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The Trouble With Performance Goals, and Why It’s Not All On You


Many companies ask their employees to select performance goals annually (or on some other timetable) and these goals help to organize the performance review discussion. Sometimes, managers create and assign the goals themselves, either with or without employee feedback. However, the truth is that setting, pursuing, and reviewing these goals can feel like a waste of time more than anything else. Why is that? Let’s explore the problem with performance goals, and what you can to do make the experience a productive one.


(Photo Credit: Sam X/Unsplash)

Let’s start by exploring a few of the reasons a lot of employees do not enjoy the process surrounding performance goals and evaluations.

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1. The goals themselves are not genuine.

Many people naturally (without any outside prompting) set goals for themselves at work. The trouble is that a lot of the progress that they make toward these goals isn’t always easy to quantify. Often, there is some pressure to set performance goals where progress can be measured and analyzed. This just isn’t the way a lot of people think about their jobs, and that expectation tends to force a narrowing of a process that could otherwise feel quite natural.

2. The big picture takes a backseat to details.

When performance review time comes around, employees tend to think about the big picture of their work with the company. Maybe they’ve been there for years, and their numbers have increased steadily throughout that time, but this past quarter wasn’t the best of their career. Perhaps their numbers are still OK, but they’ve taken on more responsibility, and their goals have stayed the same as their role changed. Whatever the case may be, when performance goals takes center stage at this meeting it can be pretty frustrating. Drawing focus toward just one or two aspects of the job when the big picture is really what’s most important can feel petty and even unfair.

3. Forced stacked rankings.

Although more and more companies are wisely choosing to abandon the system, some companies still used forced stacked ranking systems to evaluate employees. This method forces managers to rank employees on a bell curve, with only a certain percentage obtaining the highest level of achievement and praise.

These rankings are often tied to salary increases, which thickens the plot. Generally, these processes also involve setting and assessing performance goals. The stacked rankings system crushes morale and does little or nothing to elevate any goal setting/review process that’s in place.

The good news is that there are a few things that managers can do to make the performance goal process more meaningful and generally less soul-crushing. Here are a few quick tips for those doing the reviewing:

1. Work together with your reports to set goals.

This will improve the clarity of the work itself, and the performance goals, which should in turn improves overall employee performance.

2. Minimize the importance of the numbers.

For goodness sake, if you have the power to do so, abandon forced rankings systems if you’re still using them. And, in general, minimize the importance of the numbers (which feel like grades) on the review. No one wants to feel like a child. And no number, other than the highest one possible, feels good. Minimize their significance.

3. Have a conversation.

A good leader knows her team, and she inspires trust and works with employees to build a shared vision. If the goal is to work toward this end, then this review should feel like a conversation, not just an evaluation.

4. Make the process as genuine as possible.

Allowing employees to have input gives rise to goals that have real meaning, and that makes the whole process more genuine. By focusing on making the performance goals as natural and authentic as possible, managers and workers can derive more value (and maybe even a little enjoyment) from the entire exercise.

Tell Us What You Think

How do you feel about your company’s performance goal process? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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