Collaborative Goal-Setting Drives Performance

startup-593343_1280All too often, the process of establishing goals for employees in the context of a performance evaluation slides into an uninspired exercise of just going through the motions, only to provide an easy reference point for future compensation decisions.  But it can instead be an opportunity to inspire your staff to high levels of productivity and achievement.  Accomplishing that can only happen if you take the process seriously, and move beyond some entrenched myths about setting performance goals.

Here’s how you can do it.

Supervisors and business owners often assume “they’re paid the big bucks to make management-related decisions, including assessing someone’s performance,” notes Paul Flacone, a veteran human resource executive and author.  The traditional mindset often translates into performance evaluation as a “one-way, top down-exercise where the boss ends up playing the unilateral decision-maker and occasional disciplinarian,” he adds.

This approach kills employee initiative, motivation, and creativity.  He does not suggest that supervisors abandon their responsibilities as leaders, but pursue a collaborative approach.

Turn the Conversation Around

Imagine the reaction of an employee accustomed to being dictated to if her supervisor, prior to the next review session, asked her to come to the meeting with a written performance self-assessment and answers to such questions as:

  • What were your greatest accomplishments last year?
  • How can I help you build new skills and prepare you to progress in your career?
  • What goals are you setting for yourself?
  • What will the measurable results look like to ensure that you have met them by this time next year?

But what if employees exaggerate their assessments of their own performance?  And worse still, what if the biggest exaggerators are employees you consider to be the weakest performers?  Won’t this set up a showdown?  Sometimes it will happen, Falcone concedes.  But with a poor performer, the tough conversation would’ve had to come at some point regardless.

The “Aha Moment”

The “aha moment” for supervisors in conducting these two-way evaluation sessions, Falcone says, is when workers “are typically harder on themselves than those supervisors ever would be.”  “When that happens, supervisors” see the significance of shifting some responsibility for assessment and goal-setting back to their employees.

Falcone manages employer expectations about how this all works, stating that a 70-20-10 rule applies:

  • 70% of the employees will go along with the approach, but not “blow you away” with their feedback.
  • 20% will “go wild with bells, whistles, productivity charts and the like.”  These employees are the high-potential workers who you are especially trying to motivate with this approach.
  • 10% won’t want to participate, telling you it’s your job.  But such workers may have “entitlement issues and time-clock mentality,” Falcone notes.  The refusal to participate may simply be documented and added to other evidence of a reluctance to improve performance.  This evidence will likely impact their future with the organization.

2600 Performance Goals

Supervisors themselves of course maintain a key role in employee goal-setting.  Falcone recently wrote a book, “2600 Phrases for Setting Effective Performance Goals” which offers a vast menu for employers to draw upon.

The organization of the 2600 phrases reveals the wide breadth of performance categories which may be pertinent to any given job.  In addition to performance goals tailored to dozens of specific jobs, the book includes phrases in 32 generic realms of performance – categories you might not have initially considered relevant to a position.

For example, in keeping with his focus on collaborative goal-setting, Falcone includes several pages of self-development goals, for workers at different career stages and functions.  A few examples:

  • Train yourself to provide two solutions for each question you raise.
  • Study and share best practices.
  • Engage in positive confrontation rather than avoidance.
  • See yourself as a role model who embodies the company’s mission and values.
  • Ensure that team members are comfortable sharing minor concerns with you before they become major impediments.
  • Delegate what you’re best at and what you enjoy in order to mentor others by s haring your strengths.

How many goals should be collaboratively established for workers? The number could be huge, but setting no more than two or three “macro goals” is probably realistic and measurable.

Falcone stresses this point: goal-setting is an individualized process, even though you probably need to share broader organizational goals as well.  “Good leadership is all about listening to where people want to go with their careers, setting them up to gain traction in that area and then stepping out of the way,” he concludes.


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