Where do objectives come from?
So often I get emails from people like this one:
“I have to get my objectives written by tomorrow morning. I work as a __________.
What should I put?”
In my view, any manager who puts one of their people in this position does not know what they are doing. You cannot expect members of your team to write their objectives if they do not know what the team objectives are, or what their responsibilities are. This is like me giving my husband carte blanch to go out shopping, just telling him to make his own list, then being surprised when he comes back without the ingredients I need for the meals I have planned.
So, if you are planning to write to me with a similar question, or if you are wondering where to start, here is what you do.
Get the goals
You need to find out what the top-level objectives or goals are. (Of course that only works if there are any objectives at the top. Very often this is not the case, or they are vague and hard to interpret.)
Ask yourself this question
What do I need to do in order for these goals to be achieved? The answers to your question will be your objectives.
If there are no clear goals at the top, you are in a difficult position. The best thing to do is make your best guess at what they should be, then go to your manager and say:
“Our team is here to (fill in your best guess at the objective here). Is that right?” And see what they say. Often this will be a really useful way of starting the discussion and you might find out what the objectives really are.
Or it may be that yours will be so good, they will just use them anyway. Then you can write your own objectives as I have suggested.
How to write your objectives and set your goals
Getting your objective right isn’t always easy. Our handy booklet How to Write Objectives That Work will walk you through 55 simple tools and techniques to ensure that you get your objectives right. It’s short and to the point so you can quickly find the help you need. And of course we’ll show you just what to do with those really difficult objectives that people struggle with.
- The key steps to take to write any objective
- 7 key words and phrases you must avoid when writing objectives and what to do instead
- How to make your objectives SMART
Get How to Write Objectives That Work now.
Here’s a question from a Grapevine reader.
We always say that goals should be stretched and we provide employees and managers with a checklist that they can use to help them verify whether or not they are.
However, there exist differing views regarding the philosophy behind stretch goals. Some believe that all employees in similar roles should have goals that are similarly stretched in relation to the role description – with the justification that this is fair when it comes to evaluating the performance of these individuals at the end of the year (even though it may demotivate the poorer performers who see such goals as impossible). Others believe that goals should be stretched in relation to individuals rather than roles – with the justification that only in this way can we optimise the motivation and performance of each individual (even though this means that we are constantly demanding more and more of our top performers whilst accepting less from others in the same type of role).
A jolly challenging question. Here is my response.
With objectives it’s always a good idea to go back to basics. Ask yourself what objectives are for in the first place. (In other words the ‘objective’ for the objective….) In my view objectives are there so that everyone knows exactly what they personally have to achieve in order for your company to achieve its objectives.
To take that a bit further it means that if everyone had their performance rated as ‘achieved their objectives’ (or whatever equivalent you have) the company should achieve its goals.
What, therefore, are ‘stretch objectives’ for?
- Are they a form of development objective?
- Are they objectives that enable the company to achieve more than the stated goal?
- Or is it that you have put people who don’t have all the required skills in critical positions?
- Or are you trying to develop people by giving them ‘stretching’ experiences?
In other words, what is the objective of the ‘stretch’? (If it is deliberate and I’m sure it isn’t always.)
In a meeting with the top HR and development people of a global company that I ran a few years ago, we defined stretch objectives as objectives where we are expecting a person to do something:
- In less time than previously
- With fewer resources than previously achieved
- That achieves more than has previously been achieved with the same resources
- Is well above what an individual at that level would normally achieve
That is particularly difficult because of the current (possibly external) climate.
What we did not do (wrongly I now think) is identify that whatever it is must also, in some way, be aligned with the top-level objectives.
The danger of stretch objectives
There is a great danger that ‘stretch objectives’ are set purely to stretch someone and are not aligned or are at odds with the objectives of others. For example a sales person who sells more than required, but stuff that that no one can provide or manufacture.
