Are your objectives and targets secret?


I’m always surprised when people keep their objectives secret. Well, surprised, worried and sometimes suspicious.



I’ve worked in many companies and organisations over the years, helping them to set their

How to Write Objectives that Work

A good way to write your objectives

objectives and running workshops on how to write SMART objectives and goals. Over that time there have been quite a few where people were concern about sharing objectives.



Discover the risks you face with secret objectives.




Why don’t people want to share their objectives?



If you are engaged in subterfuge, it would be entirely understandable for you to keep your objectives secret from your victim or competitor. But if you are going about your honest business, indeed if you are part of a team, all trying to achieve the same goal, why would you want to keep your objectives secret?




Are people frightened of sharing their objectives?



This can be one reason, possibly because they think they might fail to achieve them or because they are not very well written. In either case, these individuals need help.




Aung San Suu Kyi



Just a couple of weeks ago on the radio here in the UK, Aung San Suu Kyi was the guest on “Desert Island Discs”. The origins of this fascinating programme are from well before the iPod or even cassette. The interviewer asks the guest to identify the eight records they would wish to be left with them should they be marooned on a desert island.



I listened with rapt attention as Kirsty Young plied her with questions.



Near the end of the interview Kirsty asked: “What do you hope for from the elections?… And of course you yourself would hope to be president?”



And here is the answer: “I would like to be president, that way I could do what I think would be best for the country. Now people always like to be very, very modest and say: “Well I don’t particularly want to be the president but if the people want me… “ I think that’s a lot of nonsense. If you are a politician, and you are the leader of a party, then you should want to get government power in your hands that you may be able to work out all these ideas and visions that you’ve harboured so long for your country.”



Kirsty was clearly astonished: “How refreshing, I’ve interviewed many politicians and this is the first time I’ve heard anyone be so honest.”



When you look at this answer, it makes complete sense. And it also gives short shrift to any party leader or senior politician who has given one of the feeble responses Aung San Suu Kyi refers to.




The risks you face with secret objectives



If you do not share objectives in an organisation, you run the risk of a great deal of waste because you risk conflicts between objectives. This can happen for all kinds of reasons; the battle between costs and quality for example, or simply lines of responsibility not being clear.



When this happens, you need to resolve those issues or you end up in a situation where you have duplication of effort, yawning gaps in your system where key tasks simply aren’t being completed or effort wasted on fruitless arguments.



You cannot resolve these issues unless objectives are transparent and visible to all.




How to share your objectives



People often ask me how you cascade objectives through an organisation. It’s pretty straightforward.



You start at the top. You then need everyone in the top team to identify what he or she needs to achieve in order for the top goals to be achieved.



You then repeat the process as you work through the company. Ideally do this with all the members of each team present.




Should development objectives be secret?



You may say that these objectives need to be kept secret. Well, I suppose this is OK if they are not crucial to the success of the organisation.



However, in many cases I think you would find your were relieved to see that a colleague who was badly organised was finally tackling an issue that was holding back the rest of your team.



You would probably be keen to help that colleague to improve if you knew he or she was making an effort.

Should a Pope Resign?



I was very interested to learn that the pope had resigned this week. It’s 600 years since a pope did this. But is Pope Benedict XVI really the first pope who should have resigned in 600 years?


You have probably known people who perform badly in their jobs and have carried on

Worried woman

Can I really do my job? Do I need help?

performing badly for years. What stops people who are unable to carry out their responsibilities from asking for help or resigning?


If you are in any job, even if it is not quite as onerous as that of Pontiff, there is a contract between you and the organisation you are working for. You are responsible for carrying out work to an agreed standard and achieving your objectives. Your organisation is responsible for paying you, training you, giving you the materials you need and a few other things.

If you realise at some stage that you are unable to hold up your end of the bargain, then you need to take some action. It might not be quite as drastic as resigning. (In his case I imagine he could not see that there was a way to improve his situation.) It may be as simple as getting help or training. It may be a question of asking for more resources or at the very least letting your manager know that there is some kind of problem.
Not to take that action causes all kinds of problems.



