Should Your Objectives Include Your ‘Day Job’?
This is a discussion I have had about a thousand times (or so it seems to me) with people on my courses, workshops and presentations on how to write SMART objectives and SMART goals.
So let’s tackle it to dispel any doubt that may be in your
mind on this one.
Arguments people come up with
‘Your day job is what you are being paid for so it shouldn’t
be in your objectives.’
‘People should know what they are supposed to do in their
day job, they shouldn’t need objectives to tell them.’
‘Objectives should be stretching.’
First let’s be clear what objectives are really for:
They are there so that each individual in your organisation
knows exactly what they personally need to achieve in order for the
organisation to achieve its goals.
That’s the real purpose of objectives.
If write objectives in this way, you can cascade your objectives down
through the organisation effectively so that all the objectives ‘add up’ to
give you the whole. In this way your organisation is more likely to succeed.
If you only include the ‘extras’ you have to ask yourself
what the objectives are really there for. What are they for if they if not to help the company to
achieve its overall goals? Please understand that by the ‘goals’ I am including
long terms ones, so development objectives and long term projects are absolutely part of your normal
Let’s take each of the usual objections in turn:
‘Your day job is what you are being paid for so it shouldn’t
be in your objectives.’
Yes, your day job IS what you are being paid for.
This has come from some people who don’t really understand
what the purpose of objectives is. I remember years ago, back in my production
management days, when we all had these kinds of objectives.
A week before the appraisals we would all spend some time
trying to find our ‘objectives’. The fact we couldn’t remember them shows you
how vitally important they were. Usually they would be on some crumpled scrap
of paper hidden at the back of a drawer that we hadn’t looked at since they had
been agreed (or simply given to us).
We would then spend the next week trying to get those things
done to the detriment of our ‘day job’. This often meant that things were
unnecessarily delayed and the job we were really paid to do was given a lower
priority than it should have been.
Often the things on this list had been put there purely to
ensure we had the requisite number of objectives. Sometimes they were, by that
time, completely irrelevant.
And, what was worse, much of your ‘performance’ was then
apparently judged on these unaligned, outdated and meaningless objectives
rather than your real contribution to the overall goals (what you were being
‘People should know what they are supposed to do in their
day job, they shouldn’t need objectives to tell them.’
Yes, they should, but so often they don’t. You would be
surprised by the number of people who don’t know exactly what they are supposed
to be achieving. Or the objectives focus on the task – just spending time doing things – rather than making sure
what they need to achieve gets done.
And if they know it already, what’s the harm in writing it
down? I’ll tell you. None. It means there is no argument at the end of the year. Actually most of them don’t write it down because they don’t really know what their
objectives are. I know this from the thousands of people who have been through
my workshops on writing objectives. I would estimate that no more than 10% of
the people who come along are really clear about what they have to achieve.
‘Objectives should be stretching.’
This is rubbish. It is not the purpose of objectives to be
stretching. They are just there to tell you what you need to achieve.
However, a good manager will find ways to make them
motivating and to stretch people so that they learn new skills and become more
valuable to the organisation. The stretching bit has been added on by
well-meaning but misguided people who don’t understand what objectives are
So instead of asking someone who knew, they took a guess.
This is exactly the problem with not having your objectives
being your ‘day job’.
Imagine my husband and I are having a few friends over to
dinner. Would you really expect my husband to just ‘know’ what ingredients I
needed? Even if I told him the dishes I was planning to make? And would you
expect him to magically arrive with the shopping ready for me to cook the meal?
Of course not. Wonderful though he is, he still needs that
information. It’s always useful to be absolutely clear about what each person
needs to achieve.
Unless you have agreed the objectives effectively and
included the ‘day job’ it is impossible to cascade them properly.
The easiest way to do this is to say to your team ‘These are
my objectives. What do you need to achieve in order to make this happen?’
In this way you get properly aligned objectives and everyone
is clear why they are doing what they are doing.
If you don’t include your ‘day job’ how can you possibly
cascade the objectives down the organisation?
You end up with a lot of meaningless statements that are
just there so that people have the right number of objectives. The system becomes a sham. And becomes
one very quickly. You can’t measure performance and you also have trouble
dealing with poor performance.
