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Setting Performance Objectives

Failure to provide clarity about performance objectives and to discuss performance regularly are common mistakes. But time spent agreeing on specific actions is invaluable. It ensures everyone is clear on what needs to be achieved, whether it’s outputs or the process, and avoids misunderstandings down the line.

The shift to remote and hybrid working requires a more fluid approach to performance management which moves beyond the static annual goal-setting to more regular conversations about objectives and performance.  Managers should encourage dialogue and openness to create engagement around, and track progress against, measurable goals, as well as identifying strengths and development areas.

It happened six months ago

Regular dialogue is important.  If you’ve ever been called to attend jury service, you may be familiar with a tactic used by defence barristers when questioning witnesses.  Let’s take an example of two police officers who, six months ago, stopped and searched a car at 2 am. They found a quantity of brand new power tools still in their boxes: the driver was arrested for suspicion of theft.

The officers will have made notes at the time of the arrest and, six months later in court, the defending barrister will pose questions to each police officer in turn…

“What time did you stop the motorist in the street?”

“2 am”

“That’s odd, your colleague said it was about 2:15”

“How many power tools were there in the boot of the car?”

“About two dozen”

“Your colleague said there were 18”

… and so the questioning continues to the point where sufficient doubt is put into the mind of the jurors about the facts of the incident.

Poorly defined objectives

Of course, our appraisal experiences should never feel like an appearance in court. But we can draw lessons from referring to events that happened a few months earlier and agreeing on objectives. So, the question is, when you next meet to review the objectives, will there be 100% agreement about whether the objectives were achieved? If there is no agreement, it’s likely that the objectives weren’t clearly understood by both parties.

A simple test to check clarity 

If someone else carried out a review, would there be agreement about whether the objectives and results were achieved or not?

Vague Clear
You’re doing a good job, but I think you should see more people. Meet at least an average of six new prospects every month for the next six months and record actions from each meeting.
You need to improve communication with your direct reports. Conduct and record weekly one-to-one with each team member and hold monthly team meetings. Review individual and team performance and reset action plans if appropriate.
Your punctuality is not good; you need to improve it. Be at your desk ready to work by 9 o’clock every morning and not leave before 5 unless you have discussed it with me.
The management of your time with your reporting needs to improve. Deliver your weekly status reports to me by midday every Thursday and your monthly ones by 5 pm on the last Friday of every month.

A structure for objective setting:

Begin: use a “hard” verb: reduce

Middle: state what is to be achieved: loss ratio

End: with a measure either quality, quantity, cost, or time: by 7.5% over the previous year

And: reference how the achievement will be measured: as evidenced in the Financial Results Statement

Performance Management training

Our interactive, two-hour Performance Management course gets straight to the heart of the topic providing actionable steps to implement the key learning points.  Courses are delivered in-company by our subject experts either face-to-face or remotely.

This blog was first published in 2018 and updated 6th October 2021

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