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Performance Management

Week 6

How to ensure high-quality objectives and personal development plans

Objectives and Personal Development Plans (PDPs) are at the core of most organisations’ performance management systems. So here are 8 ways to encourage your employees to set and deliver high-quality objectives and PDPs.

1. Provide education

As HR professionals, we are generally experienced in writing objectives and preparing personal development plans. So it’s easy to forget that other people can struggle with this and may not even understand what objectives and PDPs are. So prepare a variety of learning materials and make them easily accessible to all staff. Videos work particularly well as they are more engaging than written documents or presentations. Our Clear Review performance management software incorporates short animated videos for employees on various performance-related subjects including writing objectives and PDPs. Here’s an example of our video on how to write SMART objectives.

2. Encourage employee ownership

We are more motivated to achieve goals that we have personally bought into, rather than those that have been forced upon us. So you will get better results by encouraging employees to draft their own objectives and PDPs, with managers validating and helping to hone them as necessary. Employees’ objectives should be aligned to the overall goals of the organisation, so these goals will need to be clearly communicated to all employees using language they will understand. Obviously for employee ownership of objectives and PDPs to really work, employees need to have been educated on how to prepare good quality objectives, as mentioned above.

3. Focus on delivery

Many performance management processes focus their attention on the setting of objectives and PDPs at the start of the cycle, and an assessment of their achievement at the end. However, this misses out the most crucial element – the actual delivery. So you need to ensure that you have processes and learning materials in place that encourage and support employees to continuously work on achieving their objectives and PDPs throughout the year. Research by Mind Gym has found that fortnightly, constructive feedback sessions are most effective in enabling goals to be delivered succesfully. Giving employees access to online tools to help them to track progress against their goals and plan out the necessary actions can also aid success. This could be part of your online performance management system, or a separate task management system such as Remember The Milk.

4. Monitor quality

HR are commonly tasked with tracking the percentage of individuals who have set their objectives and had them signed-off. But this measure does not give an insight into the quality of objectives and PDPs set. Are they consistently stretching? Are they aligned to the overall goals of the organisation? It is important therefore to periodically analyse samples of objectives and PDPs from different parts of the organisation to monitor their quality. Ideally this monitoring should be carried out by senior managers, rather than HR, as they should have overall ownership of performance. Where the quality is poor, HR can then provide coaching, training and support to aid the necessary improvement.

5. Be flexible with objectives

What exactly is an objective? Some organisations view them as targets to be achieved, others view them as things to be delivered above and beyond the ‘day job’. The fact is that different job roles suit different types of objectives. If you try to be too rigid with what an objective should be, many employees will fail to see how objectives are relevant to their role. For example, target-driven objectives are more relevant to sales people than say a PA. Therefore, we generally recommend that you enable employees themselves to choose what type of objectives work best for their role. Here are the three main types of objective:

  • Targets –  e.g. increase sales of x product by 10%
  • Performance standards – e.g. all customer service emails will be responded to within 24 hours
  • Specific projects or deliverables – e.g. train all members of the department in how to use the new purchase ordering software

6. Make objectives stretching

Research has found that when goals are stretching, they result in significantly higher performance than non-stretching goals. Of course they should not be so stretching that they are not realistically achievable, so objectives should take into account the time-frame, resources and support available to the individual. A useful way of encouraging stretching objectives is to build it into the SMART acronym by making ‘S = Specific and Stretching’. This can then be balanced by making ‘A = Achievable’.

7. Turn PDPs into objectives

We have seen numerous organisations where employees and managers pay lip service to personal development plans, focusing their attention instead on objectives. Yet research and thinking on performance management is increasingly advocating the importance of personal development in improving performance. A solution to this is to replace personal development plans with ‘Personal Development Objectives’. Turning development plans into measurable objectives gives them more weight and encourages accountability for delivering them. We have recently implemented this approach in our own Clear Review software, which now enables employees to set both Performance Objectives and Personal Development Objectives.

8. Focus personal development on ‘needs’ rather than training

A criticism of traditional personal development plans is that they can end up becoming a training wish list. However, research from CEB has found that on-the-job learning is three times more impactful than formal training programs. To take focus away from training, structure your Personal Development Objectives so that the objective describes the development need (what they wish to improve or learn), rather than a training need. Then ask individuals to consider what learning activity would best meet that need, suggesting a range of potential options such as on-the-job, reading, videos, job shadowing, mentoring, as well as formal training if you offer that. This approach has yielded impressive results with our clients who have adopted it, with their employees now utilising a wide range of learning activities rather than just formal training.

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