Why Do So Many Companies Do This?
I expect it’s because they just don’t know any better. Or
they have been badly advised. I
used to think that was how you were supposed to do objectives. That was until I
started working in this field. Then I very quickly realised that the whole
system simply doesn’t work unless you cascade properly and include your ‘day
Your day job is what you are paid to achieve – and so are
your objectives. They are the same thing (your job description gives you the
areas of responsibility, just in case you were wondering).
the company goals? I know I don’t – do you?
How Honest Are You?
In a piece of fascinating research Dr Stefan Fafinski and Dr Emily Finch studied public perceptions of dishonest behaviour.
Some of the findings were a little surprising, if disappointing.
Nearly two thirds of people said they had taken stationery home from work, but 82 per cent thought it dishonest, according to the study.
Nearly 97 per cent said taking a DVD from a shop was dishonest, but only 58 per cent thought it dishonest to download pirated music, and only 49 per cent said it was dishonest to buy a pirate DVD.
Why Are We Dishonest?
There’s quite a bit more to come as their study continues. However, I think it’s worth asking why so many people are happy to take stationery home from work even though they think it’s dishonest. And we know people take a great deal more than just stationery.
Some Embarrassing Statistics
In fact, what is really horrifying is to compare the figures from the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Crime in the United States with the estimates for theft and fraud in the workplace.
For 2004: total cost of all robberies in the US as $525 million.
Theft and fraud in the workplace: $600 billion.
Apparently the IRS (the tax people in the US) think they probably lose about $350 billion a year in taxes that should be paid and are not.
I have no reason to imagine that the figures are any different in the UK or any other country.
In his fascinating book: ‘Predictably Irrational’ Dan Ariely describes some of his research into honesty (and the lack of it).
We All Do It
It turns out that most of us behave dishonestly to a small extent when given the chance to cheat. We are also more likely to steal when we are a step removed from the ‘victim’ or from real money. So we don’t see copying a CD as the same as physically removing £15 from an old lady’s purse.
For some reason we see a burglar who may take £1000 as worse than a company executive who cheats employees out of a pay rise.
And it doesn’t just stop with individuals. Dan Ariely gives an example of company stealing. It was almost identical to one I had experienced myself. His friend had earned thousands of Airmiles, yet when he tried to use them there were ‘no seats available’. We have had exactly the same problem. This kind of thing is just as dishonest as stealing.
I was talking to our accountant just yesterday. I suggested a course of action. ‘But you’d have to pay tax on that.’ He said in horror. I have tried to explain to our accountants that I have no problem with paying tax. We use the facilities – I went to a state school, I drive on the roads, I have used the NHS. I am delighted to go to free art galleries and museums. How does he think these things are paid for? Evading tax is stealing from all these places and from the community.
He seems happy enough to use the facilities himself.
One of the factors here is part of your brain; the insular. One of its functions is to let you know when you are being treated unfairly. It also focuses on the cost of what you buy – but strangely does not get as excited when you spend that money on your credit card. It’s much more concerned when the money is in real cash.
A Pain in the….
I know that many people working in companies feel that they have not been fairly treated by that company. It’s very hard to ignore that feeling. It turns out that it is a real physical pain.
The trouble is that once you feel unfairly treated, your judgement starts to be modified. You feel justified in getting your own back. I think this is why so many people indulge in what is clearly dishonest behaviour. It’s a ‘tit for tat’ justification.
Couple this with the distance when stealing doesn’t involve taking cash from someone’s wallet and we can see how it’s easy for people to justify dishonesty to themselves, because it seems only ‘fair’.
What Can You Do?
You may by now be thinking there is no solution to this problem. Fortunately you’d be wrong.
In another experiment Dan and his colleagues asked one group of students to remember 10 books they had read at school. He asked another group to list the 10 Commandments.
The two groups were both then given a test and an opportunity to cheat. Astonishingly the book group cheated just as much as all the other groups they had tested in similar circumstances, but the Commandments group did not cheat at all.
Other research getting people to sign up to a ‘code of honour’ delivered similar results.
So many companies have values and behaviours, but very few really use them. I’m sure you have examples of organisations you’ve dealt with or worked for where they have values such as ‘respect’, ‘honesty’ and so on, but you don’t feel they have behaved in a way that is in line with those values.
