Why You Should Write Down Team Objectives

Great leaders reach their annual goals, meet or surpass quarterly objectives and insist on hitting weekly metrics.

Teams that show up and work hard will achieve a lot.  Teams that strive for specific objectives (outcomes) achieve more.

Yet, when I ask managers and employees to list the top three objectives for their teams, surprises bubble up.  I combine the individual lists and the result looks like a hundred-car pile-up.  Items fight with each other, general (often meaningless) statements emerge from the deep, and important outcomes disappear into the mist.  Literally no one agrees on the priorities.

Confusion abounds in spite of the fact that companies have systems for identifying, communicating and tracking objectives.

If you want to send a bat signal to your team, write down three objectives you want the team to achieve by quarter end.  List three measurable targets for each objective.  Communicate this list to your boss and employees.  Monthly, attach a symbol (green, yellow, red) to each objective to signal how the team is doing.  Discuss progress, or lack of, briefly in regular meetings.

To galvanize a team, members most know what defines success and they must receive timely feedback (scores) on how well, or poorly, they are doing.

Is It Important to Measure It?

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

“The important stuff can’t be measured.”

These two opposing dogmas seep into management thinking.  I often ask workshop participants, “Are you working on things you cannot measure?”  Twenty percent of participants answer, “Yes.”

I ask for examples and get responses like “customer service,” “improvement projects,” and “employee morale.”  I counter that we have measures for all of those.  Take customer service.    How about customer retention?  Referrals?  Surveys? Average purchases?

For improvement projects, after a project is implemented, try comparing costs, completion time, error rate and the like to the period prior to the improvement.  We have long used absentee rates, turnover, and surveys as indicators of employee morale.

Participants sometimes say, “The measurement is subjective.”

I say, “So what?  It is still a measure.”

I side with, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”  The numbers become your score card.  If the numbers spike downward, everyone knows they have to do something differently.  Upward trends yell out, “Keep doing what you are doing.”

Should an employee say, “You are just interested in hitting your numbers.”  My response would be, “That’s right.  Now we understand each other.”  Look, if we can measure Olympic figure skating to four decimal places, we can measure anything.

Short-Term Versus Long-Term Goals?

A manager said, “I take the long view.  We drive toward goals three to five years in the future.  Annually, we adjust and revise as needed.”

Another manager responded, “I have a general idea of a long-term vision, but I try to avoid getting ahead of my skis.  I pick the three to five most important things we need to accomplish next quarter.”

Personally, I side with the short-term view.  I understand that top-level leaders may dream of exotic future visions.  I’m also aware that most of these visions do not materialize.  And many dramatic developments (internet) were neither predicted nor planned for.

I say apply the effort toward reaching three-month goals such as:  shipping on time, ensuring supplies arrive, improving customer service, controlling costs, and the like.  Each department should have no more than three to five targets.

It is important to track daily, weekly and monthly progress with easy-to-understand metrics.  If the needle falls south of a metric target, the team can quickly adjust.

At the end of the quarter, all members know the score.  Leaders should also have clear insights about which goals to continue, add or drop.



The Power of One-On-One’s

Some managers view regular (weekly, biweekly or monthly) one-on-one meetings with the same lens as they see quarterly income tax filings.  But one-one-one’s have a powerful impact on employee productivity and morale.

A manager who effectively practiced one-on-ones said, “My purpose was to listen, learn and coach.  I’d schedule about twenty minutes every two weeks with each of my eight reports.”

“Did you have an agenda?” I asked.

“Not an agenda but my meetings did have a routine.  I’d start with, ‘Update me on what you are working on or struggling with,’ and I listened more than I talked.”

The manager further explained, “I asked employees for key metrics on what had been completed and the status of ongoing efforts.  I almost always found something that I could appreciate.”

“I used our departmental objectives to prioritize employees’ efforts.  If I thought an employee was spending too much time on a low priority, I explained how changing the focus could better serve our mission.  My team wanted to succeed and I wanted to help.”

An employee who had experience with one-on-one’s reported, “They were great.  I looked forward to them.  I always knew what was expected and I believed my manager was there to help many any way he could.”

How to Get Employees to Come to Work

“How do you get employees to come to work?” a manager asked.

“Do you have an attendance policy?” I asked.

“Yes, but it’s pretty lax.  There is a lot of discretion.”

“Do you talk to employees who are late or miss work?”

“Yes, but they don’t seem to care too much.  It is pretty easy for them to get another job.”

When asked by a large company to help with attendance, I visited the management team and requested attendance records by department.  As I expected, there was quite a bit of variation among departments.  So I approached the manager who had the best record and asked him what he did.  Here is what I found.

One, the manager pleasantly greeted each employee arriving at work.  At the end of the shift, the manager said to employees as they were leaving such things as, “Good afternoon.” ”See you tomorrow.” “Enjoy your youngster’s soccer game.” “I think you hit a good lick today.”

Two, each week, the manager posted a chart showing the company and the department attendance record.  During meetings, he frequently expressed his appreciation for their commitment.

Three, if an employee missed or came in late; the manager asked, “Is everything OK?  We were concerned about you.”

Don’t Make the Same Mistake Twice!

At a crucial point in the game, the coach yelled, “Take care of the ball!  We’ve had two fumbles already.  We don’t need another one.”  All players focus on “don’t fumble” and too often there is a fumble or another mistake.

Managers see repeated mistakes as something akin to the pneumonic plague and admonish the team with, “We are supposed to learn from our mistakes–not keep making them!”

To reduce repeated mistakes, consider three approaches.

One, shine the spotlight brightly on successes, no matter how small.  Start catching employees doing things right.  Cheer all improvements.  Managers who focus strongly on mistakes, like coaches who prioritize fumble avoidance, create tense environments which actually contribute to error-making.

Two, require checklists whenever appropriate.  Pilots who have successfully performed hundreds of take-offs and landings still complete checklists.  Why?  Checklists are proven devices for reducing mistakes.

Three, consider removing an employee from a task if, after training and experience, the employee continues making dumb mistakes.  All tasks, no matter how simple, require some degree of talent to be performed well.  Remember Shaquille O’Neil, after untold hours of practice, could not improve his free-throw shooting.

How to Get Good Information from References

“Given the information on his job application and his performance during interviews, you would have thought he could leap tall buildings in a single bound,” a manager said about a recent hire.  “I called his references.  All parties reinforced our assessment.”

Three months into the job, the employee’s good spirits morphed into mood swings.  Bad habits sprung up like weeds after a spring rain.  Whining seemed to be in his DNA.

To get better information from references, you have to dig deeper and go beyond the candidate’s hand-picked supporters.  Say to the applicant, “When I call your references, I will ask each of them for two or three other names of people who knew you.  You don’t mind if I do that do you?”

Most candidates will say, “Sure, go ahead.”  But if a candidate hesitates to give permission, a serious red flag emerges in my mind.

With cooperative applicants, I have nine to twelve potential references, most of which have not been screened.  Although it is tedious and time consuming, information from second-tier references is much more revealing.

Getting the right people on the bus is critical and reference checking is no place to take short cuts.