Business Solutions Forum: A right and wrong way to set employee goals

Q. This past year I have been working to give goals to each of my key employees to give their work focus. They have succeeded in achieving almost all of the goals I have given them, but usually not in the way I intended, and even though they hit their goals, the business isn’t doing all that well. What am I doing wrong?
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Q. This past year I have been working to give goals to each of my key employees to give their work focus. They have succeeded in achieving almost all of the goals I have given them, but usually not in the way I intended, and even though they hit their goals, the business isn’t doing all that well. What am I doing wrong?

A Congratulations on setting goals for your employees! This is a key role of being a manager. But when you give goals to others and then set them loose to achieve them you are, to a degree, automating your business. Done well, this is a step forward. Done hastily or without enough thought, it can result in an automated mess.

Here are some considerations for doing it well:

  1. Give context to the goals. What are the larger goals or objectives that these assigned goals must support? And why are these larger goals desired? What is the big picture?
  2. Focus the goals on desired outputs, not inputs. “Make five customer contacts each day” is a goal that focuses on an input. “Achieve daily sales goals” is a goal focused on an output. The former goal can be accomplished while the company flounders. The latter goal will help insure that the company does not flounder.
  3. Use complementary goals to provide parameters to action, not just the outcome of action. “Ship 98 percent of orders on time” is a fine goal, but it is made better with the addition of a goal like, “Ship orders at least 99 percent completely and accurately.”
  4. Involve the employees in setting the goals. They will gain the context mentioned above, and be more likely to support the spirit of the goals, not just the letter of the law. They will also be more committed to achieving the goals because they helped create them.
  5. Define company philosophies and values. These often go unstated, but it is better if employees have access to documented statements of what is valued in the organization, what is embraced, and what cannot be tolerated. The spectrum of what can be covered is endless, but often includes such things as company views on compliance with laws, how we treat each other and our customers, and our position on environmental practices.

While your situation may tempt you to give up, don’t. Goal setting is a skill that gets better with practice. Keep it up!

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