Objectives for back room roles

I was told recently by someone that you couldn’t write meaningful objectives for people who just work 9-5 and expect to take an hour for lunch.

I was quite shocked to hear this coming from a senior person. Unfortunately it is not a unique view.

Perhaps it comes from having lost all contact with the ground floor. So let’s look at how you connect up those very fundamental level objectives with the top goals of large companies and organisations, because you absolutely can do this and there is a great benefit to you if you do.

Objectives for administrative roles

One of the most difficult roles to write objectives for is admin. This may be because many people have no idea what is involved in these roles and the value that they add when they are carried out efficiently.

Front line services

That’s why you often hear government departments not wanting to cut ‘front line services’. The automatic assumption is that the ‘back office’ services are somehow less important and add less value.

The back office is important too

Here is my favourite example (entirely true) of what can happen when you take liberties with ‘back office’ jobs.

Imagine you are an HR partner in a large company. You go to see a manager, Tina Jones, to review the performance of members of her team. As you go down the list you come to John Smith. She tells you there is no John Smith on the team.

You protest. Your records show he has been in her department for over seven months.
She assures you he does not exist. She has never heard of him. She’s been running the department for six months and is sure she knows who is supposed to be there.

You decide not to push it any further, and do a bit of research when you get back to your desk. It transpires that John Smith applied for and was offered a job in the department, but never turned up. However, you have been paying him for the last seven months.

(In case you are interested, the company concerned merely stopped future payments; they were too embarrassed to ask for the money back.)

No admin

This situation arose because some bigwig at the head office decided that there was no need for HR admin support. So he got rid of them all. This was just one of the many awkward situations that resulted. Some of them were illegal.

Admin objectives

Many ‘back office’ or ‘admin’ people have objectives like:
Ensure all employees are paid the correct amount on the correct day.
(This is something most people are quite keen on when it comes to their own salary.)

Under that, a ‘sub-objective’ might be:
Ensure the files of new employees are set up so that they get all the benefits they are entitled to from their first day with the company.

Ensure that the files of all leavers are updated to ensure they receive only those benefits to which they are entitled after they have left.

It may be the admin person who is responsible for this sets up new systems to make sure all this happens, or it may be they create and update each file personally.

Either way, they are responsible for making sure that it all happens seamlessly so that no one else has to spend their time running around resolving these issues. Instead, they should be getting on with their own objectives.

Ensure the XXX surgical unit has the materials required to carry out their procedures and the stock level is within budget.

Ensure the surgical materials meet the agreed standards.

We do not expect a surgeon to have to cancel his or her operation because a replacement hip joint is missing, or because the hospital has run low on blood.

Back office tasks are important

Anyone who has been responsible for these back office tasks will know that they can be complicated and hard to manage efficiently if you do not have the necessary resources.
As you can see, making sure these things are done is extremely important. As is getting the objectives right. Suggesting that you cannot write objectives for these people indicates a lack of ability and understanding. I’ll deal with the ‘9-5’ part of the comment next week.

Get help with admin objectives

If you would like some help with administrative objectives, get my Quick-Start objectives sheet for Administrators. It includes 39 examples of badly written objectives and details how to turn them into well-written objectives.

You should be able to write most of your objectives by modifying these.
If you get it and can’t find the one you need, just email me and I’ll do that one for you for free.

An undervalued skill – in memory of Emma

I recently heard a programme about people in Japan who are having the deal with the aftermath of the devastation there, both from the Tsunami and from the nuclear fallout.

The village

In a small village the survivors are rebuilding their homes and lives. But because of a strong culture on the etiquette of giving and receiving, not everyone is willing to accept help.

They believe that you must always give something in return for anything you receive. (Of course, this is how society works in the main.)

Unfortunately there are times when you are simply not in a position to give anything in return, but you still need help.


This week would have been the 54th birthday of my dear cousin, Emma. Sadly she passed away before she could celebrate it.

There were so many things to admire about Emma. She never forgot a birthday and was immensely thoughtful in her presents. Even as she lay on her deathbed, she sent us a card enclosing a cheque. In the card apologised for not being able to buy us a present for our wedding anniversary.

She was always the one to help everyone else when they needed it, in her pragmatic and down-to-earth way.

She had an amazing memory, a ready wit, a needle sharp intellect, and huge generosity – I could go on. But I am going to focus on a particular skill often ignored.

Asking for and receiving help

It’s often very hard, when you have been independent and supremely capable for most of your life, to realise that the time has come to ask for help.

In her illness and Emma let us all help her and made it easy for us to do so.

Recognising change

The ability to recognise that the situation has changed and that you must change your strategy is quite rare. It’s even more difficult when there are cultural rules and norms telling you the opposite.

In this situation as in every other, she was completely practical. When she was first ill, she sent emails asking if anyone had CDs of her favourite books she could borrow to make the chemotherapy more bearable. This gave the rest of us an opportunity to do something we knew would be of value. I have no doubt she received many.

Her job

When I met some of her lovely colleagues at the funeral I was able to find out more about her work. Not surprisingly, much of it involved helping others. She would give them advice in the complex legal matters in which she was an expert.


Even in this extremely difficult situation, she quipped merrily about no longer having to worry out all the problems with her pension. She was a tremendous example to those of us who get a bit grumpy at the slightest excuse.


She did, of course, have weaknesses. One of them (which I share – it must be genetic) was for puddings. So I smuggled in some of Waitrose’s finest, which we happily dug in to together in her last weeks.

