Objectives, safety and growth
How setting SMART objectives creates safety and supports employee growth.
Expectations versus Objectives
Expectations for a role are defined in the Job Descriptions and company Values; but those are quite generic. Objectives extend role expectations by making them relevant to the person, their place in the organization and a specific point in time.
Managers are not as clear as they think. The residue of any conversation in memory is personal and somewhat random, especially as time passes. As soon as two people walk out of a room the common understanding they achieved in their conversation starts to deteriorate.
It is why we document things, all sorts of things. Objectives being one of them.
The manager employee relation is not equal. When nothing is documented the manager’s memory of what was agreed will carry most weight in a performance conversation. This undermines trust and engagement.
Having a defined set of objectives creates safety for the employee.
It’s smart to be SMART
It is common for people to resist making their objectives SMART. You know things will happen in the coming months that you are not yet aware of, so tying yourself to specific and time bound objectives feels like a bad strategy.
We should emphasize that objectives can evolve to stay relevant to circumstances.
But if the objectives will change, what is the point of making them SMART?
To explain that, let’s take a commonly proposed objective: “I would like to improve my communication skills”. In itself that’s a great goal. We can note it down and after six months ask: “And, did you succeed?”. How would we know? And along the way, how would we know if things are on track, or if help is needed, or if the employee even had the same in mind as their manager.
An objective that is not SMART adds little value.
Let’s try to make the objective more SMART. After some back and forth we might arrive at: “In twelve months time I would like to speak confidently to a group of more than four people that I do not know well.”
And steps might be:
- Take a communication training.
- Speak up in front of a group once every two weeks.
- Ask for and document feedback every time.
- Evaluate the feedback with their manager monthly and together decide on further actions.
This starts to feel like a plan. We might succeed, we might fail, we might decide to adjust along the way. But we are much more likely to make progress and learn something.
By making objectives specific and time bound we allow ourselves to evaluate outcomes and learn.
The sweet spot
The fastest progress is made at the intersection of personal and professional goals.
Here we can find objectives that are engaging to the person and impactful to the company. It is likely that the employee will be motivated to work on them and be recognized for their contribution, creating a positive feedback loop.
If in the total set of objectives something is not fully in scope of the role that is not a problem. It helps people’s motivation and growth if they can follow their interests and push beyond the boundaries of their role. And if, on the other hand, the business requires them to work on something that interests them less, so be it. As long as it can be balanced with more engaging work. Most people understand their role exists to solve business problems.
Time for a change
How much personal and role bound goals intersect is an important factor in employee satisfaction. Objective setting conversations help assess if someone is still in the right place.
When it becomes hard to find goals that are both personally and professionally relevant, it is time to think about a new role.
Objectives for Agile team members
Individual Contributors that are part of a Product team will mostly work on that team’s objectives. Taking the team’s objectives and dividing them over team members is best avoided. It undermines team dynamics, cooperation and agility. At Booking, over time the following best practice has emerged:
Objectives for an Agile team IC
Take the teams two or three main, SMART objectives, and assign them to all team members.
Add two objectives that are more personal to the employee; ideally objectives in the team’s or BU’s scope that contribute to the employees development goals.
To give an example of what that could look like:
- [Team] Improve KPI Y by more than 2% by the end of H2.
- [Team] Deliver the integration of X to production by the end of Q1.
- [Individual] Lead the discovery and solution design for project Z and deliver a solution design document by the end of H1.
- [Individual] During H1 contribute to the department growth by onboarding one new developer into the team and doing two interviews per week.
The more senior the role, the more personalized the objectives will have to be.
For more senior roles the scope tends to be less codified in the Job Description, and tied less strictly to the team’s. That means there is more room and need to agree individual objectives to set expectations.
Six step guide to objective setting.