Improving performance with objectives

We know that one of the best ways to improve performance is to measure it, share the “numbers” with the performers, then have them set objectives to achieve higher “numbers.” We often see this done in sales departments, but what about in the other areas of the company? Could we effectively use “objectives” to improve performance in the office or other administrative areas?

Consider having your administrative staff measure the following, post the results on the wall, then try to beat the “number” each month:

How long it takes each month to get the financial statement out (also look at how long it takes to get in each of the “numbers” from each of the departments that are needed to finalize the statement)

How long it takes to complete the payroll

How quickly accounts receivable are collected (especially for those “overdue” accounts!)

How quickly warranty claims are submitted after completion of the work

… you get the idea

Not only will you want to look at establishing objectives in the “how quickly” areas, also consider all the “how much” and “how accurate” measurements. Are there areas where they could “do more” or “do it with greater accuracy”? The more you measure, share the “numbers” and work to improve, the more things you’ll improve.

How many more “x” can be done in “y” time (increased numbers)

How much more accurate can we be in doing “z” (fewer errors)

And do you think if you rewarded improving the “numbers,” your folks would work harder to improve them? We use “spiffs” in sales to motivate improved performance. Why not do the same for the administrative support people? (Money is always appreciated, but also consider other incentives they might want to work for — ask them what they’d like!). A little “investment” each month could really pay off!

Improving Knowledge and Skills

One of the areas where most organizations really miss the boat is in working with individuals each month to improve their knowledge and skills. I’m not talking about the “numbers” here – “how many you’ll sell” or “how much profit will result,” I’m talking about “how capable” and “how skillful.” In addition to setting the usual monthly business objectives for sales and profits, have each person set an objective to:

Learn something that will help them in their job (e.g. product knowledge, mastery of a process, how things relate to each other, generally how things are done — perhaps outside of their daily work)

Increase their proficiency in a key skill set (e.g. asking better questions, reflective listening, overcoming customer concerns, explaining something technical so it can be more easily understood)

The improvement focus could be on knowledge and skills related to the job they currently hold or for a future job they (and you) see potentially doing (this job may be a lateral move or a promotion). Obviously it’s important for them to work on improving knowledge and skills related to their current job first. It’s this second focus most organizations too often ignore.

The best organizations are always preparing for growth and for turnover. They do this by constantly working with their people to have them as ready as possible to “step into” their next job. What knowledge and skills should they be “learning now” so “they’ll be ready for the job” when it becomes available?

Setting the Stage for Advancement

One of the areas I always stress when I work with people who want to get ahead is to have a clear picture of what they’d like to do next and to “always be working to be prepared” for that next job.

What will you need to know to be successful? What are you doing to learn it?

What skills will you need to have? How are you acquiring these?

I believe it is every manager’s responsibility to continuously be developing their peoples’ knowledge and skills in addition to improving their “numbers.” This means regular (at least monthly) discussions about what they’re learning and how they’re preparing for what’s ahead (for them and for the organization). Managers need to have each person setting a “Professional Development Objective” each month, just as they set other performance objectives for the month. Discussions during the month about success achieving this objective are held just as they’re held about achievement of their business objectives. And a celebration of success is appropriate for the achievement of these objectives, just as we celebrate achievement of the business objectives.

One of the side benefits of this focus on individual professional development is that people will stay with your organization. Research indicates that most young people today — the Millennials — place a high value on this type of development. If you’re helping them be more valuable, they’ll appreciate it and you’ll both benefit.

As an organizational leader, you’ll also want to be sure your managers are “developing their successor.” You (and they) don’t want to be in a situation where you’d love to promote them, move them to another of your companies, but you feel they’re too valuable where they are. As I’ve said to many a manager looking to advance, ”if you’re irreplaceable, you’re also unpromotable.” (And remember, when you get promoted, you’re the one who will be charged with finding your replacement!) Be ready!

John Strom is a SCORE Mentor who continues to help managers improve their knowledge and skills to grow their businesses. He has over 30 years experience in coaching, training and consulting in both small and large organizations. His life mission statement is “to help people learn then using that learning to benefit themselves and others.” Contact him through or directly at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment