Setting Performance Targets that mean something

Setting performance targets that fit the S.M.A.R.T profile (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) is important, but there is another dimension that is even more important. We might add another “R” to this mnemonic for RELEVANT.

targetThe best way I have found to really motivate people to achieve some given goal is to ensure that goal is meaningful to them and aligns with their own values and aspirations. I have heard executives complaining about the fact that even though they have attached salary bonuses to targets for their Managers, many of the targets are still not achieved. On further enquiry I usually find that these targets were set unilaterally by the Executive and without first securing the commitment of the Manager to the key objective.

I have interviewed Managers in such situations who have freely admitted that despite there being monetary incentives attached to certain targets, they have not been motivated to put the extra effort required into achieving that target because they felt that it was not a personal priority for them or that there were other priorities more important to the success of their part of the business.

Conversely, I have seen performance agreements so well constructed that Managers willingly gave well over and above average effort to achieve challenging targets for little or no extra reward, merely because they either craved the experience or
were strongly dedicated to a project’s successful outcome. “The secret of joy in work is contained in one word – excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.”-Pearl S Buck

So, how do we find out what makes our people tick in order to set the targets they willingly respond to? The simple answer is to talk with them, to engage with them, to understand them as individuals and as human beings. Far too many Executives think they know intuitively what motivates their staff and rarely take the time to investigate and confirm their assumptions. Consequently the targets they set for others are based more on their own preconceptions than on reality.

For performance targets to be really meaningful for those intended to pursue them with vigour, a few simple guidelines apply.

  • The person to whom the target is assigned must be able to control the circumstances that will produce the outcome desired. If prerequisites to success are outside their control, their ownership of the process is immediately compromised;

  • Achieving the target must provide some additional contribution to the person’s own aims (reputation, advancement, innate sense of achievement);

  • The journey to the target must contain a useful learning or development experience;

  • The experience must provide an automatic feedback mechanism. That is, the employee can themselves readily see that their efforts are succeeding.

Consequently, a little forethought can produce significantly better designed performance targets that truly engender commitment and resolve.

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