Want a performance enhancer? Try strong, clear goals

Fed up with the performance of your organisation? Ask and you may find that your organisation is fed up with you as its leader. Provide your organisation with some strong, clear goals and the wherewithal to achieve them and you may find the performance of your organisation improves dramatically.

Human beings need to belong. According to Maslow, the need to belong is a basic need just above the needs to be healthy and safe. In an organisation, the need to belong is usually aligned to a team. A team striving for a shared strong goal creates a more powerful sense of belonging. Shared strong goals drive behaviours that fulfil the next need in Maslow’s hierarchy, the need for achievement and self esteem.

Communicating strong goals and the actions required to achieve them consistently and persistently, allows individuals to develop their own thoughts about what they need to do to achieve the goals. Furthermore, developing strong goals with them gives the increased motivation of the goal being owned by them.

Strong goals vary between organisations. However they have some common attributes. They are usually singular. There is no clutter, no subtext, no ambiguity about what the organisation is setting out to achieve. They are usually more audacious than employees would have set for the organisation or for their division of the organisation. They have clear building blocks or short term goals which need to be put in place if they are to be achieved.

An important common attribute is that both the long-term, audacious goal and the short term goals are time based. The long-term goal needs to be within a time period of around three to four years. Time frames longer than that tend to leave too much room for everyone in the organisation to feel complacent. So many roles in organisations seem to be vacated and filled on a three year cycle that goals of five years and longer duration tend to be the next incumbent’s problem to deliver. The corollary of course, is if the goal can only be delivered in a longer time frame, ensure the key resources required to deliver that goal are available over a longer time frame.

Providing short term goals in 90 day blocks is an additional powerful tool to keep organisations motivated and moving towards the audacious goal. Giving teams and individuals ninety day blocks of time coupled with at least a monthly monitoring and feedback system focuses the mind of both the team delivering the goal and the executive team providing the resources. Providing the resources for short sharp goals is also usually easier too.

It is also an absolute need that the goal is expressed numerically. Goals without numbers are meaningless to the organisation and to all of the individuals who are employed to achieve the goals. Goals expressed as, ‘developing a sales culture’, or ‘building a culture of quality’ are meaningless unless we add ‘to increase sales by 50% in two years’ or ‘to decrease customer dissatisfaction by 50% in three years’.

In my experience, strong goals are never related to increases or decreases of much less than fifty percent. In Shell Fiji, we used a goal to double profitability in three years. It was attention grabbing. The listeners, even if they were sceptical, immediately asked “How in the world are we going to do that?” With goals like that, the defensive group in an organisation will at some time state, “Well, if they are going to do that, then they would have to fix the problem on supply chain”, or some other issue. As soon as the words are uttered, a short term goal is born.

At some time, individuals within an organisation will find that in striving for a strong goal, that they are uncomfortable in the new working environment. Some individuals will thrive. Those who are uncomfortable need to be given assistance to adjust. They must not however, be afforded the luxury of continued non-performance to the point where the goals that have been set and shared are jeopardised. It is wise for those who are unable to adjust to be assisted in finding an environment where their behaviour skills and knowledge fit better. Performance management is a prerequisite for achieving a strong goal, which is shared by the majority.

Productivity and performance in Fiji needs to improve dramatically for exports to be competitive and create growth and jobs. If your team is lacking in productivity and performance then as a leader, check your organisation’s goals. Are they clear, singular, numeric, time based and audacious, with supporting short term goals? Have you communicated the goals persistently and consistently? Are you using performance management to ensure that you have a team with the right behaviour, skills and knowledge to achieve the goals? If not, the problem may not be your team, it may be you.

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