Goal setting needs to be a partnership

Managers and their direct reports are equally responsible for goal setting. Yet many organizations make it a one-person project. That leads to problems according to John Hester, a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies®. In organizations where managers set goals without employee involvement, employees feel left out of the process. As a result, managers don’t get the buy-in they need. The employee has no fire or passion to achieve the goals. In some cases, resentment sets in.

In other companies, managers leave goal setting to their employees. While this may be comfortable to employees, it can lead to misalignment with overall organization goals, or can create targets that are focused more on existing skills that don’t create any growth or stretch.

For goal setting to work best, managers and employees need to work together to set goals that are aligned with organizational objectives, offer the right amount of challenge, and create buy-in from both parties.

Taking Individual Responsibility
An organization’s culture and norms play an important role in how individual managers and direct reports approach goal setting, but this doesn’t mean that managers and individual employees should settle for the status quo if it is not meeting their needs. In all cases, managers and direct reports have the ability to go above and beyond and ensure that in any work relationship, clear goals are established up front.

Hester reminds managers and direct reports alike that ultimately, you are responsible for your own career and for getting your needs met. In Hester’s opinion, you don’t want to make your career success completely dependent on the goal-setting skills of your manager. That’s too reactive—and too dependent of an approach.

Instead, Hester recommends that managers and employees take individual responsibility for setting clear goals each year. As he explains, “If I am an employee and I am not having the performance planning discussion that I should be having at the beginning of the year than I am going to initiate it. This will probably mean sitting down with my manager and saying, ‘I want talk with you about the key goals you want me to achieve this year. Here are some of my ideas, what do you think?’ As a direct report you have a responsibility to make sure that you are successful, effective, developing, and that you are doing what you can to be fully engaged.”

Special Advice for Managers
For managers looking to make the process easier for the people on their team, Hester recommends focusing on three key areas.

Approach goal-setting as a partnership. Recognize that performance planning is not something that you should do alone. This is something to be done in partnership with your team member. It’s a collaborative process. So the manager needs to know what the employee’s key areas of responsibility are, what is expected in the role, and what they want to see in terms of performance. The key is to have that discussion with the employee.

Make sure the goal is SMART (or SMMART). Anytime you set a goal, objective, or an assignment, you need to make sure that it meets the simple SMART criteria (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound). As Hester explains, “So many times when I asked employees how they receive their assignments they usually tell me it’s a casual hallway conversation or a quick email. And that’s it. There’s no discussion about specific targets, timelines, or measurement.”

Hester also believe that there should be a second “M” in the SMART acronym to account for employee Motivation. “This means the manager needs to additionally ask, ‘What is it about this goal that is motivating? What difference does it make in the organization, or to the team, or to the individual employee?’ So managers need to make sure that motivation is a part of the discussion and that they consider and inquire about an employee’s attitude toward the assignment.”

Diagnose competence and commitment levels. Finally, managers need to consider an employee’s individual competence and commitment level for a task. As Hester explains, “This is one of the basics of the Situational Leadership® II Model. For example, it’s a common mistake to assume that because a person is a veteran employee, they are experienced at any new task that might be set before them. This is often incorrect. It’s important that a manager find out about experience with a specific task and then partner with the employee to determine what they need in terms of direction and support to be successful with this particular assignment.”

Common Mistakes in Goal Setting

While good goal setting leads to increased performance, Hester also cautions against some common pitfalls to avoid.
1.Goals are not realistic. Stretch goals are great, but if they are out of reach they become demotivating and can even cause some employees to engage in unethical behavior to achieve them. In addition to making sure the goal is Attainable, goals should be monitored and adjusted as needed during the year.
2.Setting too many goals. When employees have too many goals they can easily lose track of what is important and spend time on the ones they “want” to do or that are easier to accomplish whether or not they are the highest priority.
3.Setting goals and then walking away. Goal setting is the beginning of the process, not an end in itself. Once goals are set, managers need to meet regularly to provide support and direction to help employees achieve their goals.
4.Setting a “how” goal instead of a “what” goal. Goals should indicate “what” is to be accomplished—the end in mind—not “how” it should be accomplished.

Benefits of Goal Setting if Managers Are Successful
Managers who take the time to spend the extra effort up front will recognize significant benefits down the road. Clear goals lead to clearer expectations, better performance-focused conversations, and ultimately, higher levels of performance across the organization.

Accountability is also easier with well-defined tasks. This is because follow-up conversations can focus on specific tasks instead of the person. As Hester explains, “This is very helpful and it keeps the manager out of conversations where they are saying something general like, ‘You’re not performing well.’ Instead, managers can point to the fact that an employee is not performing on this one goal, and can talk about what they can both do to make better progress.”

An extra side benefit is that working together on goals improves the relationship between managers and their direct reports. “That always pays dividends,” says Hester. “When people feel that their manager is truly invested in their success and they see their manager as a coach and partner helping them to succeed, their level of engagement and passion increases. It’s a clear, focused path that helps people perform at their best.”

Source. Ken Blanchard Companies, Ignite! Newsletter, January 2013
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