It may be that the answer to workplace theft could be as simple as getting people to remember the company values. Of course that would mean the whole company would have to live up to them in the way they treated customers and employees alike. They would have to actually mean them, rather than them just be a marketing statement as so many are.
They would also need to be clear, easy to understand and straightforward to implement.
Call me old-fashioned, but I think it would be a very good thing.
Do you know what your company values are? Do you have any? Have you ever used them?
To have a go at the Honesty Lab test, where some of this research comes from go to:
Is Your Memory Fading?
A few weeks ago my mother called me to let me know my father had forgotten something. I was a bit surprised. I wondered why she was calling me on such a trivial matter.
Then it became a bit more obvious. She was just letting me know because he never forgets things, so that I would know for future reference. I quipped that she should try living with my family who I constantly have to remind about most things.
My father is in his 80s now so I suppose he’s allowed to forget the odd thing here and there. Once she had reminded me, I realised that, yes, I couldn’t remember him forgetting anything. He just seems to have that sort of brain.
I remember asking him once how he remembered things. He laughed and told me how he had explained to someone a way of remembering a particular number. The number was 119. ‘It’s easy.’ He told them. ‘It’s just 7 times 17.’ I laughed at that point (he’s a mathematician). Funnily enough I’ve been able to remember that ever since.
Then I started thinking about my own family and why I’m constantly having to remind them about things. So I decided to do something about it.
When you get stressed, this can have a bad impact on your memory and you start forgetting things like a birthday or where you put your keys. As many people are stressed at the moment I thought it might be useful to share a couple of strategies with you.
I’m running a workshop on this soon for one of our clients. It’s not for a month, and it’s already full, so I suspect there are quite a few people keen to improve their memories out there.
What’s great about the course is that, whenever I run it, people are already reporting improvements after just three hours. It’s all simple stuff that you can use safely at home, so here are a few tips for you.
What Most People Don’t Know (or have forgotten) About Memory
People who have good memories don’t just do it ‘automatically’ they have ways of remembering things.
These techniques can be learned by anyone, no matter how old they are.
An Easy Strategy
I taught my daughter one of these techniques. After just a couple of hours she was able to remember a list of 20 unrelated items in about 3 minutes.
I set her a task of being able to remember 30. A day later she was up to 28 and the following day she was able to remember 30.
I won’t pretend she was keen to learn, but she was certainly pleased with her new ability once she’d done it.
A Bit About Your Memory
Memory isn’t just one system; it’s lots of different systems. Most people with poor memories are just relying on one. That’s a bit like only having one route to a destination. When there is a block on that route, you can’t get there.
Having many systems means that even if one route is blocked you can still retrieve your memory through another route.
Some of Your Memory Systems
* Visual – you remember what something looks like
* Auditory – you remember the sound
* Procedural – the memory in your muscles of what you do – like inputting your PIN into a key pad or riding a bike
* Smell – the only sense that connects directly to the brain
* Contextual – where you were or the context for a particular event
* Emotional – what you were feeling at the time – humour is one of the most effective for memory
Any good memory system uses as many of these as it can.
A Simple Memory System
The first system I taught my daughter is one with numbers. You simply write down each digit from 0 to 9 and turn each one into a picture of your own choosing. So ‘0’ could be a plate, ‘1’ in my case is a bottle of beer, and ‘2’ a swan.
Once you have finished your pictures you need to memorise them. However, this should be reasonably easy; you are able to use several systems:
* Visual – you remember the picture you drew
* Auditory – talk to yourself while you do it or, better still, think of a sound that links to the picture
* Procedural – you have physically done it
* Smell – if you have used something with a scent
* Contextual – where you were when you came up with the pictures, or some context around the number that is meaningful
* Emotional – if you make the pictures funny in some way or interesting, they will be more memorable
Once you have done this, then whenever you need to remember a list of items, or even tasks, you simply link each one somehow with one picture. Do your best to make it funny and include sound and some kind of movement.
