Goal Setting II

On September 15, 2010, in John Sumser, More2Know, by John Sumser

goal-setting-hrexaminerGoal Setting II

In legal circles, the assignment of responsibility is an integral part of strategy. When lawyers look at behavior, they have a deep desire to isolate responsibility to ‘single belly buttons’. Legal strategy often involves creating plausible deniability. A great lawyer tells you how to keep your own personal behind covered. In other words, supreme clarity about responsibility is exactly how you avoid it.

This is the problem with most performance management approaches. When objectives flow down from the top, they are usually divided and subdivided. Each individual in the chain ends up with what is deemed an appropriate share of the overall objectives. The idea is to simultaneously clarify individual jobs while maintaining the ability to zero in on the person or persons responsible for failure.

In other words, performance management is an analytical process that dissects an organizations goals and aligns individual responsibilities to them in measurable ways.

Like the law, most performance management implementations are really about the assignment of blame. The CEO can trace, down to the lowest level of the organization, just exactly who is responsible for the fact that he didn’t make his bonus. The same thing is true for each descending level of the organization. It almost always feels like that. The navagation of goals is a game of blame dodgeball.

Performance management, in this form, is usually accompanied by a large binder of company policies. With narrow and precise job descriptions, some companies thrive or narrow the restraint of individual actors. Badly executed, and most are, performance management systems create silos where there were none. They do this by erring on the side of specificity.

In general, the problem with policy oriented approaches is that they tie the hands of the employee. When faced with a choice between what’s best for the business and meeting one’s performance goals, which do you suppose is the winner? Overly regimented notions of jobs and job descriptions hobble the organization when a rapid environmental shift requires agility.

Unfortunately, you can not quantify good judgment. Performance management systems make the exercise of good judgment even harder.

So, what’s the alternative?

Rather than the clear allocation of responsibility for measurement purposes, the real organizational need is for alignment of the team. We want the organization (and each individual actor) to be rewarded for choosing its welfare over the limits of the plan. We want to be sure that the plan does not prevent us from building the best possible future. That means that for some big picture ideas, everyone has to be responsible.

Aspirational goals are best served whole. Slicing and dicing eventually means that you can’t tell that the meat comes from the cow. The precision measurement of organizational behavior is means to an end. It is terrible easy to confuse the two (means and ends).

Performance management systems must be understood as a way to create a robust conversation about the organization, its goals and the individual contributor’s role. To the extent that they are an exercise in filling out forms for reporting purposes, they are of no use to the employee. Rather than avoiding them, a great performance management system incorporates goals for which individual performance is hard to quantify. That’s what forces the conversation to happen.

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