How she remained resolutely slim all her life is quite beyond me.

A strength

Some seem to regard accepting help as a weakness and would never dream of asking for help for themselves, instead struggling needlessly with problems that could be easily solved.

Perhaps this is because some people think that you should be able to do everything yourself. Or it may be because we sometimes regard those who take without giving as scroungers. (And I’m sure there are cases when this is true.)

However, we also need to recognise that there are times when accepting help is the right thing to do, and refusing help is an injury to all concerned.

Asking for help

And there are also times when asking for help is the right and most sensible thing to do.
Yes, of course it is always good to give something in return, but when you have nothing concrete to give, allowing others to give is, in itself, your gift. Its value may be greater than you imagine.

In memory of Emma Jane Slessenger 1958 – 2012

“Where shall we see a better daughter, or a kinder sister, or a truer friend?” Jane Austen “Emma”.

Are you on the fast train?

I have a client down in London who I see each month. I take a train from Luton because the trains are very frequent from that station (and the car park is very reasonably priced).
Recently I heard another passenger mention a ‘fast train’ on the other platform that went to St Pancras, so, with several other passengers, I rushed up the stairs, along the bridge and just made it onto the fast train. I thanked the other passengers.

The next time I went down to London I asked the man at the desk if there was a fast train. He consulted his screen. He told me there was one and gave me the time and platform. It was the same one I had caught before.

Just as I was about to dash off to get it he told me that I would need to change at St Pancras and the train I would need to catch would be the one I could have caught from Luton anyway. So more effort for no advantage at all.

Saving time

It made me wonder if there are others areas in my life where I am making efforts for no reward, or rushing when it won’t make any difference.

More haste less speed

It’s very easy to imagine you are saving money, time or effort, when you are often doing quite the reverse. This usually happens when you do things without thinking about them first.

It’s the same as saying things without thinking about them first.

Look at the big picture and consider others

An old client of mine came across a great way of managing his time. The idea was that his time would be divided into “A” time and “B” time (possibly “C” time as well).
“A” time was time for him alone. He was not to be interrupted even for a cup of tea. This would mean he could get all those difficult tasks done quickly and efficiently.  He decided to block out two hours of every morning between 10 and 12 as “A” time.

“B” time was a space for less tricky items when an interruption was acceptable.

The problem with “A” time

My client was dean of a faculty. Many of those in the faculty had to work to a timetable not of their choosing, including contact time with students (lectures, tutorials and so on).

Unfortunately this meant that some of the lecturers had no time at all when they were able to see the dean, due to their commitments. This had not occurred to my client, and I’m sure he’s not alone in this crime of omission.

When you are making improvements, check your impact on others and the big picture. If you do that, you can often make improvements that help everyone, not just you, and so get more of a benefit all round.

Go her for help with time management.

The hazards of bad management

“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”


I was working with a client the other day who stressed just how important it is to like your work. And I agree. It’s wonderful if you have work you love.

People who don’t like their work

Unfortunately I have come across several people recently who have disliked their work so much that they have left, with no job to go to.

One individual was in his company for over five years and completely miserable. He was stressed and exhausted all the time. This changed the minute he left.

Why was work so bad?

My client is very skilled and has worked in the same field for years.
He had two managers, one of whom is acknowledged as being very poorly skilled. Everyone else knows what a bad manager this guy is. But no one has tacked the problem.  Instead, they have allowed the situation to get so bad that they have lost a valuable employee.

Two reasons to hate your work

  1. The work itself
  2. The way you are managed

In my experience, if the management is good, people can cheerfully do awful jobs, but if the management is bad, even enjoyable work can be misery.

There are people who love the jobs you hate

I learned a big lesson when I ran a manufacturing department. I needed to free up some of my time so I wrote out a list of all the tasks I did. I gave a copy to each of my team and asked them to pick out anything they would like to do on that list, regardless of whether they had the skill or not.

To my astonishment I almost had people fighting over the tasks I was so keen to rid myself of. I certainly exceeded my expectations that day. Not only that, but my team loved it and were all eager to learn the new necessary new skills.

With a little thought you can make some of the worst jobs bearable

“The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.”

E.M Gray

A most serious failing in a manager

One of the skills of a good manager is getting the unpleasant or unpopular jobs done. One of the most serious faults in a manager is making enjoyable work unbearable.

Bad managers

The reason that my client has left his job is not the job; it’s the way the place is managed, starting at the top. Instead of tackling these issues, a poor level of management skills is tolerated with a shrug of the shoulders. It is a scandal. This slovenly approach to running a company brings all managers into disrepute.

I know that not everyone can be a perfect manager, but, at the very least, it would be nice if they tried.

We all know there are some jobs that are very unpleasant but they need to be done.

However, there are people who do these jobs and I’m sure there are managers who manage to make these jobs acceptable, if not enjoyable and fulfilling.

Warning: Management hazard

Being managed badly is not just unpleasant or annoying, it can be damaging to those who are on the receiving end as well as unprofitable for the organisation itself.

It is not acceptable for people to leave solely because of poor quality of management.

It is no more acceptable for management skills to be this low as for there to be major health and safety hazards in the working environment.

The responsibility of senior managers

It is the responsibility of senior managers to ensure that all managers in their organisation have the skills required and meet the challenges in their organisation. This includes managing people in a way that makes work bearable (or even enjoyable). Why is it so many fail?

Get help with tacking poor performance