Setting objectives for individual team members is often regarded by managers as an unnecessary and time-consuming task because by the time these are reviewed, usually once a year during the annual review, they are obsolete. They feel that people’s job descriptions, coupled with a chat during their annual appraisal, should be enough for them to know what needs doing .
The ability to set objectives effectively is, however, a valuable weapon in a manager’s armoury. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely) goals help to keep people energised, focused on the right tasks and aligned to the overall business direction. As well as being SMART, the best objectives will take into account the skills and overall development needs of each individual for their career and stretch them as much as possible. Not only will these objectives be reached, the person will have grown in the process. Without these, they may never have gotten there or known they could!
Clear objectives, which are regularly reviewed, also help ensure teams are agile enough to respond to sudden market changes or shifts in internal priorities.
Here are five reasons why managers need to shift their mind-set and start to see objective setting as an integral part of the way they manage their teams.
1. Objectives help to motivate people
If employees are not set clear objectives by their manager, they can become directionless. They are often overworked and working really hard firefighting and doing ‘stuff’ – but it isn’t necessarily the right stuff and therefore wasted energy. There is a danger that they could unfairly be seen as under-achieving, because although they are working really hard, they are not focusing on what their manager and the business regard as the most important activities. Employees who lack a sense of purpose and achievement in their role can very quickly become demotivated and may start to look for pastures new. Those who are clear about what their manager expects of them, and get regular opportunities to highlight their achievements against goals, are much more likely to be happy, motivated team members.
2. Objectives help people prioritise
In increasingly busy working environments, there is often so much to do that people don’t know which way to turn. They can very quickly become stressed and anxious as they try to deal with conflicting demands and keep all the plates spinning. Their managers are also very busy so it’s hard to get them involved in prioritising. If they get involved, they often get frustrated having to micro-manage someone else instead of dealing with their own work. Employees who have clear goals, however, are able to take a step back and look at their workload more objectively. Knowing what their objectives are makes it much easier to decide what needs to be done as a priority and what can be left for another time. In a fast-moving workplace, it’s good practice for managers to review objectives on a regular basis so that they can adjust the focus if necessary and make sure people are still concentrating on the right things. Discussing objectives also gives the opportunity for managers and their team members to understand why particular objectives are important in the bigger picture. As a result, employees grow their business awareness and can apply the same logic with new demands that they can prioritise effectively.
3. Objectives improve team dynamics
Discussing individual objectives at team meetings is a great way to raise overall performance. It helps the team get a clear picture of what it needs to achieve overall and an understanding of exactly what colleagues are focusing on. It also means that team members can contribute to each other’s objectives, offering support or advice when needed and finding new ways to approach tasks more collaboratively. Individuals can also grow their knowledge and exposure to the various areas of expertise of the team. An added advantage for the manager is that if called upon to do so, they can easily report back on how the team is performing against previously agreed objectives.
4. Objectives give people a sense of ownership
Managers often don’t involve people in setting their objectives. They assume the standard company induction or what they do as part of their daily tasks and interactions, will have given them the bigger organisational picture and that they will understand how the personal goals they have been given fit in. Assuming that people will automatically buy-in to whatever they are asked to do is, however, misguided. A more effective approach is to open up a dialogue with the employee about what they are expected to achieve (and why) and to involve them in setting their own objectives. Why not give them a go at setting the objectives themselves and then review the draft together? People are much more likely to embrace their goals and go the extra mile towards achieving them if they feel they have been part of the process and set these up for themselves.
5. Objectives support a culture of continuous development
It’s common for training and development needs or aspirations to only be raised once a year at the formal performance review. But with clear objectives in place, it becomes much easier for the manager to identify what development is needed to help the employee excel in their role. It means the manager can make sure that as well as providing any necessary skills training, they are also setting stretching and developmental tasks which will energise the individual and build the overall capability of the team. Training needs should also be reviewed regularly when objectives are revisited – ideally at least once a quarter – so that if priorities have changed, a new discussion around skills can be had if deemed necessary.
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