Category Archives: Objectives

Tips for measuring performance

This question has been posted by a reader Sarfaraz for the article “Writing SMART goals – part 3”.

This article is very good and it helped me to make an objective for my Department. I wounder if you could provide me some tips to guage employee performance (specially field staff). We provides service by receiving calls from customer and try to provide service as soon as possible.

Once again thanks for this article

Because I haven’t made any posts for a while, I thought this would be a good opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

Here’s some classic ways to measure performance:

1. Quality
2. Quantity
3. Timeliness
4. Cost effectiveness

Sarfaraz’s question is specifically related to the service provided by field staff. So with that in mind, here’s some ideas:

Quality – you can measure the quality of the service provided by surveying the customer, using a mystery caller or having a more experienced officer monitor and review service provided.

Quantity – an example here might be the number of clients served in a given time period. Careful what you ask for here. Quality may suffer if you reward only quantity.

Timeliness – you could measure how long the customer needs to wait before service has been provided.

Cost effectiveness – A couple of ideas here. If your employee’s have control over the costs of components used in providing service, you can set a goal and measure the reduction in those costs. Another idea – escalating problems to a more senior person can be time consuming and costly. So you might choose to measure how many problems need to be escalated.

If anyone else can offer some suggestions for Sarfaraz I’d love to hear them.


How do you set objectives when there’s little clarity of business goals?

Smart organisations are looking to get their people closely aligned to their corporate goals. These organisations are more successful by getting everyone moving in the same direction. To achieve this, their managers need to take the goals of their organisation, division and unit into account when setting objectives for their team.

But what if you’re a manager and your organisation provide little clarity around it’s goals?

This is a good question and one that a reader David has asked in response to my post on Writing Objectives that Produce Results.

I’m going to suggest three ways this can be tackled.

  1. Use a balanced scorecard approach.
  2. Focus on the output of your unit or team.
  3. Focus on the workflow/processes within your unit or team.

The balanced scorecard approach
This approach takes into account a balanced set of factors that affect the long term success of an organisation.

  • Financial.
  • Customers.
  • Internal processes.
  • Learning and growth.

Using this approach you would set objectives for your team for each of these categories.

For business the objectives here are usually centred around increasing revenue or profits.

For not-for-profit and government organisations the objectives usually focus on reducing costs.

Examples are increasing customer satisfaction and retaining customers.

Internal processes
Objectives here focus on improvements to processes used within the organisation. For example implementing a CRM system.

Learning and growth
Goals that will help the individual become more capable and give the organisation the capacity to improve.

Focus on the output of your team
Using this method you focus on your customers (internal or external). Answer these two questions…

  1. What services do you provide to them?
  2. What outputs do you provide to them?

For each of these, your objectives can focus on one or more of …

  • Improving quality.
  • Increasing quantity.
  • Reducing quantity.
  • Improving timeliness.
  • Improving cost effectiveness.

You might be wondering why I included reducing quantity. An example of this is reducing the number of errors in some output.

Focus on workflow
With this approach you create a flow chart for each of the processes within your team.

  • What are the steps involved to provide services or products?
  • Would it be beneficial to the organisation to improve any of these steps or replace them completely?
  • If they can be improved, set goals and targets.
  • Then set individual objectives for your team members that are linked to these goals and within their sphere of influence.

Happy goal setting.

Is it 360 degree appraisal or feedback?

Why do some people talk about “360 degree appraisal” instead of “360 degree feedback”. Are they talking about the same thing or are they different.

Well they are actually different. I’ve talked a fair bit about 360 degree feedback already, so let’s dive into 360 degree appraisal in this post.

My definition for 360 degree appraisal
The use of 360 degree feedback techniques to measure or rate a person’s achievements for one or more performance objectives.

This is different to 360 degree feedback which focuses on giving a person feedback on their capabilities using things like competencies, values and behaviours.

When to use 360 degree appraisal
When it comes to setting goals and objectives they have to be measurable to be effective. See writing SMART objectives for the reasons why.

