Managing Performance vs. Objectives

by: Doug Michaelides

It’s the time of year when many of us are setting objectives – for ourselves (New Year resolutions) and for others (MBOs). Being mostly Type-A, results-oriented people, the concept of setting objectives is deeply engrained.

Actually, the whole discipline of Management by Objectives (MBOs) is an outcome of the corporation’s responsibility to deliver income and profits to its owners and shareholders.  This commitment to a hard deliverable cascades down through the rest of the organization every financial cycle. The only problem is that we’re dealing with people, and people are notoriously bad at setting and meeting objectives. 

Think about your own New Year’s resolutions.  A couple weeks or so into 2011, how many of them have you already given up for lost?  What is your track record from previous years?  Many of us don’t even make New Year’s resolutions anymore.  Why bother?  They mostly remain unachieved and we end up feeling bad about ourselves because we’ve failed.  The same issue applies in the workplace.

A better approach is to focus a little less on objectives and a little more on behaviour.  Your performance is something you can change and if you blow it one day you get another crack at it the next.  By connecting the right behaviour or performance metrics to the desired objectives, you ensure that the changes in how the work is performed will yield the desired results (after all, it is ultimately the results that we’re after). Let’s call it Management by Performance (MBP).

I’m not suggesting abandoning objective-setting altogether.  But let’s acknowledge that what’s important isn’t the setting of objectives but rather the achievement of results.  If your personal or corporate MBO process isn’t delivering results, it’s crazy not to complement it with a performance-based, behavioural approach.  Give it a try with an employee who has had trouble meeting objectives (or with objectives that everyone has had trouble meeting!).

By the way, that’s what coaches do all the time.  They help you focus on modifying your behaviour with the intent of improving your results.  Neat trick, huh?

So, before it is too late, change your New Year’s resolution!  Don’t set a goal of losing 10 pounds by March 1.  Instead, resolve to eat more vegetables and cut out the second drink after work.  The change in behaviour might just actually deliver the results you’ve been striving to achieve.

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