It turned out my daughter had used a different technique to get up to her list of 30 items. It’s one I had come across years ago called the ‘Roman Room’. You simply remember a room, (or a building or place, like your garden) and put the things you are trying to remember in places in that room. Then, to remember everything, you simply take a mental walk around.
Personally I have never managed to get it working satisfactorily and prefer the numbers method. But she found this technique worked better for her. The key is to find a system that works for you and use it.
But It’s So Much Effort
Yes, the initial stage of learning a system is a bit of an effort, I concede that. But it’s worth it. When you know you can remember things, you feel more confident and your stress levels go down. And, most importantly, life becomes easier because you are able to remember things.
Once you get used to using a memory system, it becomes easy.
You can find these techniques and many others in Tony Buzan’s excellent book ‘Use Your Memory’.
If you do any training or educating of others, you can find out more about your memory and how to help participants remember what they have learned in ‘Memory Tips for Educators’ by Lew Miller, one of our range of booklets. To find out more about Lew’s book go to
where you will find that and my booklet on improving your brain.
There is always something you can do about your memory. It’s a system that can be improved with a little effort. In fact Tony Buzan claims that if you put in this effort your memory can actually improve with age rather than getting worse. I agree with him.
Do You Speak Plain English?
A Salutary Lesson
As a production manager I identified one of the barriers to learning a key process in my department was simply being able to remember the next step. It was a long process with over 60 different steps, each of which had to be completed in the correct order.
So I decided to compile a manual with all the steps in it for people to use as a guide while they were learning. It took me ages to put everything together. I did it on one of the first word processors, ‘Edit 2’ (I guess it was probably the second, judging from the title).
Compared to what we have today it was a nightmare, but at the time it was a lot better than nothing.
Once I had the first draft of my new manual I gave all my people a copy and a red pen. I asked them to make any corrections that they could as they were going along carrying out the task.
I don’t think I have ever seen so much red pen. It was your worst homework ever marked by the teacher from Hell.
Four rounds later, I finally got full marks from my team. I was quite horrified to discover how poor my communication was, in that it needed three major revisions to get it into a form that people could understand.
Several years later when I visited the factory, I was astonished to see my manuals still there with all my original drawings and instructions. It turned out they were very popular.
Plain English Campaign
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Plain English Campaign. I quote here from their web site:
‘We believe that everyone should have access to clear and concise information in plain English.’
Just this morning I took my daughter and her friend to a holiday activity. Her friend told us that yesterday evening her father had had a strange phone call. It was from a financial organisation. Apparently he had ‘left them no option’ than to send him a cheque for several thousand pounds.
This was all because he had not replied to their letters.
It turned out that he had been contributing to some kind of savings plan. He needed to take some kind of action (we have no idea what) but had not realised what the letters he was sent were, so had thrown them away.
We are not talking about an illiterate person here. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the letters were almost incomprehensible to the normal person.
I confess that I too have had letters like this (sadly not offering me lots of money, though I will be reading them more carefully in the future) but letters from financial institutions that made little or no sense to me.
I think Legal and Medical professionals also fall into the same trap as those in Finance.
I once talked to Chrissie, who started the Plain English Campaign. She wanted people to be able to communicate effectively and understand what they were told and what they read. I bought her guide and found it invaluable, packed with good sense and straightforward help.
Last week I heard an interview with someone who was completely against the Plain English Campaign. He was adamant that they wanted to completely eliminate the passive tense – this is where you say:
‘Customers are reminded not to leave baggage unattended’
As opposed to:
‘Don’t leave your baggage unattended’
(Or even better: ‘Keep your baggage with you all the time.’)
I was quite astonished that he was so venomous in his attack. Unfortunately from what I know about the Campaign, he had completely misunderstood what they were trying to achieve. He seemed to have taken one piece of advice out of context and generalised it to be used everywhere.
The Reason for Plain English (or any other language)
It all depends what you need to achieve. In the business world we generally want people to easily understand anything they read or hear.
We are all suspicious of the ‘small print’ because we (quite correctly sometimes) assume that companies only use this to hide important information from us.
Why Do People Use Confusing Language?
I think there are two main reasons. The first is that people don’t realise the other person (their audience) doesn’t understand what they are saying or have written. The second is a deliberate attempt to make the other person look stupid or to deceive them.