But sometimes it’s difficult to work out how you can measure the outcome for an objective. For example, what do you do if there are no systems in place or if the objective just doesn’t lend itself to a hard measurement. What if there is an appropriate measure but the cost would make it impractical.

What do you do? If you don’t have a quality measure, the objective is pretty much a waste of time.

The answer is 360 degree appraisal. Use feedback from the manager, peers, direct reports and customers to rate the achievement.

An example of when it could be used
Let’s say you want to increase the number of people in a work unit who can provide a specific type of service to other groups. How would you measure it?

You could just measure the achievement based on the number of people trained to provide the service. But that’s really only measuring the action of training those people, not the outcome of people who can provide the service. Ideally you would want to measure the quality and quantity of the service.

The benefit of 360 degree appraisal here is that you can ask two types of people to appraise the outcome:

  • People affected by the service.
  • People who observe how well the service is provided.

When not to use 360 degree appraisal
If there’s a hard measure available and it’s cost effective, use it in preference over 360 degree appraisal. Especially if that measure comes from a system and you can gauge progress throughout the year using it.

For example, measuring someone on a sales objective using 360 degree appraisal would be inappropriate. Using the hard measure of their actual sales in money terms is much more effective at getting the end result you want.

David’s questions
Getting back to David, one of his questions was . . .

How do I set SMART objectives that I can clearly link to the business bottom line without necessarily having the clarity of business goals or resolution of metrics?

Something you can take away from this post is that 360 degree appraisal is an option you now have when there’s little or no resolution of metrics.

Next post…
We’re yet to look at:

Writing SMART goals – part 3

Edit: you can find a more up to date version of this article here.

In part 1 of this article we looked at the definition of a SMART objective. In part 2 we turned the problem producing provide good service to all customers into new SMART objectives.

There’s three things left to do that’ll make the new objectives work really well for you. On top of this they’ll help remove headaches come review time. They are…

Performance standards, and

Let’s see what this looks like with our two new objectives from part 2 (Retain 99% of your customers, and Increase your Customer Service Satisfaction Rating to 4). We can break these objectives down further.

Objective: Retain customers

Measurement: Percentage of your customers retained. Using data from the CRM system.

Performance standard:
90 – 92% = partially met
93 – 95% = met
96 – 98% = exceeded
over 98% = outstanding

Objective: Increase customer satisfaction

Measurement: Your average customer satisfaction rating. Measured using the monthly mystery shopper result.

Performance standard:
This objective will be partially met when:

  • Average time taken to respond to customer requests is 4 minutes.
  • Mystery shoppers record that you are usually courteous.
  • Fewer than 1 in 10 enquiries need to be escalated to the supervisor.
  • On your follow-up, 7 out of 10 customers report that their needs have been met and no further action is needed.

It will be met when:

  • Average time taken to respond to customer requests is 3 minutes.
  • Mystery shoppers record that you are almost always courteous.
  • etc…

I’m using Measurement to describe the source of the data and how it will be measured. The Performance standards are basically explaining how the end rating or score will be determined.

This is great! Once those objectives are agreed by the manager and employee, there’s no disagreement as to the result.

But wait … that’s not all – if the employee knows how to measure their progress, they’ll know how they are traveling. Why does this matter? Well, when something is achievable and you know how you’re traveling, you’re much more motivated to reach the end goal.

Making the objective a more powerful statement
OK, now something I do to turn the objective into a really powerful statement . . .

Find out what sort of result your team member wants to achieve. Then write that into the objective. So Retain 99% of your customers for example. The measurement and performance standards stay the same. It’s just a memory aid. Making sure that when you think of the objective, you think of the target as well.

To illustrate why this technique is useful, it might be useful to relay a story about Ethan Hunt’s first six months working at Mission Impossible.

Basically he used to receive his jobs via video recordings on his iPod. The message would describe the mission goal, measurement and performance criteria. And then the iPod would self-destruct.

The only problem was within five minutes of the iPod self-destructing, poor old Ethan would be like Oh crap! How many bad guys was I supposed to capture again?

Now they include the target in the objective. And you know the rest of the story – he’s been very successful since!

