Goals are the basis of an effective performance management process. There are two key elements to consider when developing goals. First, are goals written clearly and objectively? Second, are they directly contributing to the achievement of business strategy?
Typically, the process begins with departmental managers setting goals for their departments, based upon organization-wide goals, which support the general business strategy. Making departmental goals accessible to all managers ensures there is no overlap, reduces conflict, and allows members of different departments to see where they support each other and ensure they are not working at cross purposes. Each manager in turn shares the overall goals with his/her department and meets with employees to identify individual performance goals and plans.
When setting goals, key job expectations and responsibilities should act as the main guide and reference. Goals should be set that not only address what is expected, but also how it will be achieved. For example, the "what" covers quality or quantity expected, deadlines to be met, cost to deliver, etc. The "how" refers to the behavior demonstrated to achieve outcomes, for example, focus on customer service. In addition, some organizations choose to include competencies within performance expectations, to reinforce the link to business strategy, vision and mission.
An accepted framework to use to help write effective goals is SMART:
- S – Specific
- M – Measurable
- A – Achievable/Attainable
- R – Results-Oriented/Realistic/Relevant
- T – Time-Bound
The inclusion of the above criteria results in a goal that is understandable and easily visualized and evaluated. Making a goal specific, measurable, and time bound contributes to the ability to make progress on the goal and track that progress. Some managers choose to further define goals with a start and finish date with milestones in between. As we have mentioned, goals must be achievable and realistic. An unachievable goal is just that. An employee knows when he/she does not stand a chance of reaching it, and their effort to achieve the goal will be affected. In addition, goals must reflect conditions that are under the employee's control and the R's (results oriented, realistic and relevant) should definitely consider these conditions. Sometimes the focus on the outcome of the goals can overshadow the necessary steps to achieve them. Action plans to support each goal can include documentation of the steps necessary to achieve a goal. By keeping goals relevant, a manager reinforces the importance of linking to strategic objectives and communicating why the goal is important. Some organizations have suggested the use of SMARTA, or SMARTR with the additional A standing for aligned and the R standing for reward.
A focus on objective, behavioral-based, and observable outcomes that are job-related helps ensure fairness of the process and reduces discrepancy. Although sometimes difficult to hear, objective feedback supported with regular documentation is difficult to dispute. This is also where an understanding of the organization's overall objectives and goals and how individual efforts contribute becomes essential. If for example, an individual understands that their actions support an area of the business then it is easier to understand the impact when deadlines are not met. Using the SMART framework provides clarity up front to employees who will be evaluated against these goals.