Do You Make These Mistakes In Your Objectives? (Part 2)


A few weeks ago I gave three examples of typical mistakes in objectives. Here are three more.  



3 more badly written objectives

How to Write Objectives that Work

Make sure you get your objectives right


Can you identify what’s wrong with them? You’ll find the answers below.


Once again, all of these are real examples. Some may look familiar:


1. Drive an increase in sales by the end of March.

2. Assist Managers with recruitment and selection of Administrators.

3. Ensure all complaints are handled in a timely manner.  



How to fix these objectives




Bad objective 1: Drive an increase in sales by the end of March.


There are two main problems with this objective.


You don’t know what you want the sales to be – “increase” just tells you that you want the sales to go up. That could mean just by £1 or $1. You need to be specific. The best thing to do is to state what you want the sales to be. You could do this as a monthly average or an overall total.


What do you mean by “drive”? This is a popular word in objectives, but it is almost meaningless.


Generally with an objective like this the important thing is the amount of sales by the end of March.


“Drive” gives a vague notion of how it is to be done. But you could end up having a lot of arguments about whether you had “driven” sales or not. Objectives are just there to tell you what you need to achieve, not how to do it.


So there is no need for the word “drive”.


With these changes the objective could be something like:


Increase sales to £3.5m by the end of March.


You don’t even really need the work “increase” here but some people like to leave it in. Without it you have:


• Achieve sales of £3.5m by the end of March.  



Bad objective 2: Assist the marketing department with the recruitment and selection of new administrators.


The problem with this objective is that you have no idea what assistance you need to give, nor how your assistance will be measured. When you see objectives like this, you need to find out exactly what you personally need to achieve.


Once you know what you are responsible for you need to have specific objectives around those areas. So the objective could be:


• Design an advertisement for the administration job in the marketing department that gets at least 20 applicants meeting the agreed criteria by May.




• Ensure interviews for administration posts are only carried out by those managers who are able to meet the company interviewing standards.




• Ensure the marketing department has all the materials it needs in time to recruit five new administrators by the end of March.  



Bad objective 3: Ensure all complaints are handled in a timely manner.


There are two problems with this objective. You don’t know what “handled” or “timely” mean in this context.


“Handled” could mean that you have responded in some way or it could mean that the customer is entirely satisfied, or something in between.


“Timely” is completely useless as far as objectives are concerned. In this case you need a “linked” time.


That is a time that is linked to another time. So you need to says something like:


• Ensure all customers who have complained get a response within at least two days of their complaint being received.




• Ensure at least 90% of all customer complaints are resolved to the customer’s satisfaction in the first phone call.



Getting objectives clear makes it much easier to do a good job and be successful. If you need help, you’ll find all kinds of resources here.


To get personal help or training contact us.

Are you just keeping your people busy?


I had a great question from a Grapevine reader this week. So here, with her kind permission, is the question:


“I have a team of 6, 4 of which seem really busy 2 not so much. They do the work that they need to do but don’t seem to keep themselves busy and have to be asked if any extra needs doing.


I have monthly one 2 ones to discuss what they have got going on. I was wondering how I should approach them to do more work?”


I have been asked this questions similar to this many times before, so let’s look at the three key issues here:


•    Keeping busy

•    SMART objectives

•    The output



Keeping busy


As a manager, it is not your role to ‘keep people busy’. This is a very common misconception. You may be under the illusion that people who are kept busy are doing great work and achieving the goals you have in mind. And that’s true, sometimes. But by no means always.


It has become increasingly obvious to me that some of the most effective people I have met (by this I mean those who achieve a great deal to a high level of quality) look calm and collected. They are not people who look as though they are thrashing themselves to death all the time.


People who are always ‘busy’ do not consistently achieve a great deal. This is often because they don’t have clear priorities or they are inefficient.


Your responsibility as a manager is to ensure that the goals and objectives of your team are achieved, not to keep people busy.


Which brings us to the second topic.