Back to serious stuff now – a word of caution – don’t use this technique where there is a potential for putting an employee on a performance improvement program for unacceptable performance.

One thing left to do . . . and this is an important one. How is the objective going to be achieved? What actions are needed? You need to describe the steps or plan for reaching the goal.

Even if your organisation hasn’t reached the point yet where a manager and employee set objectives jointly, you at least need to have input on this one from the employee. For employees with little experience, you’ll need to do most of the work here in terms of outlining the actions. But even then, I’ve been amazed at the value of the ideas provided by inexperienced employees. It is so worth getting employees involved.

For people with a lot of experience, you’re really going to benefit by using their collective knowledge and skills. And they’ll be more satisfied and more likely to be motivated if they have planned their own action steps.

Some things to avoid…

OK there’s a few things you need to avoid when writing objectives. I’m not providing legal advice though, so if you want a definitive answer on what you can and can’t do, you’ll need to consult someone who can provide that advice.

  • Objectives must be achievable.
  • Avoid using terms that don’t allow a margin for error like always, every, each, all, never.
  • An objective can be very challenging, but it should be possible for someone to achieve outstanding performance.
  • Avoid describing objectives as things you don’t want done, focus on what you want achieved instead.
  • There can’t be an expectation for a person to be perfect.

Go for it!
OK there you have it. I hope you’ve got something from these three articles on writing objectives that produce results. Thank you to everyone for your comments and emails.

At the start of your next review cycle write SMART objectives. You’ll reduce your performance review headaches . . . . . and be more successful.

How do you do this when you barely have the time to get through your email inbox?

Learning how to write SMART objectives is one thing.  But how do you manage to do this for a whole team when you barely have enough time to get through your email inbox each day?  The answer is software.  Cognology has designed an online performance management system that makes the process easy.

Writing objectives that produce results – part 2

Edit: you can find a more up to date version of this article here.

Alright, let’s get straight into it.

What I want to do is revisit the “Provide good service to all customers” objective from part 1 of this article. This is the sort of objective that leads to what I call the dreaded annual appraisal. So I’m going to show you how to turn that problem producing, airy fairy, jumble of words into something that’ll make a real difference.

The first thing to recognize in “Provide good service to all customers” is that it’s an action, not an objective. Objectives should be outcomes or accomplishments, not the actions that lead to them. So what’s the outcome you’re really looking for when you say “provide good service to all customers”?

You would be looking to have satisfied customers. And ultimately you would be looking to retain customers. And the reason for this is that income generally comes from two sources; new customers and existing customers. And existing customers usually account for a greater proportion.

So how do we re-write it as a SMART objective. First look at the organisation’s goals. Imagine the organisation has a goal to retain 99% of customers. We want our objective closely aligned with that goal. And the easiest way to do that would be to make the objective…

Retain 99% of your customers

This sort of objective would work well in a lot of situations. But what about the person working on the front line handling enquiries. Their actions influence whether a customer is retained. But there are many other factors out of their control. So in that case what you want to do is use an objective like this…

Increase your Customer Service Satisfaction Rating to 4

I’m assuming a rating system for customer satisfaction from 1 to 5. I’ll talk about how to measure these in the next article. When you use an objective like that, make sure you let the person know it’s linked back to the organisation’s goal of retaining 99% of customers. So there’s more to their job than an uninspiring job description. They’re involved in the real mission.

So which objective do you think would get better results?

The old style Provide good service to all customers

or the SMART Retain 99% of your customers

OK, that should get you running through the office like a football player who’s just kicked a goal. Fist in the air, one finger pointed, holding your shirt out with the other hand.

Um hello! I can’t see myself running around in my office I hear you say. Yeah OK, but you will be kicking goals. And best of all, the goals will have a measurable affect on the bottom line.

In case anyone missed it – I just said B O T T O M L I N E.

I’ve had some feedback about the length of the articles, so I’m going to keep this short and talk about how to measure the objectives in part 3.

Are you wondering how you’ll manage to write performance goals when you’re so busy each day?

The answer is an online system.  Cognology has designed performance management software that saves time setting objectives and aligning a team to a strategic plan.

