Helping employees set and reach performance objectives is a core part of a manager’s role.
People usually want to understand how their work contributes to the organisation’s goals and objectives: setting the right targets helps to connect corporate and personal objectives for both the employee and the manager. Goal-setting is particularly important as a mechanism for providing ongoing and year-end feedback. By establishing and monitoring targets, managers can give their team members real-time input and feedback on their performance while motivating them to achieve more.
What is the Current Wisdom?
So, how involved should managers be in helping team members establish and achieve their goals? Since failure to meet goals can have consequences for managers, the team member, the team and the organisation as a whole, managers need to learn to balance their involvement with the team member’s ownership over the process.
“A manager’s job is to provide ‘supportive autonomy’ that’s appropriate to the person’s level of capability” so says Linda Hill, Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. She argues the key is to be hands-on while giving team members the room they need to succeed on their own. How can this be achieved?
Here is a set of guiding principles to help managers support their team members in achieving their objectives.
1) Aim to connect employee objectives to broader organisational goals
For goals to be meaningful and effective in motivating employees, they must directly link to the broader organisational mission, goals and objectives. People who do not understand the importance of their role in contributing to the organisation’s success are more likely to become disengaged. “Achieving goals is often about making tradeoffs when things don’t go as planned. [Employees] need to understand the bigger picture to make those tradeoffs when things go wrong,” says Hill. No matter what level the employee is at, he should be able to articulate exactly how his efforts feed into the broader company strategy.
2) Make sure goals are attainable, but challenging
Since team members are ultimately responsible for reaching their objectives, they need to be directly involved in setting them. Managers should ask team members to draft and contribute to determining meaningful objectives. Once the initial objectives have been drafted, managers should then discuss with team members whether the targets are both realistic and sufficiently challenging.
However, managers need to be careful as team members are likely to resent having objectives that are too challenging to accomplish. Equally, if the bar is set too low, they will not provide sufficient challenge and stretch for people. If the targets are too low, they will not motivate team members and the manager will miss opportunities for excellent performance, settling instead for mediocrity.
3) Create a plan for success
Once an objective has been agreed, managers should invite team members to explain how they plan to meet it. This process can be helped if the manager encourages team members break the objectives down into smaller tasks and to set interim targets. Managers should encourage team members to identify simple, but relevant milestones and potential risks and threats to the achievement of the objectives.
4) Monitor progress
Managers need to monitor progress and performance and to identify any early indications of underperformance. Too many managers only become aware of problems when it is too late which creates conflicts and undermines the team member’s confidence and harms organisational performance. It is good practice to agree how performance will be measured and monitored with team members when agreeing the objectives.
5) When things go wrong
Rarely are goals and objectives reached without some problems and unexpected challenges. Team members need to feel comfortable approaching their manager to discuss any concerns. It is important that managers encourage team members to come prepared with contingency ideas and solutions rather than relying on the manager to solve the problem. Whilst solving a team member’s problem might appear to be expedient, it limits their ability to develop their own problem-solving skills.
6) When objectives are not achieved
There will be times, even with the best support, when team members fail to meet their objectives. Managers need to hold them accountable and to help them to understand what went wrong and why. Managers need to discuss with team members what happened and what they believe went wrong. If the problem was within the team member’s control, invite them to propose possible solutions, to try again and to check in with the manager more frequently as part of the monitoring process. If it was something that was outside of their control or the objective was too ambitious, acknowledge the disappointment but don’t dwell on it. Never ignore under performance and hope that it will go away – it never does!
To sum up, here are six dos and don’ts:
Managers need to help people to understand the connection of an individual’s objectives to the broader organisation mission, goals and objectives
Managers need to demonstrate that they are a partner in helping team members to achieve their goals
Managers should involve team members in planning, monitoring and reviewing their own performance
Managers should not allow team members to set objectives alone
Managers should never ignore the need to monitor performance and to provide constructive feedback even with high performing team members
Managers must never ignore failure and under performance: it is not fair on the team member or the organisation