SMART objectives

How to Write Objectives that Work

Make sure you get your objectives right


Do these people have SMART objectives and goals? Or indeed, any objectives at all? In a situation like this one you need to ask yourself:


“Are the objectives for the two people who are “not so busy” people clear?”


For example, is one of their objectives to find out what help others need and help them? Yes, I know you’re thinking “Well, that should be obvious” But it’s not obvious to everyone.


However if you have people who “do the work that they need to do” then all you need to do is make that they know what they need to do, and they’ll do it.



The output


It’s very easy to be misled on the output of ‘busy’ and ‘non-busy’ people. I know this because I’ve spent years measuring it. Sometimes people who appear not to be very busy are much more effective than those who are always busy. This is because:


1.    They think before they act

2.    They plan

3.    They don’t waste time correcting mistakes they made because they didn’t do 1 or 2.


In summary, this kind of problem is usually resolved with you setting really clear objectives and making sure that everyone understands them. Then you need to measure the output, rather than judge people on how busy they seem to be, and let them know that’s what you are doing.

Thank you Sue Townsend


Thank you Sue Townsend

It was with great sadness that I heard Sue Townsend; creator of Adrian Mole (and much

more) died last week. She was the best selling novelist in the 1980s.


I loved her writing style; it seemed to speak so directly to me. And it always made me laugh.


"Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction" by Sue Townsend

A much loved and well-read copy of “Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction” by Sue Townsend

Astonishingly, Sue Townsend couldn’t read till she was 8. She failed the 11+ (an exam we used to have here in the UK that determined which school you went to from 11 – 18), and left school at 15.


Before her success, she worked as a petrol pump attendant, in a shop and in a factory. Apparently she hid her writing from her husband, who left her after a few years of marriage. She then became the single parent of three children.


Sue wanted to be a dramatist, and it was through her radio play about Adrian Mole, that really launched her career.


Sue went blind at 40, but continued to write her books, by dictating them. She was later confined to a wheelchair. She did not let her illness get in the way of her writing and, according to everything I have heard about her, she was unfailingly funny.


By a coincidence I recently read an article in the New Scientist containing a few theories what makes people successful.  Some assume that IQ is the key. But studies show that although there is some correlation it’s not as clear as you might think (though it does seem to help).


Growth mindset

According to the research of Carol Dweck of Stanford University, what can make a real difference is a ‘growth mindset’. This is a belief that your abilities can be improved by working hard and being dedicated. It’s a belief that your IQ, or your abilities, are not fixed and you can change them.


After hearing about Sue Towsend’s life it is quite clear that she never even imagined herself to be limited. Reading books was the thing that she said really made a difference. She was an avid reader from a young age.



Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia suggests that what she calls ‘grit’ makes a difference too. She includes motivation as part of ‘grit’. And willpower. This is the willpower to see things through to the end. A New Zealand study showed that people who had greater self-control as children were not only better off financially as adults, but were also healthier and more emotionally stable too.


Interestingly, whilst Sue Townsend clearly showed huge amounts of grit in continuing her writing in spite of all her health problems, it seems she did not show as much self-control when it came to managing her diabetes. According to Peter White from the BBC she seemed to have an approach that she might not have lots of time left so she might as well make the most of it (rather than giving up smoking and managing her diabetes more effectively).


I suppose that is not such a bad thing, just sad for those who loved her for all of us who loved her work, like me.


From the sounds of it, she did very much make the most of it and enjoy her life. And she certainly enhanced it for many others. Thank you Sue.


Never Give Feedback Again


Stop Now


You may be surprised to see me advising you not to give any more feedback. But I am. What I am going to tell you about will make performance management, performance reviews and performance itself much better.



The reason is that, although feedback is THE best way to improve performance, there are often much better ways of making sure that people get it than giving it to them yourself.




Feedback is Information


Feedback is, after all, just information. It’s a special kind of information, but it is still information. Just as boiled eggs, fried eggs and soufflés are still eggs.




What Feedback Is


Information about the results of what you have said and done that enables you to make a decision on what to do next.