Stretch objectives are about rating systems
It seems to me that the issue is more about the rating system than the objectives. It is because people use performance ratings like ‘met’ ‘exceeded expectations’ and so on that we have the idea of ‘stretch objectives’. It’s because some of those who set objectives have realised that some objectives are harder to achieve than others, so they make some kind of effort to compensate for this is their performance rating system by calling some objectives ‘stretch objectives’.
But this implies that it doesn’t matter if you don’t achieve those objectives. If that is the case you need to ask why bother with those objectives. In reality many of the ‘stretch objectives’ fall into the ‘nice to have, but not necessary for survival’ category. For example you might have an objective to design a process that enables customers to get their products within two days of ordering them. The stretch might be for them to get the products within one day.
Or it may be that you need to work out a way of increasing average revenue per order from $113 to $132/order. A stretch objective might be to increase it to $150/order. However in both these cases you need to make sure that there are no detrimental impacts on others.
Imagine this scenario
You are having some friends over for dinner in 10 days’ time. It’s a couple you have known for many years who will be passing through on their way to see an ancient relative.
You are cooking the meal; your partner is doing the shopping. As a highly organised person, you work out your menu, put together a list of required ingredients that day and hand it to your partner. Eager to impress, your partner secretly sets himself or herself a ‘stretch objective’ without consulting you.
The very next day you are greeted by a mountain of bulging shopping bags from the cut-price hypermarket when you return from another hard day in the office. Their contents include five lettuces, (they were on special offer) 10 tubs of supermarket own brand ice cream (buy one get one free) and six ripe avocados (three for the price of two). There is no room in your freezer for all the ice cream and though it’s close to the correct flavour, it is a poor replacement for your chosen artisan brand. You wonder just how much ‘No Sugar Added Caramel Crunch’ ice cream anyone can eat in one sitting. You needed just one small. The ice cream was just the accompaniment (almost a garnish) to your raspberry tart. You console yourself with the thought that at least there is just enough space to freeze the raspberries. However, on tasting, you consign them to the compost bin. As you yourself are away for the next few days, you don’t think you will be able to eat all the avocados but hope the neighbours might help out with the lettuce. They have a rabbit.
In this case, the stretch objective might have been to get all the ingredients from artisan suppliers the day of the dinner (so they were fresh and of good quality). The basic objective would be to get the ingredients as listed so all the items are within their ‘best before date’ on the day of your dinner.
Recommended strategy for stretch objectives
You start with the objectives that come from the cascade as normal. Ideally none of these should be a stretch. (But in reality some may be.)
You then say to your individual:
“Here is what we need you to achieve in order for the company to achieve its goals. However, if you are able to achieve __________ that would mean that we would be ahead for next year and it would be considered a stretch objective.”
However, I don’t really believe in ‘stretch objectives’. I think they are usually development objectives. I suspect it all comes from rating systems and the realisation that some objectives are just harder to achieve than others. And also people being reluctant to agree to difficult objectives because they may be penalised in the rating system compared to those who have ‘easy’ objectives. This, in my view, is a misuse of the whole objectives system.
A last sanity check
It’s always useful to check objectives from the customer’s point of view. Let’s take a tricky situation. Imagine you have some ghastly brain tumour. It needs to be removed or your chances of survival will be very poor. There are two surgeons. Mr Smith works long hours and puts in lots of efforts. For him, this surgery would be a ‘stretch objective’. Mr Jones generally works 9-5. He could do this operation in his sleep. Which surgeon do you want?
I suggest that there is only one set of circumstances when you would find it acceptable or even desirable to be considered a ‘stretch objective’ for a surgeon. Those would be when this was an operation that had not been tried before, there was no alternative, the surgeon was very experienced and had done other experimental surgery successfully and, if you didn’t have the operation you would die anyway.
How to write your objectives and set your goals
Getting your objective right isn’t always easy. Our handy booklet How to Write Objectives That Work will walk you through 55 simple tools and techniques to ensure that you get your objectives right. It’s short and to the point so you can quickly find the help you need.