Usually it’s the first. When I work with people helping them to clarify their objectives, they have usually done their best. Often they have simply copied from someone else or an example they have seen.
This happens at very senior levels as well as junior ones.
When I was working with the board of an international company to help them get their 22 complicated objectives down to something meaningful (we got it down to eight) I asked them how they had arrived at the original 22.
They had just copied most of them from others they had seen. They had known that these objectives were more than a little opaque, but had thought this was how they were ‘supposed’ to be.
A Big Problem
One of the biggest problems with not understanding is that, very often, you don’t realise you haven’t understood what the other person has said. Everything seems clear to you so you don’t question it.
When it comes to objectives this can cause serious problems.
How To Make Sure People Have Understood
When it comes to objectives, there’s a really easy way to make sure you both have the same understanding of the situation. If you are the manager, ask the individual what their plan is for achieving the objective. Once you have heard the plan it will soon become obvious whether the individual has the same understanding as you do.
If you are the individual, simply check your plan with your manager. They’ll soon tell you if there is any misunderstanding.
Improving Your Communications
If you use this process on a regular basis, you’ll soon learn better ways of explaining yourself.
Another Big Problem
Yesterday I took my daughter for a treat. We went to have a massage each. As I was having mine, Curley, our masseur, told me about her maths teacher. She was too frightened to tell her teacher when she didn’t understand, so consequently failed her exam.
On one occasion her teacher had told her she was so stupid she might as well bring in crayons and draw at the back of the class instead of joining in with the lesson.
This approach of assuming it’s the other person’s fault when they don’t understand is much more common that we realise.
Another Salutary Lesson
When I wrote my first book: ‘Difficult People Made Easy’, I had an excellent editor, Jo Parrfit, to help me. (If you are thinking of writing a book I’ll be happy to pass on her details.)
I had the same experience again. Passages I thought were clear and easy to read came back with requests for information and clarification (several times in some cases).
The trouble is we all think what we are saying is perfectly obvious, but that’s not the way to measure communication. It has to be measured by the recipient.
Only if he or she truly understands the meaning, have you communicated effectively.
Our responsibility in communicating with others is to make sure that the message is in a form that means it can be understood easily and correctly. To do this, we always need to check to make sure.
In this way we never become complacent and constantly improve our skills. Sadly, the Plain English Campaign still has a lot of work to do.
Fighting for Survival
As you will know, if you read this eZine a few weeks ago, I bought a dress, a complete bargain, which I knew would be ideal for a friend’s 50th birthday party.
To my amazement, as I walked in, my friend immediately pointed out that I was wearing a dress that I had purchased at the bargain price of £19. ‘Well, I do read those emails you send me!’, he told me, as I looked a bit startled.
The bits of the party I can remember were excellent. Fortunately we were staying in my usual room upstairs so there was no need for too much caution. However, I do remember quite distinctly one conversation.
We were debating whether, given the choice, we would fly with Virgin or British Airways. My friend was adamant that there was no choice. It had to be Virgin. I knew he’d have a good reason.
So let me tell you the story (apparently there are many, but this was the one he told us this time).
They boarded the British Airways flight and took their seats. Unlike me, my friend never watches films on a plane, but he does like to keep a close eye on the time and the progress of the plane.
Unfortunately he couldn’t get his screen to work. He called over a hostess. She said, with not the slightest apology, ‘Oh yes, that screen hasn’t been working for a while.’
That was her entire statement on the situation.
How To Apologise
He then compared this to an entertainment problem on a Virgin flight. While the passengers were waiting for take off, there was an announcement to tell them that there was a problem with the entertainment equipment. Engineers were working on it, but, if they hadn’t repaired it in time to get their take off slot on the runway, the plane would have to take off without it being fixed.
Unfortunately the engineers did not manage to repair it in time. There was an apology and the crew explained that there would still be films available, but everyone would have to watch the same one at the same time.
At the end of the flight, everyone was given another apology and a voucher for a discount on a future flight.
Fighting For Survival
What has all this got to do with ‘fighting for survival’? Let me explain. I recently heard a news headline describing British Airways as ‘fighting for survival’. It really made me think.