A Great Question


My old friend Mel Stephenson has a great question he likes to ask his people:
“How do you know how well you’re doing your job?”
What is your answer to this question? Do you need someone to tell you? Or can you easily identify the effectiveness of all your actions as you complete them?




The Essence of Feedback


This is the essence of feedback. Knowing straight away if what you are doing has worked or not.


In his own company, Mel has taken this approach to the extreme and everyone has their own dashboard that keeps them up to date with exactly how they are performing and the impact they are having.




Back Seat Driving


Giving feedback can be like backseat driving. If you are not careful, you end up getting

Back seat drivers can be so annoying

Back seat drivers can be so annoying

between people and the information. Imagine driving blindfold with someone on the back seat telling you what is going on and what to do – I doubt if you’d like it very much.



Just this weekend I watched a video of a young friend of mine having his first go at driving a car. Both his mother and father were in the car. One telling him to stop, the other to keep going.



Watching the video we were all laughing. But how often have you seen situations just like this at work – or worse still – been in them?





Put Them In The Driving Seat


Eva, one of my clients, had a ‘sandwich student’ working for her for a year. Alan had very poor interpersonal skills and was particularly bad in meetings, but seemed to be unaware of this. He would stare at the table, hardly speak and rarely participate.


I suggested to Eva that she ask Alan to take on a two-week assignment to identify what he thought were effective and ineffective behaviours in meetings simply by observing what was going on in the meetings he was in.



Two weeks later, Alan came to see Eva. His first words were: “I’m really bad in meetings.” He then went on to outline what he was doing to improve.




How can you put your people in the driving seat?


It’s not very difficult. Just start by asking them that question:


“How do you know how well you’re doing your job?”


And find out what they need so that they always know without anyone having to tell them.


You may be surprised at how easy it.

Do You Make These Mistakes In Your Objectives?


Setting SMART objectives and SMART targets can be difficult. Here are some easy tips to

How to Write Objectives that Work

Make sure you get your objectives right

help you out in writing your objectives and making them SMART.




3 badly written objectives


Can you identify what’s wrong with them? You’ll find the answers below.


All of these are real examples. Some may look familiar:


1.  Manage the returns process.

2.  File all applications.

3.  Read one journal every week.





How to fix these objectives


Example bad objective 1: Manage the returns process.


This objective tells you what you need to spend your time doing, but not what you need to achieve. Objectives should always be clear about what you need to achieve. So this objective could be something like:



  • Ensure all returns are entered into the system within one working day of arriving.
  • Design a returns process that will enable us to reduce the cost of returns to under  £5000/annum by the end of March.




Bad objective 2: File all applications.


This objective also just tells you what you need to spend your time doing, not what you need to achieve. But in this case it’s a bit more difficult to work out what you need to achieve. If you have an objective like this, you need to find out how you will know if you are doing a good job. 


Does it depend on how quickly the applications are filed? Does it depend on how accurately the information is put into the system?


Is it about the number filed per day? Or is it linked to the analysis of the applications?



Here are some options for this objective:


  • Ensure that all applications are filed within one week of arriving.
  • Ensure that the data control department has the information it needs about applications at the end of each week.



If you get an objective like this, ask your manager: “How would you know I was doing a good job?” And you’ll generally find the answer will be your objective.




Bad objective 3: Read one journal every week.


This may look like a good objective to you. After all you can measure it and it is specific. It may even be aligned to your goals. But it could be SO much better. With this objective you could waste your time reading a completely useless journal every week and still have achieved the objective.



Here’s what to do. Ask yourself why you are reading the journals. What is it that you want to know that you don’t already know? If you struggle to answer that question, think if a journal you read that you found useful or helped you in some way. How did it help? What were you able to achieve as a result?



Objectives in this area are often around discovering information.



Now you will be able to write a better objective:



  • Identify three possible ways of improving our processes each month.
  • Identify two researchers working in our field each month.
  • Identify developments in our industry that could impact on our sales.