Setting Objectives

management-fundamentalsIn this blog, you will learn how to set objectives using a model that you can use, and teach to others at work, to improve performance.

Max E. Douglas, Indiana State University, developed a model that is helpful in writing effective objectives. One variation on Douglas’s model, shown in Model 5–1, includes (1) the word to followed by (2) an action verb, (3) a statement of the specific and measurable result to be achieved, and (4) a target date. Some examples of corporate strategic objectives and academic objectives are shown following the model.

Model Objective Writing Model:

(1) To + (2) Action Verb + (3) Specific and Measurable Result + (4) Target Date:

Apple: (1) To (2) build (3) a car (4) by year end 2020.

Netflix: To stream video service in 200 countries by year end 2017.

Publishing: To submit a family business paper to the Academy of Management conference by May 31, 2017.

As the model for writing objectives implies, an effective objective conforms to three “must” criteria: it expresses a specific and measurable result, and it sets a date for achieving that result. It should also have a single result—or don’t put multiple objectives together. Another similar way of writing objectives is called S.M.A.R.T. goals—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Let’s discuss the parts of the Model, or the criteria that needed to be meet in the model. Note that the first three are “must” criteria as they are required for writing effective objectives, whereas the bottom or last three are “want” criteria because it can’t be known if they are met by reading the objective.

Specific.Objectives should state the exact level of performance desired.

Ineffective Objective:    To maximize profits in 2018. (How much is “maximize”?)

Effective Objective:  To earn a net profit of $1 million in 2018.

Measurable. If you are to achieve objectives, you must be able to observe and measure progress regularly to determine if the objectives have been met.

Ineffective Objective:    Perfect service for every customer. (How is “perfect service” measured?)

Effective Objective:  To attain an “excellent” satisfaction rating from 90 percent of customers surveyed in 2018.

Target Date. A specific date should be set for accomplishing the objective. When people have a deadline, they usually try harder to get a task done on time than when they are simply told to do it when they can.

Ineffective Objective:    To become a millionaire. (By when?)

Effective Objective:  To become a millionaire by December 31, 2020.

It is also more effective to set a specific date than to give a time span, because it’s too easy to forget when a time period began and should end.

Somewhat Effective:     To double international business to $5 billion annually within five years.

Effective Objective:  To double international business to $5 billion annually by year end 2019.

Note, however, that some objectives are ongoing and do not require a stated date. The target date is indefinite until it is changed.

Effective Objective:  To have 25 percent of sales coming from products that did not exist five years ago.

Somewhat Effective:     To be number one or two in world sales in all lines of business.

Difficult but Achievable (Realistic). A number of studies show that individuals perform better when given difficult but achievable (realistic) objectives rather than objectives that are too difficult (don’t try) or too easy (do the minimum).  But be aware that too difficult an objective can lead to unethical behavior to achieve it to attain the reward for doing so, or to avoid punishments for not achieving the objectives-like at Enron.

Participatively Set. Groups that participate in setting their objectives generally outperform groups with assigned objectives; participation helps members feel they have a shared destiny.

Acceptance and Commitment. If objectives are to be met, you need to get buy-in, or people must accept them and be committed to achieve them. If employees do not commit to an objective, then even if it meets all the other “must” and “want” criteria, it may not be accomplished. So you want to get people thinking and believing “I can do that” to motivate them to achieve the objective.

For more time-saving management principles in business, please see Dr. Robert Lussier’s book, Management Fundamentals.

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