Most managers are familiar with the setting up of goals or objectives for their teams or departments. However there remains a lot of speculation on why Objectives are needed, who needs to have objectives and finally how to go about forming the perfect objective.
Objectives are generally a list of one or more statements, each statement a clear definition on what has to be achieved. There can be Overall company objectives, department objectives, team objectives and even personal objectives. Objectives, especially short term objectives brings immense clarity about the immediate future to the team and how they are going to be affected.
For example, an Olympic 100 m sprinter knows her goals. If the sprinter were to run without purpose or objectives, she would have been mentally exhausted. By knowing the objective of the 100 m dash, she is able to maintain the tempo and the focus needed.
Some examples closer home. An R&D wing may focus on a higher degree of purity of their product, or a better tensile strength . A sales team may focus on better sales numbers or growing market share. An HR department may focus on better employee satisfaction or lower attrition rates. A maintenance team may define a higher degree of machine uptime or service availability. The Customer relation representatives may aim for better Customer satisfaction levels.
Each team striving to achieve set and clear Team objectives leads to overall improvement in the company, in small ways but a clear push forward has been established. Managers no longer has to rely on vague notions of good work. The performance of a team is clear and measured by verifying if the objectives are achieved.
A company would do well to have all teams and levels to define objectives for themselves and to make sure that they complement each other. Why is it necessary to have the entire company in it? Consider the Sales Manager has set sales goals for 2005, and the Product Development Manager has not made any goal to release the product on the beginning of 2005. The lack of the Product development manager’s objective is going to affect the Sales managers goals.
How do objectives benefit the team members. The best boost a team can have is “knowing” that it achieved its objective. I said this earlier in the case of the 100m sprinter. For this boost to happen, it is important for the manager to clearly communicate the objectives to team members at the appropriate time. For example, if the objective is for the year 2005, the manager should have communicated this to the team at the start of 2005.
It is important for the manager to periodically communicate to members the progress of the objective. For example, a sales manager should communicate the achievement of the annual sales figure to his team, at least monthly.
And finally, the manager should tell the team whether the objective was achieved or not at the end of the time period. If it was not achieved, a good manager would know it prior to the actual end of the time period. Corrective actions and preventive actions would be taken.
Lets assume that the manager realises midterm that the objective is tough to attain. She may change the sales strategy if the strategy is at fault. She may change personnel if required. Maybe the sales brochures were inadequate.
In some cases, the sales may be falling behind due to reasons beyond the sales managers control. For example, the product has some problems. She will then notify the product development department who will initiate corrective actions. In this case, the Objectives set by the Sales department, has actually helped drive corrective action and eventually helped the company save its sales figures.
Managers should involve team members in the setting the objectives process. Team members may have the grass root knowledge in knowing whether a objective is actually achievable or not.
How to formulate objectives? Ideally objectives should be SMART, having 5 characteristics
S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Achievable
R – Realistic
T – Time Bound
S – Specific
The objective should be specific and not vague. For example, an objective of “99% network uptime” makes it specific to a Network Maintenance team than a “High network uptime”. A receptionist can have an objective of “Picking up calls by the 3rd ring”
M – Measurable
It should be possible to measure the achievement. This is the area where managers get confused. An objective of “Achieve Highest possible speed” for a car is not measurable, “Achieve 250 miles an hour” is measurable. It follows that if an objective is set, there has to be a method to gather data and prove that the objective has been achieved.
A – Achievable
Always set objectives higher than what has been achieved, but not so high that it can never be achieved. That is why a 99% uptime is more achievable than 100%. Or a 0.5% error rate is more achievable than a 0%. Thats why, setting achievable objectives improves confidence in a team than an unachievable one. The closer you get to a near perfect score, the more difficult it becomes. It may be very difficult to get from a tolerance limit of 99.2% to a 99.7% figure.
R – Relevant
The objective should be relevant to the team or department it is being formulated for. For example can a Maintenance team achieve 99% customer satisfaction? No. They can probably keep the network up. But in doing so, they are helping the Product design team achieve customer satisfaction. The Maintenance wing would be better off having a Relevant objective for their team like “99% uptime”
T – Time Bound
Managers should set goals which are time bound. A Sales Manager can set a goal which says “Annual sales figure of 30,000 washing machines”. The “Annual” part makes it time bound. Otherwise, the team wouldn’t know when it has to achieve the target.
Here are some sample objectives – For a teacher – “90% pass marks for yearly batches” – For a bus driver – “99% on time scheduled stops every month”. For a CEO – “50% market share by 2006”, For a product development manager – “Getting down customer maintenance requests by 50% by 2006 end”