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Employee Objectives: Let's Let Them Decide If They Want Any

You are not excused from the process until you come up with some objectives! Are we force feeding employees?

Much like the veggies I force into my children, I’ve never considered anything other than including employee generated objectives in the performance management process. After all, coming up with objectives is good for you even if you don’t quite want any.

But what if an employee is performing at expectations and does not want to set an objective? What if their objective is to do what they have been doing, and which has been working? Can we still tout the advantages of setting objectives, and train employees how to do it well, but let employees decide what is best for them?

Now to be clear, I am talking about employees who are performing to standards. Employees that need development to keep up with job demands should have objectives but these are set by the Manager and really are a whole other conversation. I am not speaking to performance improvement objectives but rather to those objectives that well performing employees are often forced to come up with because we have decided that they must want to grow in their jobs and they must tell us how they plan to do that.

Objectives are meant to motivate the employee who wants to stretch professionally and the hard question to ask is this: is it okay if an employee does not want grow in a particular job related way in a particular year? And if an employee is filling out a form just for the sake of showing someone else what they want to see, how motivated is that employee to follow through? Even if they take the course or read the book or join the group that they said they would…how interested can they be if the goal-setting was a forced exercise to begin with?

Unless eating broccoli is a job requirement, maybe employees should be the ones to decide if they want any.

I may ruffle some feathers by questioning one of the pillars of performance management but I can come up with at least five reasons to encourage employees to choose whether or not to set objectives.

1. It encourages employee participation in the process. Some employees flat out resent this aspect of the Review. And we all know that an employee who doesn’t buy into the Review process is going to render it a useless tool for them, their manager, and their organization.

2. It treats employees as respectful, independent adults. Some employees have specific work ambitions, goals and a definite career path. These employees shouldn’t depend on the review process to set goals that align with their ambitions. Certainly, if they wish, they can communicate their goals at any time, and their managers can assist by determining organizationally-appropriate ways to help. But this is very different than having to set goals at a specific time for a specific purpose.

3. It no longer unfairly labels employees as unambitious. Some employees are satisfied with what they’re doing and have no desire to move further along a particular career path. These employees are not poor performers or lacking in ambition. Rather, they’ve either already achieved their goals, or their ambition lies outside of the work arena.

4. It no longer supports the mistaken belief that these were job-related objectives in the first place. The original intention of the employee objective section was not to link it with job requirements, or document something that an employee should work on in order to improve or maintain performance expectations. However, over time, that’s what the section had become, which has added confusion and complexity to the Review process for everyone – employers and employees.

5. It makes smart business sense. When used correctly, Performance Management Reviews aren’t passive documents that capture information and then disappear into a file and gather dust. Rather, they’re dynamic, interactive tools that help align and optimize organizational objectives at the employee level – and, ultimately, move the organization forward. As such, it stands to reason that a more functional Review without forcing an objective section (for all of the reasons noted above) makes smart business sense.

I am certainly not saying objectives are bad (in fact I personally use them in my own development). Rather I am asking whether we should insist that an employee declare their objectives at a time and in a way that they may not otherwise choose. And I am definitely not saying get rid of objective setting. Instead I am asking whether making objectives optional would allow them to drive behaviour in the intended ways.

At the end of the day, are we truly meeting our objectives by insisting on objectives?

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