Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Now We Have Goals......So?

By Guest Author Richard L. Virgilio, SPHR

Our June 10, 2013, issue of Astronology featured an article about Developing Meaningful Performance Goals.  Our article was effective in starting conversations!  In today’s issue of Astronology, we present a feature written by guest author Richard Virgilio, SPHR.  In the article, Richard explores an essential aspect of goals -- not just reaching for them but also knowing when they have been achieved. 

One aspect of the performance goals discussion often missing is the selection of appropriate metrics to see if they really have been achieved.  W. Edwards Deming, the “Father of Total Quality Management,” postulated, “If you can't measure it, you can't improve it.”  While some measures may be easy to apply – “Attain 97% satisfaction on customer surveys,” for example –  others which are less quantifiable may be appropriate, and even necessary, but difficult to articulate and thus measure.  “Be more of a proactive member of the team” is a goal that seems to be typical of the non-quantified ones.

This step in the assessment process needs to be addressed squarely and directly--no hand-waving.  The ability to meaningfully apply and evaluate the metrics selected must be appreciated and understood.  Like the determination of the goals originally, it must be an interactive process between supervisor and employee.

HR professionals need to have skills and tools to help supervisors have effective discussions with employees to develop meaningful measures for abstract or intuitive goals.  To not offer this kind of assistance could restrict the organization into setting only goals that are too easily quantifiable, too easily measured, and perhaps completely miss the point of improving an employee’s contribution to the success of the organization.

One trick that analysts and mathematicians use in performance and effectiveness studies is to establish indirect measures, or “scoring.”  For example, it’s difficult to directly measure “cooperation” among team members.  If cooperation is identified as a performance goal that relates to organizational efficiency, then the following indirect measures might be used to assess goal achievement:

·         Team members often seek others (me) for input, opinion, and validation
·         Team members often strongly disagree (with me) on elements of a project
·         The team is often late / early in completing projects
·         Project reports often fail to identify conflicts in the proposed execution
·         Absenteeism increases while the team is working on a project

Some of these indirect metrics should be scored by a supervisor; others by team members themselves, in a process similar to a 360.  Scores, especially of individuals assessing another, must be kept confidential, but still identified as to author so that anomalies can indicate particularly strong or poor individual contributions.  An inherent risk that’s characteristic of this example is to determine whether internal team conflict is a result of a small / singular dominant personality, whether the results are beneficial for the organization, and whether the anomalous individual(s) is / are a positive or negative factor in overall performance.  A team of five losers and one top performer may have terrible cooperation but great results if dominated by the high performer.  Interpreting the results is an art, not a science.

When direct measures of performance and goal achievement are difficult to quantify, quantifiable indirect measures are most helpful.  This permits the supervisor to take the indirect measures, integrate them, and use them in assessment.  Consider the following situation: “Bob, looking at the past year, the teams you were on were generally late in reporting out results compared to those without you.  Do you have difficulty working with others?”  In the next assessment cycle, the supervisor can compare the metrics year-to-year and draw some conclusion regarding the employee’s efforts to contribute better.  “Bob, it seems that this year, the projects you worked on were generally not late, as the year before.  Tell me what you’re doing differently so we can set you up better for success.”

Employee assessment will always be more art than science, but with good measurements of performance, even if indirect, supervisors can better identify improving results, underperforming employees, and better show their unit’s contribution to the organization’s success.

Rich Virgilio is an owner/partner of Apexx Behavioral Solutions Group.  He has developed a number of behavioral assessments for use in the financial field.  Rich can be reached at 706-860-2490 or at rich@myapexx.com.

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