Improving and revising performance goals in 2020

Goal setting is a slippery task. No matter how much effort you put into it, it always seems to be lacking an elusive magical element. Just when you feel like you’ve got it right, the year takes an unexpected tumble and you find yourself back at the drawing board. Yet, the satisfaction of having done a good job is unmatched. For many, July-August seems a strange time for goal setting yet if there was any year where this was to be normal, it would be 2020. Organizations across the world are shaking off the shock and re-envisioning what the rest of the year or three years are going to look like. I do not have to tell you that from January to now, we have learned a thing or two about how our old practices need revamping. This includes the activity of goal setting. As we go back to ground zero and build ourselves from scratch here are a few things to keep in mind.

Doubling down on visibility:

It might seem strange to put this right at the top. It’s not new nor novel. Yet as goals make their way down to individual goal sheets, one looks at the C-suite priorities and can’t help but scratch their head wondering which piece of the jigsaw puzzle fell apart. In the whole process of translating organizational priorities into HR priorities and breaking them down into team goals, personal motives and aspirations are bound to creep in and there is nothing wrong with that. However, at the end of the whole exercise, the goals at the bottom need to match the top. The best way to hold yourself accountable is to ensure that every single individual in the organization has visibility into goals up to the top including the success measures and accountability matrix. That way when someone in the frontline detects something amiss, they are empowered to call it out. There is absolutely no reason why any HR professional should not know the goals of another. Whatever reason you believe exists is likely untrue.

Stubborn on vision, flexible on execution:

This is my favorite motto when it comes to the workplace. Often, we get stuck on intermediary steps within the goal and forget the vision altogether. The trick for successful execution is never to take eyes off the vision i.e. the success measures in this case. This can only happen when one knows why the goal exists and holds conviction. The path may change, deadlines may shift. With the environment changing as it is today if the vision was to create the best employee experience and the goal addresses a certain aspect, one may have to change the path to get there but stay stubborn on the vision.

Ruthless prioritization:

They say the first rule to brilliant writing is to cut as many words as possible. With every edit, cut more. In the end, a 100,000-word manuscript may shrivel down to 70,000 and that is the ultimate mark of good writing. Now you may or may not agree with this rule of writing. However, this rule translates very well into the world of goal setting. It may feel like pursuing ten goals is a faster path to promotion and unfortunately, organizations where the wrong achievements are focused on, it is. If you want to build a great organization, it is wise to not dump more than three goals on an individual even if all the goals involve working in teams. Be ruthless when it comes to prioritization, for both the sake of the individual and organization. I remember one HR leader scrapping the concept of projects altogether. Why? Because the organization was overrun with pet projects that were of no real value. So much so that I once joked about it to a colleague. We called it Project Sisyphus – the one big project created to eliminate all other projects.

Three years:

Let’s face the truth. Real HR projects are not one-year goals. A goal is considered successful not at the time of launch but when it has created change. It is not successful to have launched a recognition program and witnesses high utilization for the first six months. True success is when the recognition framework continues to be successful a year later. To create a plan for just the year ahead is foolhardy, to say the least. The starting point for any goal setting exercise is three years at a minimum. First, create a 3-year plan (3YP) and then craft your current year goal sheet from there. Begin with retrospection. If you were to continue at the same pace every year, would you achieve the 3YP? If not, start again. If a goal does not fit into the 3YP, scrap it. The test of a strong 3YP is that it continues to be relevant for all 3 years.

That said, the basics of goal setting still hold true. SMART is still the most useful acronym in the game. Goal setting can no longer afford to be an exercise in futility. HR needs to up its game and setting strong goals define the direction. If you want to check whether you are headed in the right direction, just ask yourself three questions:

  • Do my goals align with that of the organization?
  • Have I scrapped enough goals?
  • Do my current year goals fold into my 3YP?

If the answer is yes to all three, you are golden.

This piece is the last in a four-part series discussing how goal setting may need to change for the better to translate into the new world.

Read the first three parts of the series here – Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.

P.S: This was originally published here.


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