How can I set Objectives for my team?

What do your direct reports need to achieve this year? How will they stay focused on the most important tasks, committed to their roles and motivated to exceed expectations? At the end of the year how will you know if they did a good job? Setting clear, inspiring objectives helps you answer all these questions. Objectives provide guidance for your direct reports on where to focus, how to identify the small number of vital outcomes you expect them to produce and how to concentrate their efforts on achieving the best results for your organisation.

Objective setting is the first phase in the performance management cycle.

The best Objectives have the following characteristics:

  • Limited. Each person should have no more than six objectives.
  • Stretching. Easy-to-attain objectives don’t inspire great performance. The objectives you set should challenge your employees.
  • Beyond key job responsibilities. Too often managers turn each job responsibility into an objective, but objectives should go beyond basic job requirements. They should represent major achievements that employees will strive to attain while still fulfilling all of their core responsibilities.
  • Set for a period of time. If an objective will take more than twelve months to complete, it’s too big. Break it down into component Tasks, or select the most important area to work on first.
  • Clear and specific. Objectives should start with an action verb and identify a single key result. “Reduce the number of customer complaints by 6%.”
  • They should be SMART (See our section on SMART objectives).

What should guide your direct report’s objective selections? Here are suggestions:

  • Your company strategy. This is the first place to look for ideas. Individual objectives should support the organisation’s strategy. That’s one of the key reasons you set objectives; to help the organisation achieve its objectives.
  • Division/department plans and strategies. Ideally, your department’s or unit’s strategy is completely aligned with the organisation’s strategy and breaks the larger strategic objectives down into responsibilities for each division. Ask what your direct report can do to directly contribute to your division’s objectives.

Other places you and your direct report can look for ideas include:

Comments and suggestions from previous performance reviews. What did you tell your direct report in their last performance review? What specific areas did you draw attention to? Did you note areas that would be growing in importance in the near future?

  • Organisational problems and opportunities. Every person can probably see areas where she can make improvements; where the organisation or department can be more effective. Encourage your direct report to talk to colleagues, customers and senior leaders about how to improve processes, products or services.
  • Personal development and interests. What skills does your direct report want to develop? What experiences does she want to gain? The more passionate she feels about the objectives, the easier it will be for her to achieve them.
  • Key job responsibilities. Key job responsibilities are the small number of major responsibilities; as opposed to the day-to-day tasks and chores of a job. While these job responsibilities aren’t objectives themselves, they are inspiration for larger opportunities that an individual could accomplish within her job. 

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