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Hard Goals for Soft Objectives

HR Policies & Procedures
by Stephen Bruce, PhD, PHR

Yesterday’s Advisor covered best practices in goal setting. Today, how to set measurable goals for soft objectives, plus an introduction to the all-thing-HR-in-one website, HR. BLR.com.

Some goals are easily measured, but some, like adhering to company values, are harder to measure, says expert Dr. B. Lynn Ware. Values are an important part of the company culture, but how can you make the measurement of values concrete, quantifiable, and qualitative?

For example, says Ware, take a public relations agency that wants to encourage five factors:

  • Imagination
  • Improvement
  • Irreverence
  • Initiative
  • Integrity

These are great values, but they are hardly behavioral, Ware notes. So she turned those values into more measurable goals:

  • Actively encourages people to volunteer new ideas and make suggestions for improvement of the business. (360 Feedback)
  • Encourages team members to initiate tasks or projects that they think are important. (360 Feedback; Meeting observation by manager)
  • Generates new ideas, products, and/or services that create new opportunities for the company and clients. (Peer and Manager 360)
  • Identifies future talent for the company. (Number of recruiter assists/open reqs)
  • Takes time getting to know what types of recognition are most meaningful to the team member. (Employee Engagement Survey)

Even with something as soft as a value, you can bring behavioral goals in, says Ware. In the example above, the senior management team was the first to go through it, and 60 percent of their bonus was tied to this. Real teeth.


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Best Practices of Goal Setting

  • Ask for employee input. It helps people feel that they are a part of the decision. Employees frequently will say they can do more than you are asking. We’re finding that this is helpful particularly with younger employees, says Ware. They don’t respond that well to top-down goal setting.
  • Start small. You can always change the goals later, but keep it simple at first.
  • Write it down. Unwritten goals are hard to remember and hard to enforce.
  • Expect failure. You won’t have 100 percent success at everything. It’s OK to learn from failure. “All right, this didn’t happen; what can we do to make it happen?”
  • Recognize effort. As progress is made toward a goal, it’s important to give feedback and recognition. “You’re doing diligent work and I’m sure you’ll make your goal and contribute for the team.” (The main reason for leaving, according to the exit interview, is that “I wasn’t recognized for the effort I put into my job.”)
  • Encourage “small step” progress. Set milestones so that you can measure progress even on a long-term project.
  • Recognize that goals may have to change. Ware advocates at least quarterly meetings around goals. Are priorities changing? Has the environment changed?

Other Tools that Encourage Alignment

  • Business Planning Sessions. Include people in those planning sessions.
  • Enterprise Software. Performance management tracking can be helpful, but software itself won’t do it for you, says Ware. It doesn’t replace a manager sitting down with an individual and making sure goals are SMART and that the person has bought in to the approach.
  • Balanced Scorecards. Dashboards are helpful for tracking important business metrics.
  • Town Hall Meetings. These are a great communication vehicle to reinforce mission and progress toward goals. No employee ever said “too many town hall meetings,” says Ware. It’s usually the opposite—employees don’t know enough about how the business is doing.
  • One Page Business Plan—Ware’s smaller clients have found this very effective.

From goal setting to appraisal and from hiring to firing, HR never sleeps. You need a go-to resource, and our editors recommend the “everything-HR-in-one website, HR.BLR.com®. As an example of what you will find, here are some policy recommendations concerning e-mail, excerpted from a sample policy on the website:

  • Privacy. The director of information services can override any individual password and thus has access to all e-mail messages in order to ensure compliance with company policy. This means that employees do not have an expectation of privacy in their company e-mail or any other information stored or accessed on company computers.
  • E-mail review. All e-mail is subject to review by management. Your use of the  e-mail system grants consent to the review of any of the messages to or from you in the system in printed form or in any other medium.

Solicitation. In line with our general policy, e-mail must not be used to solicit for outside business ventures, personal parties, social meetings, charities, membership in any organization, political causes, religious causes, or other matters not connected to the company’s business.


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We should point out that this is just one of hundreds of sample policies on the site. (You’ll also find analyses of all the HR-related laws and the current critical issues, plus  downloadable job descriptions, and complete training materials for hundreds of HR topics.)

You can examine the entire HR.BLR.com® program free of any cost or commitment. It’s quite remarkable—30 years of accumulated HR knowledge, tools, and skills gathered in one place and accessible at the click of a mouse.

What’s more, we’ll supply a free downloadable copy of our special report, Critical HR Recordkeeping—From Hiring to Termination, just for looking at HR.BLR.com. If you’d like to try it at absolutely no cost or obligation to continue (and get the special report, no matter what you decide), go here.

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  1. Barb        
    April 17, 2014 3:03 pm

    This is helpful. It’s always tough to draw the line between setting specific objectives and micromanaging.