Objective Setting

Objectives describe something that has to be accomplished. Objectives or goals define what organizations, functions, departments and individuals are expected to achieve over a period of time. Objective setting those results in an agreement on what the role holder has to achieve is an important part of the performance management processes of defining and managing expectations and forms the point of reference for performance reviews.

Types of Objectives

Let us now understand the different types of objectives and how they are set. The following are the different types of objectives −

Ongoing Role or Work Objectives

All roles have built-in objectives, which may be expressed as key result areas in a role profile. A key result area shows us what the role holder is expected to achieve in this particular aspect of the role.

For example − ‘Identify database requirements for all projects that require data management in order to meet the needs of internal customers’ or ‘Deal quickly with customer queries in order to create and maintain high levels of satisfaction.’

A key result area statement should contain an indication of not only what has to be done but also why it has to be done. The ‘why’ part clarifies the ongoing objective but it may be necessary to expand that by reaching agreement on a performance standard that describes what good performance will look like.

A performance standard definition should take the form of a statement that performance will be up to standard if a desirable, specified and observable result happens. It should preferably be quantified in terms, for example, of level of service or speed of response.

Work Objectives


Targets are objectives that define the quantifiable results to be attained as measured in terms such as output, throughput, income, sales, and levels of service delivery, cost reduction and reduction of reject rates. Thus, a customer service target could be to respond to 90 per cent of queries within two working days.


Objectives can be set for the completion of tasks or projects by a specified date or to achieve an interim result. A target for a database administrator could be to develop a new database to meet the need of the HR department by the end of the year.

Behavioral Expectations

Behavioral expectations are often set out generally in competency frameworks but they may also be defined individually under the framework headings. Competency frameworks may deal with areas of behavior associated with core values, for example, teamwork, but they often convert the aspirations contained in value statements into more specific examples of desirable and undesirable behavior, which can help in planning and reviewing performance.



Expectations can be defined for upholding the core values of the organization. The aim would be to ensure that espoused values become values in use.

Performance Improvement

Performance improvement objectives define what needs to be done to achieve better results. They may be expressed in a performance improvement plan, which specifies what actions need to be taken by role holders and their managers.


Developmental or learning objectives specify areas for personal development and learning in the shape of enhanced knowledge and skills (abilities and competences).

Integrating the Objectives

A defining characteristic of performance management is the importance attached to the integration or alignment of individual objectives with organizational objectives. The aim is to focus people on doing the right things in order to achieve a shared understanding of performance requirements throughout the organization.

The integration of organizational and individual and team objectives is often referred to as a process of ‘cascading objectives’. However, cascading should not be regarded as just a top-down process.

There will be overarching corporate goals, but people at each level should be given the opportunity to indicate how they believe they can contribute to the attainment of team and departmental objectives. The views of employees towards organization about what they believe they can achieve and they should also take account of them.

There will be times when the overriding challenge has to be accepted, but there will also be many occasions when the opinions of those who have to do the work will be well worth listening to.

Integration of objectives is achieved by ensuring that everyone is aware of corporate, functional and team goals and that the objectives they agree for themselves are consistent with those goals and will contribute in specified ways to their achievement. This process is illustrated in the following figure.


Performance Measures & Assessements

It is often said that, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it and what gets measured, gets done. Certainly, you cannot improve performance until you know what present performance is. The process of managing performance begins by defining expectations in terms of targets, standards and competence requirements.

Improvements to performance have to start from an understanding of what the level of current performance is in terms of both results and competencies. This is the basis for identifying improvement and development needs in the individuals. Mainly, it provides the information required for career planning and continuous development by identifying strengths to be enhanced as well as weaknesses to be overcome.

This can only be achieved if there are reliable performance measures. Performance management also gives opportunities to good performers to take charge of their own performance. This cannot be done unless they can measure and monitor their own goals.

Measurement and assessment issues – outputs, outcomes and inputs

It can be argued that what gets measured is often what is easy to measure. And in some jobs what is meaningful is not measurable and what is measurable is not meaningful. It was asserted by Levinson that: ‘The greater the emphasis on measurement and quantification, the more likely the subtle, non-measurable elements of the task will be sacrificed. Quality of performance frequently, therefore, loses out to quantification.’

Measuring performance is relatively easy for those who are responsible for achieving quantified targets, for example sales. It is more difficult in the case of knowledge workers, for example scientists. But this difficulty is alleviated if a distinction is made between the two forms of results – outputs and outcomes.

Variations in performance measures

The focus for senior managers is likely to be based on definitions of key result areas that spell out their personal responsibility for growth, added value and results.

The performance of managers, team leaders and professional staff also is measured by reference to definitions of their key result areas. The achievement of quantitative targets is still important but more emphasis will be placed on competence requirements.

The focus of performance agreements and measures will vary considerably between different occupations and levels of management as shown in in the following figure.


In administrative, clerical jobs, performance measures will be related to key activities which continue standards of performance and work objectives which will be considered as the main source of measuring performance.

Performance Planning

The performance planning part of the performance management sequence consists of a joint exploration of what individuals are expected to do and know and how they are expected to behave to meet the requirements of their role and develop their skills and capabilities.

The plan also deals with how their managers will provide the support and guidance they need. It is forward looking, although an analysis of performance in the immediate past may provide guidance on areas for improvement or development.

The performance aspect of the plan obtains agreement on what has to be done to achieve objectives, raise standards and improve performance. It also establishes priorities – the key aspects of the job to which attention have to be given. These could be described as work plans, which set out programs of work for achieving targets, improving performance or completing projects.

The aim is to ensure that the meaning of the objectives and performance standards as they apply to everyday work is understood. They are the basis for converting aims into action.

Development Planning

For individuals, this stage includes the preparation and agreement of a personal development plan. This provides a learning action plan for which they are responsible with the support of their managers and the organization.

It may include formal training but, more importantly, it will incorporate a wider set of development activities such as self-managed learning, coaching, mentoring, project work, job enlargement and job enrichment. If multi-source assessment is practiced in the organization this will be used to discuss development needs.

Development Planning

The development plan records the actions agreed to improve performance and to develop knowledge, skills and capabilities. It is likely to focus on development in the current job – to improve the ability to perform it well and also, importantly, to enable individuals to take on wider responsibilities, extending their capacity to undertake a broader role.

This plan therefore, contributes to the achievement of a policy of continuous development, which is predicated on the belief that everyone is capable of learning more and doing better in their jobs. But the plan will also contribute to enhancing the potential of individuals to carry out higher-level jobs.

Performance Agreement

Performance agreement defines the following −

●      Role requirements − these are set out in the form of the key result areas of the role: what the role holder is expected to achieve.

●      Objectives − in the form of targets and standards of performance.

●      Performance measures and indicators − to assess the extent to which objectives and standards of performance have been achieved.

●      Knowledge, skill and competence − these define what role holders have to know and be able to do (competences) and of how they are expected to behave in particular aspects of their role (competencies). These definitions may be generic, having been prepared for occupations or job families on an organization- or function-wide basis. Role-specific profiles should, however, be agreed, which express what individual role holders are expected to know and do.

●      Corporate core values or requirements − the performance agreement may also refer to the core values of the organization for quality, customer service, team working, employee development etc., which individuals are expected to uphold in carrying out their work. Certain general operational requirements may also be specified in such areas as health and safety, budgetary control, cost reduction and security.

●      A performance plan − a work plan that specifies what needs to be done to improve performance.

●      A personal development plan − which specifies what individuals need to do with support from their manager to develop their knowledge and skills.

●      Process details − how and when performance will be reviewed and a revised performance agreement concluded.

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