How these problems arise


There are many people who don’t like to admit a failing or weakness. There are probably many others who would love to get some help and admit there is a problem, but are too frightened to take this step for all kinds of reasons, including that they might lose their job.



600 years


Pope Benedict XVI is the first pope to resign in 600 years. I wonder how many of the previous popes realised there was a problem, but did not resign? I wonder how many had a problem but did not realise it and should have resigned?



The culture you create


This is all about culture. There are some cultures that encourage people to be self-aware and take responsibility for improving their skills and getting assistance. There are others where this is deemed unacceptable.



Recognising a weakness or development need


I recently heard from one of my clients that a candidate did not want to be interviewed by me. This was because that candidate felt that managers should be able to trust their own judgement and not need to rely on HR people (for whom this candidate had little regard). It was seen as a weakness.


As my client pointed out, he has an accountant and that seems to be acceptable, so how is HR different? Recognising your weaknesses and taking action to mitigate them is strength and should be viewed as such.


Encouraging people to do anything else strikes me as a huge weakness and also patently stupid.


Your objective is to do your job to the standard required; you need to recognise what you have to do to make sure that happens.


So well done to Pope Benedict. It must have been very hard. Let’s hope others in all fields follow his example.



Identify your weaknesses today


Be honest, identify what it is you are not doing as well as required and get some help. You’ll be glad you did. Or alternatively make it easier for people in your team to do so. Setting a personal example is often a great way to encourage others to identify weaknesses and areas for development.

Are your objectives reactive or proactive?



I had a very interesting discussion recently with someone who runs a help desk and it prompted me to think about the difference between reactive and proactive objectives.
This is a very important distinction because it has a huge impact on the results you get. Reactive objectives keep the status quo. Proactive objectives make improvements and take you forward. Both can be SMART objectives or SMART goals, but the long-term results are quite different.



Help desks and people who respond to problems


I’ve done a lot of work with helpdesks over the years. Here are some typical objectives:  

  • Answer all calls within 3 rings
  • Answer 50 calls / day on average
  • Resolve 80% of tickets within one week


It’s very tempting to think that when you are in this kind of role, where you are responding to the problems of other people all the time, that’s all you can do. But it’s not true.



In fact you have some excellent opportunities to make big improvements if that’s what you want to do. (I’m sure it is if you are reading this.)



Gather the facts


As is often the case, gathering the facts is always useful. Here’s what you need to do. Just get details of the issues that you are having to deal with and how many of each you get over a week or month. So your first objective is:


Identify the top 10 reasons that customers/users call us.


You plot all the reasons, and the number of calls for each into a graph like this.

Histogram showing calls to the help desk by category

Plot the graph in order of the problems that are the source of the most calls


Now you can see what’s going on. You can see where most of your calls or requests for help come from. So you can start setting yourself some challenging objectives. Like halving the number of calls you get.


You objective might be:


Reduce the number of calls about ____________ to under 50 per week by end March.

That might sound a bit frightening. But the truth is you can often do much better than that.


Almost all of the help desks I’ve worked with in the IT field have said that their most common call is from people who have forgotten their password. We’ve all done it.


So one particularly enterprising team set about training their colleagues in memory techniques for remembering passwords. It reduced the lost password calls by more than 50%. I still use one of those techniques to this day.



Your most frequent callers


Another way to analyse the information is to identify (for internal callers) who are you most frequent callers. You can probably do this without having to graph it. Personally I always like to draw and graph and work out the figures because that makes it easier to see just how much of an improvement you’ve managed to make.



Once you have identified your most popular callers, you then might set up a meeting with them to see what you can do to help them. This can often reduce your workload and theirs quite considerably and leave you time to make other improvements.




Get the measures right


Sometimes you are measuring the wrong things and you are therefore getting poor results. People in call centres often measure the length of calls, the goal being to make the calls as short as possible so they can get onto the next call. However, if you do this, you often get the same person calling back several times because their problem has not been resolved.


