Objectives, motivation killers or strong boosters?

Along the years to many were the occasions where I knew beforehand that no matter what the conditions were – team readiness and competences, or corporate culture and organization -, my objectives were impossible to achieve. Why? Because they had been set in such incomprehensible and unrealistic terms that they were completely impossible to achieve. Therefore, I keep wondering, how can unreachable objectives help companies being competitive? Well, I strongly believe that they CANNOT!

Why setting objectives? Answering to this question must be the very first thing to do, immediately followed by answering, “Why these (objectives) and not any other?”.

Objectives must be aligned with the business strategy, execution plan, available resources, and time span. If companies do not take any of this into account, how can they set objectives that make sense? The more randomly objectives are set the more impossible are to achieve them.

So what do you need to know, or have, in order to be able to set relevant and coherent objectives? Objectives must bring value into the company not only in the short but also in the medium and long run. Objectives must be always aligned with business strategy, major goals, and an execution plan. Objectives should not be limited to financial, profit or cash related indicators, they must translate also the company’s “health” in other areas such as operations, sales profitability, innovation, competitiveness, readiness and flexibility toward future challenges, people development and talent management, suppliers quality and capabilities, or customers satisfaction and loyalty. In order to have a strong, complete and cross-section set of objectives and KPIs (key performance indicators) several methodologies can  be used and built. I am particularly fond of the balanced scorecard approach along with a strong mapping of the strategic areas that should be impacting or being impacted by the business strategy. This strategic mapping help defining the strategic objectives that must be monitoring, after that is key to define the way of measuring them and set a target/deadline to be achieved. The important aspect to highlight here is that what ever approach one takes, it must take into account the following aspects: business strategy; strategy execution; top/bottom and bottom/up analysis; cross-section KPIs (include more than just financial, profit and cash related KPIs); KPIs must be set by area only after the integrated analysis (strategic mapping, top/bottom, and bottom/up analysis); resources available and needed; talent and human resources needed; reporting and control system (that helps mitigating risks, taking decisions, and learning).

I see objectives as key to competitiveness! If one does not have a set of KPIs and targets to be achieved, how can this person know if it is working well, evolving, and adding value? In my perspective, well defined objectives are a strong motivational tool. How can companies stay in the market and be competitive if they do not measure their achievements and set targets to be achieved? However, objectives should not be the end goal of a company, but rather a way of knowing if the company is in the right path toward its business strategy and vision. Obviously, business strategy or vision are changeable, though they should be set for a horizon of 4 to 5 years, and not yearly, and be more than just a profit statement. A multi-annual execution plan accommodating objectives for the period must be designed before going setting objectives. Objectives are a too important tool to be misused! Objectives must be a strong motivation booster rather than a motivation killer!

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