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Over the past few months I have been exploring the reasons why I struggle with individual performance goals even though I am a professional in the performance management system design industry. What I keep coming back to is that individual performance management goals are difficult to write, time consuming to develop, and quick to become outdated. 

I also think that calling them “goals” is misleading. To me, a “goal” denotes special work that is accomplished outside of regular duties, something that has a finite beginning and end.

Bring the Team to the Individual

So what do we do? Perhaps we're over-thinking the process. Perhaps it's as simple as sharing team goals with all employees, augmenting them with one or two work statements that have an element of “regular job” with a component of added speed, accuracy or service to help work towards some of the team goals.

The team goals come directly from the team business plan, which is shared and dissected by the team, generating ideas that can lead to team success. It is not so much the process of breaking down the goals as it is collaborating on achievement. Even if an employee’s role is tangential to the work described, she can still participate in the accomplishment of the team business plan. By being involved in dissecting the business plan, she has ownership in the result.

Performance review dialogue for team goals can be a conversation about contribution — reflecting on what went well, and what didn’t.

Don't Stop at Documentation

The reality is that, unless the administrative work of setting, reviewing, adjusting and documenting goals actually adds value to the organization, I challenge the need to do it.

The documentation is not the end game — the successful accomplishment of the work is the end game. We document to ensure that leaders are doing their jobs and developing and challenging their teams. After all, isn’t that what performance management really is?

So rather than going through the annual exercise of breaking organizational goals into individual goals, why not take the interim step to develop the team or unit plan to accomplish the organizational goals, sharing and dialoguing with team members about the plan, the successes, the challenges and the results, and engaging team members in making real meaning in their work by clearly seeing how it contributes to the whole.

What do you think? I'd love some feedback on this concept.