And of course we’ll show you just what to do with those really difficult objectives that people struggle with.
• The key steps to take to write any objective
• 7 key words and phrases you must avoid when writing objectives and what to do instead
• How to cascade your objectives
Get How to Write Objectives That Work now.
The Evils of the Buffet
Aung San Suu Kyi recently visited the UK. During one interview she was asked why she had not condemned one of the particularly unpleasant crack-downs made by the military in her country.
In a very quick response she said it was because progress does not come from condemning the actions of others, it comes from understanding.
Over the following weeks I heard many people condemning all kinds of things. Bankers mainly, but lots of other actions too.
Understanding is important
The trouble is, it’s all very well showing how ‘strong’ you are by condemning others and their actions – people think it looks good and puts you on the moral high ground. But does it help to resolve the issues? Hardly ever.
But the problem is really in the system. Even apparently ‘good’ people behave badly when they are put into a system that encourages bad behaviour. And it’s also true that apparently ‘bad’ people behave well when the system encourages it and makes it easy.
Buffets are an example of exactly the kind of system I am talking about.
As I write this I am sat in one of my favourite restaurants; Bobby’s in Leicester. It is a buffet, and the food is delicious. But I am in an awful position – I feel I want to get my money’s worth and eat as much of the delicious food as I can, but on the other hand I know stuffing myself is stupid and bad for me.
So I am sat here trying to beat the system and not have another helping. It’s very hard.
A manager’s responsibility
It is the job of a manager to ensure the standards of behaviour in their organisation are being met. Whether you are in a bank, school or business. Saying that you didn’t know is not an excuse. You need to set up systems to check. And you need to set up systems to make it easy for people to behave well. Part of that includes creating a culture where people are able to come and tell you there is a problem.
When people fall below the standards
When there are problems, you need to find out what happened and why. And before you apportion blame, you need to look to yourself and ask what you could have done to prevent the problems. This can only be done by understanding.
Very often we misinterpret the behaviour of others. We assume unpleasant intentions and deliberate harm. Most of the time, that’s not the case. Which is exactly why I wrote my book “Difficult People Made Easy”. The original title was “Understanding Misunderstandings” and I’m sure you can see why now.
Seek to understand
Once you understand what happened and why, then you can improve your systems and help people to behave in better ways.
Perhaps I should ask Bobby’s to stop providing buffets…
Dealing with difficult behaviours
Understanding so-called difficult people isn’t always easy. My book “Difficult People Made Easy” will walk you through the practical ways of dealing with difficult people and an explanation of of they work.
• Tools for dealing with six kinds of difficult behaviour, including bullying
• What to avoid so you don’t make things worse
• Real life examples of what to do and what happened
Get Difficult People Made Easy now.
Objectives that give you drastic change
What’s the difference between objectives that that dramatically improve your business and objectives that just keep things ticking over?
Here’s a great question from a Grapevine reader about how to write objectives for two different kinds of people that illustrates just this point.
– We’ve got folks like Tony, whose job it is to put out fires (raging complaints, server crashes, payment issues with company credit cards, etc.) & handle random micro-projects that the rest of us might throw at him.
– And we’ve got people like our customer service team, whose job it is to handle tickets & complaints & refunds & such.
What kind of monthly/quarterly objectives and specific “metrics” do we/they set, or aim for? Because usually their job simply involves taking & responding to whatever comes in, and they’re already meeting that expectation as it is.
When you have a situation like this you have to ask yourself an important question; do you want to keep going along as you are or do you want really drastic improvements that rush through your business like fire in a flour mill? It could be dangerous.
(Which will be fine and keep things going as they are.)
