Agreeing objectives and standards


Last Published  01 August 2012

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Time needed
Allow for about 1 hour 20 minutes to run this tool.
  • Introduction - 15 minutes
  • Step 1 - 10 minutes
  • Step 2 - 10 minutes
  • Step 3 - 20 minutes
  • Step 4 - 15 minutes
  • Step 5 - 10 minutes
Suggested steps - Introduction
Begin the activity by asking participants how many of them regularly agree objectives or standards with their staff. Next, ask how many of them find that the results justify the time and effort, or if it is really little other than a paper exercise. This will let you know whether the participants are already motivated towards objective-setting (in which case you need to spend less time on the benefits - say, 5 minutes) or whether they see little point in it (in which case you need to spend more time on the benefits - say, 15 minutes).

If, after considering the benefits, participants need guidance, you might like to introduce the following points:
  • With objectives and standards, staff understand clearly what performance is required of them (what they are being paid to do or achieve); short-term development activity can be precisely targeted; feedback on performance and behaviour can be more precise; performance is likely to improve.
  • Without objectives and standards, or with poorly defined ones, none of these benefits are realised; confusion sets in; performance is diluted over too wide a range of activities due to lack of focus relationships suffer.
Step 1
After discussing the benefits of objective-setting, you need to distinguish between 'objectives' and 'standards'. Here is an example which, though simple, makes that distinction.

Let's say a receptionist currently answers the telephone within 10 rings, and you agree that three rings would be better for customer care. You might agree that he or she will reprioritise the work to answer the phone within three rings over a certain timescale. Once that objective is achieved, you might agree three rings as a standard to be maintianed.

In summary, an objective is a target that requires a degree of effort to achieve. It can be likened to the destination of a journey.

A standard is a level or norm below which staff should not fall. It can apply to performance (for example, management accounts are distributed within 'n' days of each month end) or to behaviour (for example, customers will be greeted with an agreed phrase).
Step 2
Once participants appreciate that distinction, you can introduce them to SMART objectives. Try a non-work objective such as 'To get fit' as an example. Ask participants how clear it is, how easy it is to monitor and assess, and what benefit (or otherwise) would be gained if they agreed such an objective with someone. Ask what would have to be done to the wording to make the objective more useful. Hopefully you will receive such answers as: 
  • Make it more specific by specifying strength, stamina or suppleness.
  • Make it measureable in some way, such as stating a run in kilometres or the performance of certain activities in a certain time.
  • Specify the timescale from now over which to run the distance or perform the push-ups.
  • Emphasise the need to exert effort to achieve the objective (it is no good as an objective if participants can already achieve it).
  • Ensure it is relevant to them (otherwise they will not want to put in the effort).
Explain that all these suggestions can be summarised in the SMART mnemonic: 
  • S pecific and stretching 
  • M easurable 
  • A chievable 
  • R elevant 
  • T imed and trackable.
Step 3
Distribute Agreeing objectives and standards - tasks and ask participants to work through Task 1. 
Step 4
Ask participants these questions:
  • How was the first version of their objectives different from how they would have written it without your input on SMART objectives?
  • How did dialogue with their partner make it SMARTer?
Step 5
Review Task 2. Also discuss for what aspects of the jobs of their staff they would agree objectives and for what aspects they would agree standards.

Conclude the review by asking participants what improvements they will make to the way they agree objectives and standards with their staff.