee objectives, at the very least annually.

Failure to do this creates all manner of issues, some small, and some much larger with ever-increasing risk.

So what should we expect?

Even the phrase ‘what is expected of them’ is broader than it sounds. In a nutshell, here is ideally what every employee in your organisation or team should have absolute clarity on:

So you see, the setting of employee objectives is just one of the many important mechanisms that allow an organisation/line manager to provide each person with the direction they need to be a great performer.

So what do we mean by the setting of effective objectives? What do these look like?

Well in some ways this is pretty simple, in other ways it definitely isn’t! So let’s start with the simple bit. In short, ask yourself, how clear are your respective employees or team members on what they have to deliver or achieve day to day, week by week, month by month?  

A list of tasks with measurable outputs & deliverables are an important part of a) the employee delivering what the organisation wants them to deliver, and b) having a way of measuring how effective the employee is in their role.

If you don’t have any deliverable outputs, it is very difficult for both parties to know how effective the employee is being.

So what do good objectives look like?

Well, there are hundreds of options here and they clearly depend on the type of role and organisation in question. Good and simple examples are:

And so on….

You will see that all of the above examples have at least one number as part of the objective. Numbers here are really useful as they are easy to understand whether they have been achieved, as long as the way of measuring them is robust.

So if you just took the simple route of ensuring each one of your employees had a monthly, quarterly or annual target for those things that make up the key purpose of their role, this would add significant value to the organisation, the line manager, and the person in question.

Do I always have to use numbers?

No, you don’t. You can look more broadly and begin to include more qualitative objectives, so not necessarily numerical ones, but maybe ones that are about demonstrating skills, or achieving a project outcome.

These are a little harder to set and measure as they often don’t have a number associated with them which is why people shy away from them or set them badly. So a basic rule of thumb with these type of objectives is as follows:

That old chestnut…

And finally, a useful formula for objective setting, which most people have seen a version of before, is SMART.

Setting effective employee objectives will be much easier if you use at least the spirit of SMART. So each objective you set for each person, run it through the SMART checklist as follows:

In short, the more each objective you set passes the above ‘robustness’ test, the clearer and fairer the objective will be, the more engaged the person delivering it will be, the more likely to achieve it, and the fewer issues it will create for everyone involved when you come to review it.

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