The View from HR

When setting goals, don't forget the humans involved

July 14, 2012 

Management teams are pretty good at creating strategies and goals for their employees to meet. However, when employees fail to achieve those goals, managers are not so good at taking part of the blame.

Here is a common example. “By the end of next year, we will increase case volume by 48 percent and reduce injuries by 24 percent through the use of new techniques, equipment, training and incentive bonuses.”

Here is the problem. Employees do not care deeply about increased case volume (it sounds like more work). They are already earning decent money for their time. The threat of injury does not feel real to them. What happens to the goals?

Goals that require people to do something very different than in the past, to go way beyond clock-punching, require a high percentage of their hearts and minds. These goals require more than a generalized sense of “engagement.” They take commitment, and that usually comes from a clear line of sight to how their individual actions will help real human beings.

Failed connections

Take that in for a second. I am saying that most people only commit to serious achievements when they see how their work affects another human being whom they want to help. In his book “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job,” author Patrick Lencioni calls it the “irrelevance” problem when employees fail to make connections between their work and real people. Test this theory on yourself. Think of a time when you really went above and beyond to reach a new goal or overcome a major hurdle, a time when you brought all you had to bear on a challenge and you met it. Got one?

Now, were you motivated by the knowledge you were reaching a company goal, or did you work so hard to help real people? That real person could be a boss you liked or respected, it could be a co-worker whose life was made better by the success, it could even be a customer you valued. But I’ll bet it was not a number on a whiteboard.

Measuring success key

The goals set by a management team have a much better shot if the connection to real people is made early and often. Lencioni goes further to suggest that employee self-measurement tools will reinforce the connection.

In our example, managers need to define who will be helped by higher case volume and how. Will this allow us to attract work as we consolidate facilities, meaning more jobs, opportunities or rewards for all? More specifically, will our route drivers (who I know and like) be able to win more shelf space from the competition? Will the automation actually reduce the physical demands for me (and I now see the injury and work-life connection)? Is it important to my manager that we succeed and why? (Do I care?)

If employees can measure and log actual thanks from route drivers, the times when they personally removed a hazard or receive specific praise from their manager for their real contributions (not just “good job!”), will they be on board?

It is not guaranteed, but the odds of meeting those goals just went way up!

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is president and CEO of CAI Inc., a human resource management firm, with locations in Raleigh and Greensboro, that helps organizations maximize employee engagement while minimizing employer liability. For more information, visit

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