5 tips for writing objectives that produce results – part 1

Edit: you can find a more up to date version of this article at The Easy Guide to SMART Goals and Objectives.

“Hey, how was your weekend?

Yeah great . . . . . . . . . [as you’re responding you remember that the annual review discussion was scheduled for this morning].

Look it’s that time of year again. I don’t know why the company makes us do this. You know what you have to do and I know what I have to do.

But we have to get on with it otherwise I’ll get harassed by HR for weeks. So here’s your objectives for the next year.”

That start has got you about as motivated as a three toed sloth would get to do a few laps of the forest. You may not have to imagine this scenario, something similar has possibly happened to you in a past job. The vast majority of people have experienced this.

You reluctantly sit down and start to read through the first objective, “Provide good service to all customers”. You agree with this statement, but immediately start to think “but I do that now”. This is the sort of thing that leaves the performance management process stalled at the starting gate.

Perhaps you work in a progressive company and you set your own objectives together with your manager. If you do, that’s great! I’m going to share with you some simple tips for writing goals that motivate. The sort where you and your boss will really know you have achieved something.

You might be running a business and looking to increase profits, innovate with a new product or reduce time to market. You can achieve these things by setting goals for your people, making sure they have the skills needed, providing feedback and rewarding their contribution. This article is all about setting the right sort of goals.

I’m keen to talk about other parts of the performance management process in future articles. Including techniques for getting a large workforce aligned to the organisation’s goals – something not so tricky in smaller companies. But for now I want to start helping you solve some of the biggest problems with traditional appraisal approaches.

So let’s start.

Fans of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy know that the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything is 42.

The answer to our problems in this case is equally simple. But unlike the ambiguity of the answer “42”, it‘s all about making sure there is nothing ambiguous about what you want to end result to look like.

The answer to life, the universe and how to write objectives that get results is SMART. One of those great memory aids to use so when writing goals you can think “are these SMART?”.

Let’s take a look behind the acronym.

S – specific.

OK you need to be specific. Why? Because your people are going to do what you ask them to do. So you need to be specific about the end result. Use action words like “to increase”, “to establish”, “to reduce” and “to create”.

You can also use specific to remind yourself that objectives need to relate back to a specific organisational goal.

M – measurable.

Imagine playing a video game that didn’t show you some sort of score or progress as you went along. People wouldn’t play it – there’s no motivation!

You want something that will allow the person to gauge how well they are progressing toward achieving the objective. You don’t want an objective that is vague. This leaves room for misinterpretation and that will end in disgruntled people.So tell the person how you are going to measure the achievement. Then you both know when it hasn’t been achieved, when it’s been met and when it’s been exceeded.

For example, ‘100%’, ‘a $ figure’, by 5, etc. A number allows people to see if they have achieved the goal.

It’s also a good idea to record the source of the measurement. For example, the profit & loss report for retail division, client survey, sales reports.

A – achievable.

Once upon a time there was a team leader and three bears. The Papa bear’s objectives were too hard, there is no way they could be achieved. Papa bear just gave up at the start.

Mamma bear’s objectives were too easy, they just weren’t motivating at all.

But baby bear’s objectives were just right. They were a stretch and it might be difficult, but baby bear thought there was a good chance she could achieve them. She was one motivated baby bear!

R – relevant.

Is the objective within something the person will have control or influence over?

No = disgruntled, not motivated.

Yes = let’s get it on!

It’s also a great idea to think of “R” as relate. Relate the objective back to the team and company goals. Being part of a team effort is much more motivating than just having an objective.

T – time-based.

What is the time frame for achieving the objective. A target date and some milestones help keep things on track.

Stay tuned for part 2…

In part 2 of this article I’ll give you a specific example. We’ll revisit the opening example, “Provide good service to all customers”. And we’ll rewrite it using the SMART way.

How do you manage to do this when you are time poor?

How do you manage to write SMART objectives and get people aligned to your strategic plan when you are time poor?  The answer is technology.  Cognology has designed a performance management system that reduces the time it takes for managers and improves the quality of the objectives they are writing.