I suspect that some of the dreadful issues at the Stafford Hospital may be linked to having the wrong measures from some of the reports I’ve heard. So getting the measures right is vitally important.


I saw a great example of this when working with a client years ago who was a master at turning round call centres. He said it’s much better to have an objective of resolving issues on the first call than a length of call or number of calls goal. And guess what, it’s much more popular with the customers.




Sometimes you just can’t win


Though this brilliant manager never did solve the problem of the pensioner who used to phone every day to complain that there were too many clouds on the picture of the weather (I’m not joking).


If you have to deal with lots of interruptions you’ll find proactive and reactive ways of dealing with them on pages 16 and 17 of our booklet “Time Management Made Easy”. You use exactly the same principles as dealing with calls to a help desk.

What if you were Tom’s manager?


Last week we examined the difficult dilemma of Tom, in a job with skills far exceeding the requirements. His dilemma was what objectives should he set himself? Should he stick to those for the job grade or what he is really capable of.


I can reveal to you that the real Tom went for the latter option.


But what if you were Tom’s manager?


Imagine you too have been through multiple opportunities to reapply for your own job and

What would you do as Tom's manager?

What would you do as Tom’s manager?

have perhaps settled for a role that is not exactly what you would have chosen.


You are probably face with senior managers urging you to squeeze more and more blood out of the stones who make up your team. You are no doubt faced with all kinds of cuts and reduced resources. You may also be having to implement unpopular policies, such as classifying people’s achievements for their annual appraisals as ‘not met’ when they have quite clearly achieved their objectives.


On the other hand you have your team who feel (at best) badly treated and are no longer happy to ‘go the extra mile’. They probably cite examples of senior managers who have taken large bonuses and who have made some of the mistakes that have resulted in the situation you are now in.  


How do you agree objectives, goals or targets in this case?


Go back to basics. Take your objectives and then cascade them to your team.


Your objectives are there so that everyone in your team knows what he or she needs to achieve in order for the top-level goals to be achieved.


So the objectives of your team need to add up to your objectives without duplication, conflict or gaps.


It’s your role as the manager to make sure that happens.


What do you do when things don’t seem fair?


Many years ago I carried out several projects at a brewery. (None of them involved organising a “drinking party” before you ask.)


Each time I went I felt more and more uneasy about the way the people there were treated. Managers bullied staff. The bonus scheme was the most iniquitous I have ever come across in my entire career.




At one stage I was asked to design an appraisal system that was based on ‘empowerment’. I spent days on it and then presented it to the HR Director. He didn’t like it.



“No. You’ve just got to tell them – this is what you have to do and this is how you must do it!” He bawled at me.


I really have no idea why they kept asking me back.



Looking fair



The last, and possibly worst, project involved “Making the bonus system “look” fair”. Their words, not mine.



I interviewed a number of employees. Last, I came to Mike, a seasoned manager who had been there over 20 years. I liked Mike. He knew the ropes and took everything in his stride. He wore a shabby old suit that had seen better decades, but looked comfortable.


He was one of the most senior managers, but not a director. He inhabited a cramped office, with just enough room for his desk and chair and a chair for me to sit on. As we sipped our coffee, I started to ask him about the bonus scheme and outlined the presentation I was drafting. He smiled as he listened to what I was saying. Then he took a deep breath.



“What we’d really like is someone to be honest.” He said. “It would be great if they could just say: “This bonus scheme stinks. It’s really unfair, we get all the money and you give virtually nothing. But that’s how it is. If you don’t like it, go and work somewhere else.” He smiled. “If they could just say that. we’d be happy. The thing is we all know it’s really unfair, and so do they. We know it and we still work here. It would just be great if they admitted it.”



I have often remembered Mike’s words of wisdom. In an ideal world the bonus scheme and everything else for that matter, would be fair and reasonable. But even if it isn’t, it is generally possible to be honest. I find the results from honesty are usually much better and longer lasting than those you get from trying to bend or hide the truth