- Ensure all technical issues are resolved within X hours or days (depending on your needs etc)
- Ensure all customer complaints are resolved to the satisfaction of the customer on the first call
- Ensure all micro projects are completed to the agreed parameters and criteria (e.g. quality and time)
Customer Service Team
Ensure all customer complaints are resolved to the satisfaction of the customer on the first call/within one working day (or other suitable time period where it’s email)
Tony- Identify most common issues you have to deal with. For this Tony can use a Pareto analysis. Identify options for preventing problems. Implement a plan to ensure the balance of proactive/reactive work is at least 70%/30%.
I would expect Tony to do this using a Pareto analysis and then prioritise the biggest issues that cause him to behave reactively to deal with first. Using this kind of technique you very often find you can reduce your workload considerably and start working on improvements instead of firefighting.
Find out more on how to do this here Time Management Teleseminar
It’s much the same for the team:
- Customer service team
- Identify most common complaints, tickets etc (pareto analysis)
- Identify options for preventing them
- Implement a plan to ensure the balance of proactive/reactive work is at least 70%/30%
Many of the issues these people (Tony and the others) will have been caused by my client’s own systems, sales people, and other various areas, many under his control. Tony and the customer service team will have to go to the people at the other end of the system with their analysis and those individuals will also need similar objectives.
However, I can guarantee that this strategy will reduce complaints, tickets etc and free up time to improve things for not only customers but those in the company too.
25% sales increase and 50% drop in complaints
Many years ago, before computers were very popular, I did this with a client company and, whilst increasing sales by 25%, we reduced complaints by 50%. (I must point out that this was also during a previous major recession when our client’s competitors were laying people off.)
From my recollection this was achieved in less than six months.
Aggressive behaviour at work and how it can happen
In a documentary on the making of the film Apollo 13 one of the NASA managers made a very interesting comment. Referring to some of the aggressive behaviour depicted in the film he said (as closely as I can remember): ‘there is no place for that kind of behaviour at work’. Ron Howard defended his direction of the film, because he had to make it more exciting for us the viewers.
It turns out that some of the situations were made to be more ‘exciting’ and more ‘drama’ was added so that we, the viewers, would enjoy it more. Apparently none of those involved them got as aggressive as the film implied.
No place for aggressive behaviour at work
I think he is absolutely right. I cannot think of a single example of aggressive behaviour at work that can be justified.
There is always a better way to handle the situation
Some people may think being ‘forceful’ motivates people or shows some kind of power. Some think it is glamorous or exciting. Personally I think it shows lack of skill and, very often, weakness. It is the lowest common denominator in your management toolbox and usually creates more problems than it solves.
Did I say that out loud?
There is a part of your brain that stops you from saying some of those more stupid or offensive things that pop, unbidden, into your head. These are the restraining neurons.
When your restraining neurons are too weak, you end up doing or saying those offensive or stupid things.
We’ve all been there. You say something and then wish you hadn’t. We’ve also all thought some unpleasant thoughts but not said them. This is an example of the restraining part of your brain working effectively. It happens when you are tired or if you lack the skill. We all have a part of our brain that stops us from doing stupid things and lashing out.
However, when you are tired, it doesn’t work as well as it does when you are fully rested. And in some people it doesn’t work very well at all. (You may know some of them.)
2 ways to improve your ability to restrain poor behaviour
The same part of your brain restrains all foolish or inappropriate behaviour. If you strengthen it by restraining your behaviour in one area, you will benefit in others, according to a study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science (and quite a lot of other research). This restraint can be as simple as stopping yourself from slouching at your desk or doing some every day tasks with your non-dominant hand.
Another option is to focus on what you need to do instead. It’s always much easier to do something than to stop yourself from doing something. Just think about when you tried not to each chocolate or something else you really enjoy. The more you think about not doing it, the more you see chocolate everywhere and want to eat it (oops, did I say that out loud?).
Focussing on what you need to do instead is often much easier.
An interesting and useful side effect of keeping your behaviour under control. Remember a time when you were ill and people came to visit you? Have you ever noticed how you felt better when they were there? This is because the very same part of your brain that suppresses your wish to be grumpy also suppresses your feelings of being ill.
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