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Company Culture: Giving Your Employees The Tools To Succeed

By Jilaine Parkes

June 19 2014 - Helping employees set and reach goals is a critical part of every manager's job.

Employees want to understand how their work contributes to wider corporate objectives, and setting the right activities, goals and plans makes this connection explicit for them, and for you, as their manager.

Goal-setting is particularly important as a mechanism for providing ongoing and year-round feedback.

By establishing and monitoring targets, you can give your employees real-time input on their performance while motivating them to achieve more.

So, how involved should you be in helping employees establish and achieve their goals?

Ownership: The key to Engagement and Accountability

Linda Hill, Business Administration Professor at the Harvard Business School and co-author of Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader, suggests "A manager's job is to provide 'supportive autonomy' that's appropriate to the person's level of capability."

The key is to be hands-on while giving your people the room they need to succeed on their own. Here are some principles to follow as you navigate how to best support your people in reaching their objectives.

Connecting Employee Goals to Company Goals

Small and medium sized businesses have different needs when it comes to communicating objectives from the top down. That's why we offer options to switch cascading goals on and off. If you need to keep it simple and focused on individuals, no problem! If you can, however, connect employee goals with team goals and then those with larger company goals the benefits can be big! That's because it helps employees understand the roles they play in company success and in turn means they're more likely engaged and motivated. Hill explains that employees "need to understand the bigger picture to make those tradeoffs when things go wrong," says Hill.

No matter what level the employee is at, he or she should be able to articulate exactly how his efforts feed into the broader company strategy and have the information to identify and tackle challenges and roadblocks.

Make Goals Challenging but Realistic

Employees are ultimately responsible for reaching their individual goals. They should, therefore, have a strong voice in setting them. This is a practice promoted by the performance management software - where, in addition to any team and corporate goals set by management, the employee works with their line manager to create challenging yet obtainable goals linked to activities and plans. We call these 'stretch targets'.

Once you have explained objectives, ask your employee to draft goals that directly contribute to the organization's mission.

After they have submitted initial goals, discuss whether their targets are both realistic and challenging enough. "Stretch targets emerge as a process of negotiation between the employee and the manager," explains Srikant M. Datar, Arthur Lowes Dickinson Professor of Accounting at Harvard University.

Be careful to achieve the right balance though. Your team members could resent you if you insist on goals that are too challenging to accomplish. At the same time, you don't want to aim too low; If you are overly cautious, you will miss opportunities and settle for mediocrity.

"When done well, stretch goals create a lot of energy and momentum in an organization," explains Datar. But, when done incorrectly they "do not achieve the goal of motivating employees and helping them achieve better performance as they were designed to do," he adds.

Create a plan for success

Once a goal is set, ask your employee to explain how they plan to meet it. Have him break goals down into tasks and set interim objectives, especially if it's a large or long-term project.

Questions to consider include: What are the right milestones? What are the potential pitfalls and roadblocks and how do you plan to manage them?

Hill suggests that you "help your people understand who they are dependent on to achieve those goals." Then problem solve with them on how to best influence those people to get the job done. Sprigg offers and promotes ways to reach out internal and external experts to help your employees reach their goals.

Monitor Progress

Staying on top of employee progress will help head off any troubles early on. "We often get problems because we don't signal that we are partners in achieving goals," says Hill.

Don't wait for review time or the end of a project to check in. Review both long-term and short-term goals on a regular basis.

The practice of ongoing conversation, recognition and 'just-in-time feedback' is a core feature of Sprigg's software and one our customers tell us makes a huge impact in helping to breed a performance-orientated culture.

Remember, even your high-performing employees need ongoing feedback and coaching. Ask your employee what type of monitoring and feedback would be most helpful to them, especially if the task is particularly challenging or something they is doing for the first time.

When things go wrong

Very few of us reach our goals without some road bumps along the way. Build relationships with employees so that they feel comfortable coming to you if and when problems arise. If your employee encounters an unforeseen obstacle, the goal may need to be reworked and reassessed. First, however, ask them to bring a potential solution to you so you can offer coaching and advice. If your employee's attempts to solve the problem fail, you should be prepared to get further involved.

When goals aren't met

There will be times, even with the best support, when employees fail to meet their targets.

Hill states "Hold people accountable. You can't say 'Gee, that's too bad.' You need to figure out what went wrong and why".

Discuss with your employee what happened and what each of you think went wrong. If the problem was within their control, ask them to apply the possible solutions you've discussed, take another stab at reaching the goal, and check in with you more frequently. If it was something that was outside of their power or the goal was too ambitious, acknowledge the disappointment but don't dwell on it. As Hill puts it: "Do the diagnosis, get the learning, and move on".

It's possible that you may have contributed to the problem. Be willing to reflect on your role in the failure. Were you too hands off and failed to check in frequently enough? Did you not review his work in a timely way? Have an open discussion about what you can do next time. "If you don't hold yourself accountable, they're going to have trouble with you," says Hill.

Want to learn more? Contact Jilaine at jparkes@sprigghr.com call her on 888-797-5583 or visit www.sprigghr.com

About the author
Jilaine Parkes

Jilaine Parkes is a knowledgeable and passionate HR / Organization Development Professional with nearly 25 years combined experience in large, dynamic organizations and independent HR / OD Consulting. While holding senior HR management positions in Bombardier, Kraft Foods, Canadian Tire, Lavalife and Cineplex Entertainment, including a one year stint in Prague, Czech Republic, Jilaine has designed and driven initiatives in Business Planning, Leadership Development, Employee Development, Succession Planning, Performance Management, Learning & Growth Strategy and Team Chartering.

In addition to having worked as part-time faculty at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario she has also worked within the Fanshawe organization in the areas of Leadership and Performance Development. In early 2009, Jilaine partnered with Bruce Croxon (Co-Founder of Lavalife and a star of CBC's Dragon's Den) and launched an online Performance Management software company featuring the automated Performance Management module known as Sprigg. In addition to driving Sprigg's expansion across the US, Canada and UK, Jilaine is an accomplished public speaker and facilitator with a humorous, very direct and down to earth style.



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