Objectives for sale ?

Every year the same song : we’ve barely finished exchanging New Year’s wishes and we rush to town for an overdose in retail therapy. Hallelujah : it’s the arrival of the winter sales.
During this blessed time, corporations world wide get ready to decide what will be their employees’ focus at work by determining their personal objectives.

I see you frown and wonder : What’s the link between sales and objectives ? Let’s see : you rarely find them in your size ; you come home with much more than you had planned to get ; they give less satisfaction and yield less results than you had expected ; they definitely seem less useful than you had imagined and in the end you wonder if it really was worth the hassle to go to town for in the first place.

Yet companies still seem to be convinced that personal objectives are the magic wand to motivate employees. That’s why managers design ‘SMART’ objectives based on the job description of their team members. In reality, every good old cynic knows that they mainly serve to help the manager to realise his/her own objectives anyway.

It doesn't matter that job descriptions are as static as your grandmother’s political ideas. What’s more, they often aren’t an accurate description of the employees’ daily activities. Personal motivation is of no interest. And the total emphasis on individual objectives, annihilates the notion of a team. It is impossible to pay attention to quality and attitude if we fall into the ‘objective’ and ‘quantifiable’ ‘SMART’ trap.

What do team members need to do a good job ? What gives them job satisfaction ? What is a source of pride and what is a source of frustration? How do these elements change over the course of their career ? How relevant are the organisation’s objectives for their personal motivation ? What are their dreams and personal ambitions ?

Those questions aren’t discussed during a conversation about objectives. Yet, this should be the groundwork before a managers even starts to think about making agreements with his/her team member.

It is well known that company results are closely linked to the engagement of each employee. If you don’t have a clue about what brings joy to your employee’s daily tasks you can’t expect engagement. It’s called work satisfaction : a word that deserves attention in times where burn outs and bore outs have become more than commonplace.

So does this mean that we need to get rid of ‘management by objectives’? Maybe. But for those who find this a trifle extreme, there are less drastic options.

Please, don’t tell team members what they have to do. They usually know this, don’t they? Talk to them how they can develop themselves in their current job or in preparation for another role.

Have regular conversations with your team members. How are you doing? What is keeping you busy in the coming weeks ? What are the most and least appealing aspects in these tasks ? What is blocking you to go give it your all ? Where can you shine today ? Where could you still grow ? What feedback can you give me ? Where do you need my help ? Frankly, you don’t need more questions to lead a team.

If you decide to determine objectives, do make sure to involve others. If you expect your team member to think and act in a more customer centric way, think about how the customer will notice the change. Make sure that your team member discusses his/her objective with the before-mentioned customer. Have each team member share this/her individual objectives with the rest of the team and try to find ways for the team to support each other in their endeavours.

The most effective way to motivate through objectives, is to allow the team to make their own description. Indra Partners guides teams to design their Team Manifest. In it, team members write a number of shared principles and agreements that they find essential to obtain peak performance. Because they design it, they own it. At the basis are these two questions : What makes us proud as team ? What does quality mean for us ? The answers lead to a description of concrete behaviour that’s verifiable by the team members themselves.

As a final suggestion, I might add that it is a good idea to allow your team members to evaluate you as well. A short 360° feedback or some simple questions will do. A mutual evaluation is a proof of an open spirit and trust. How can you expect to be trusted if you don’t give trust yourself ?

The bottom line is this : you can’t find The Great Deal if you go to town once or twice a year without really knowing what you are looking for. The same rule is true for your employees : you won’t get their engagement if you talk to them once or twice a year without knowing what really concerns them.

Remember : You’ll never find your employees’ engagement in the SALES department !


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