Now I know that it was probably the journalist who coined the phrase ‘fighting for survival’ rather than someone from BA. But it does seem to fit with some of the examples of the behaviour I have heard about.
Does Language Affect Behaviour?
The problem is that the words we use have an impact on how we think and that, in turn, affects how we behave.
So if we think of ourselves as ‘fighting’ for survival then we will see every interaction as a battle.
When You Are Threatened
When you perceive a situation as threatening the way you think changes. Your interpretation of events and people’s behaviour towards you is skewed in a specific direction. In these circumstances, you often feel like fighting. The trouble is that this is not always the most useful behaviour. Fighting your customers, suppliers and colleagues can be counter-productive.
So why do people do it?
The Easy Way
In many instances it’s so much easier. You just blame someone else and focus on your own needs. You see others as a threat, and resources as something that needs to be fought over. Your brain is using up too much effort thinking about how you are feeling to put any effort into working out more innovative ways of dealing with the situation.
Lord of the Flies
Apparently William Golding, author of ‘Lord of the Flies’ was a teacher for many years. He experimented on his pupils to see how long it would take him to get them at each other’s throats. He thought it would take a term or so, but he was wrong.
It took just a weekend trip.
I don’t know what he did, if anything, to retrieve the situation.
What About Another Approach
What do you think would happen if BA said it was ‘Cooperating For Survival’? Do you think things would be different?
It is more difficult. Cooperation is a more advanced behaviour than fighting for everything. You have to have better social skills and consider the needs of others as well as your own. Anyone who has had children will know that these skills come after the development of the ability to focus on your own needs.
There is always a risk in cooperating. I spent a long time working on a project a while back. The other author had approached me and suggested we do the project together. We agreed a plan and I went off and did my part of the work.
He didn’t do his and his only response when I asked him what had happened was that he had ‘other priorities’. Like BA, he offered no apology. He did not realise the huge cost to us at Vinehouse, of my having spent all that time completing the parts I’d agreed to.
We decided not to work with him again. However, it hasn’t stopped us from cooperating with many others in the mean time, none of whom have behaved in this way.
Is Competition Good?
‘Competition’ is the business way of talking about fighting. So is competition good? This is a thorny question. I think it is used far too often as a supposedly ‘easy’ way to motivate people.
I did some work for a company that made carpets. They had sales people each with their own territories. Some of their biggest customers were airlines. The trouble with the airlines was that they should really have been customers of the National Sales Manager, but often sales people in different areas had managed to get the contract because an office was in their territory.
This would lead to all kinds of fights and subterfuge as each sales person tried to increase his or her sales figures to get the prize for being the top sales person.
The waste of resources was huge, as was the loss in sales because so much effort was spent fighting each other instead of getting more business.
Let’s look at another area. In the pharmaceutical industry companies develop drugs that are often very similar to drugs already available. This is done in competition with other pharmaceutical companies. The costs of development are massive.
So we have several companies all researching into the same area in competition with each other, duplicating effort.
Yet there are diseases where there is little money for research because the market is not seen as big enough or there is a huge market (in other words lots of people suffering from the condition) but it’s not seen as very profitable.
Is Cooperation Weak?
At the same party I was talking to a lady who works in a Jersey hospital in the accounts department. She looked harassed and exhausted. She told me she’d had a bad week at work.
It turns out that, in April, the British government terminated its reciprocal healthcare agreement with Jersey. In the past any British person needing healthcare in Jersey got free treatment, as did anyone from Jersey needing treatment in the UK. Now that is no longer the case.
Unfortunately many British holidaymakers are unaware of the situation. To give just one example; this poor lady had been having to get a chap with a serious kidney problem, who was almost passing out, to sign a form before they could treat him.
The change in arrangements has caused a huge amount of extra work for them. Clearly overall, this can’t be saving money. It seems to be a mean-spirited step backwards that will just cause problems for people in real need at the worst possible time.
I think it’s worth remembering in these difficult times that many people (at all levels) will default to a combative mind-set without realising that it can often be damaging or at best, inefficient. Perhaps it’s time we focussed more on cooperating with and helping others rather than fighting for survival.
To do this we need to help people overcome their fear and start thinking about the big picture and the needs of others as well as their own needs.
Let me know what you think.