Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), Key Objectives and Results (OKRs), and Ambitious Goals are not very effective in motivating or evaluating employee Goals.
There are targets at work everywhere. It’s hard to find many companies that don’t adhere to some sort of annual goal-setting regime. At some point, the leaders of the organization set their goals and then share them with their teams. Each team member reviews each of the leader’s goals and sets a mini-goal that reflects part of the leader’s goal. This continues throughout the chain until everyone has a set of goals that are mini-versions of a larger goal higher up in the organization.
During the year, you may be asked to record the percentage of goals you have achieved. This “percent complete” data is aggregated into larger and larger groups. So at any time of the year, the company can say things like, “65% of our teams have achieved 46% of their goals. We have to accelerate.
And at the end of the year, you’ll be asked to write a short self-assessment that reflects how you feel you performed against each goal, after which your team leader will review that assessment. In some cases, the boss also says whether he thinks each goal has been achieved or not. All this information is fed into the company’s performance management system. It will serve as a permanent record of your performance throughout the year and serve as a guide to your salary, career opportunities, and even your ongoing employment.
Well, every business is different and each does its own math, but the three most common reasons for all of these goals are:
- Those objectives drive and coordinate performance by aligning the work of each;
- That monitoring the “percent of completion” of goals provides valuable data on team or company progress over the year that achieving goals allows companies to assess performance team members at the end of the anus.
Companies, therefore, invest in targets because targets are seen as a stimulator, tracker and evaluator.
Goals don’t increase performance
When it comes to goals like performance enhancers, one of the great fears of leaders is that the work of their staff is misaligned and that their efforts are wasted on activities that do not produce the desired results. Creating a cascade of goals calms this fear and gives leaders the confidence that everyone is pulling in the same direction. Pressure to achieve business goals can create anxiety. Workers fueled by fear may resort to inappropriate and sometimes illegal tactics.
Of course, none of these attunements make much sense if the goals themselves don’t lead to increased activity. You could argue that business goals do the opposite: they limit performance.
Goals don’t track performance
What about performance monitoring? Do goals enable companies to do this? barely. Although many companies require their employees to write down their annual goals and track their progress. Progress towards a goal is not linear.
With all goals, at least in the real world, it’s finished or unfinished: achieving goals is binary. You may want to set intermediate goals along the way and mark those goals if they’ve been met (or not). But you will never be able to assign a “percent complete” to your main goal when you set these mini-goals. And if you try, or if your company asks you to, you’ll only generate falsely accurate data about the status of your progress.
Goals are not used to evaluate employees
What about employee evaluation? Can we judge a person by the number of goals he has achieved? Many companies do that without a doubt. But here’s the catch: Unless you can standardize the difficulty of everyone’s goals, it’s impossible to objectively assess each employee’s relative performance.
Suppose we have two employees that we are evaluating, Liselotte and Jordan. Each of them aims to achieve five goals. Liselotte scored three goals and Jordan five. Does this mean Jordan has better performance? Not necessary.
Perhaps one of Liselotte’s five goals was to “lead an empire” and one of Jordan’s five goals was to “make a cup of tea.” To use target achievement to assess Liselotte and Jordan, we need to be able to calibrate each target based on their difficulty. We need every manager, in a coherent way, to be able to weigh the stretching or easing of a certain goal, just like all other managers.
Work vs Goals
In the real world, there is work: things to do. In the world of theory there are objectives;
The work is in front of you; The targets are behind, they are your rearview mirror.
The work is precise and detailed, the objectives are abstract;
- Work changes quickly, goals change slowly or not at all;
- Work makes you feel like you have the ability to act, goals make you feel like a cog in a machine;
- The work gives you confidence, the goals inspire you with mistrust;
- Work is work, goals are not.
The only criterion for a good cause is that the person working on it offers it voluntarily. The only way a goal can be useful is for it to come out of you as an expression of what you hold dear.
He doesn’t have to be SMART, nor tall, nor hairy, nor daring. It does not have to include key performance indicators or rely on objectives and key results. If a goal is going to be useful, if it’s going to help you contribute more, the only criterion you have to set for yourself is voluntary. Any goal imposed on you from above is a non-goal.
Goals, well done, are only and always the expression of what the person considers most important. When aligned with the business (the goals), everyone in the business understands what matters most. The best companies do not cascade goals, the best companies cascade meaning.
The best leaders realize that their employees are wise and that they don’t need to be pressured to align themselves by setting annual goals. Instead, these leaders strive to bring to life the meaning and purpose of their work, the missions and contributions, and the methods that really matter to their people. These leaders know that in a team imbued with this meaning, each person will be smart and motivated enough to voluntarily set goals that manifest that meaning. It is the shared feeling that creates attunement, and that attunement is emerging, unforced. While cascading targets are a control mechanism, the cascading meaning is a release mechanism. It brings to life the context in which everyone works but leaves room for control.