Setting individual performance goals to drive collaboration and deliver organizational results

As a teacher in a vocational school years ago, I remember the challenges that came with grading group projects. How do you decide who gets what grade especially when the level of contribution varies across members? I remember I always asked myself "why exactly did I give a group project?". Perhaps the way to assign grades is somewhere in the answer to that question. Is the concern whether the right people are getting the right grades or is it that the learning experience of some people is not what is should be because of their level of involvement or participation in the group activity? Is the issue about the grading or the learning?

I have since read, studied and heard of many ways to go about this from academics and practitioners alike, but the challenge does remain at each point of implementation or application. One of the ways of thinking about group work I came across was Steiner's taxonomy of group task and now we design group learning activities with more intentionality around the relationship between the tasks and the learning outcomes. 

[Table is a summary adapted from wikipedia]  

In the corporate world, I encountered the same challenge in the training rooms when you give group work in those round table-groups that have become quite common in organizational learning events. You can clearly see 1 or 2 people doing all the work while others seem to be riding along. The question here is not different from the previous context – here we tend to be more concerned with the issue that they are probably not learning when they are not participating. At least not what the Designer of the learning experience intended. Here, the other issue on my mind was if they already know the stuff or think they do (assuming that is the reason for lack of participation), then their lack of participation is denying the others from benefiting from their knowledge which could be one of the reasons the group activity was run in the first place.

However, this post is not about learning outcomes; this post is about organizational performance and outcomes which by default requires group work where results are achieved by teams and groups of people working together. The grading component is done in line with performance management processes and cycles, e.g. at the end of the year and this process suffers the same challenge of deciding who gets what grade, given the group or collective nature of the work and results.

I believe we have to take the same approach to design performance goals. As mentioned, when designing group activities, we should take into account the overall outcome expected from the group (organizational goals), the type of tasks required to achieve it, and who is best placed to perform those tasks at the highest proficiency level.

The organizational goals 

Regardless of how the organization is structured, at the end of the day, it has its purpose and mission, with a set of results that allows it to achieve this purpose and mission. These are not results assigned to any single function or department, but rather the results the organization seeks to deliver to make the organization a team, with shared understanding of these results and belief in the value to drive collaboration across functions.

The image below is a sample of goals that can exist at the organizational level 

While these are just examples of the types of goals that exist at the organizational level, the intent is to provide an overview of how these are not very different from organization to organization at a construct level.

It is important to draw out the value goal under financial. This goal is really talking about the financial value of the organization based on whatever the prevailing mechanism of calculating that value is. The bottom line for drawing it out here is that the value is not just based on the financial results but also the perceived potential to grow and generate future revenue and maintain profitability as a result of how the organization is achieving specific non-financial goals.

The other thing to call out is the alignment of performance management with culture. This was done intentionally because culture is primarily a function of how people approach achieving the results (performance) and how well aligned they are with the value attached to those results (engagement).

This is simply a sample and can be debated, but the intent here is to illustrate that goals exist at this organizational level representing what the organization wants to achieve collectively. 

Translating to function specific goals 

 Different activities deliver different results and, as such, based on how the organization is structured, some functions or departments contribute more to the achievement of certain results that others. Based on this reality and the assumption that the results are organizational results and not functional/departmental results, the relationship between results and function/department is more like the relationship between the forward and a mid-field in soccer team.

Whoever is leading a particular result is supported by the whole team. However, even in that support, certain team members are closer to the support than others. For example, the support of defenders for the forward in an attack is less than the support from the mid-fielders. In the same way, the support of the specific function/department in the delivery of a particular result set by the lead function/department is more or less, depending on the nature of the result and activities.

The image below attempts to illustrate this for the first level of organizational goals presented earlier. 

For example, the lead for delivering financial goal - revenue would be the Business functions across the product development, channels, etc. The primary support functions will tend to be the Operations and Technology, Risk (enabling risk like pricing, not control risk), Marketing and Advertising. The rest of the organization will be supporting in more of a 'run' mode, i.e., keeping the organization running until the game calls for specific response from them – E.g. If the frontline lacks capacity, HR will then need to dial up their support; if there are regulation changes, the Risk (control) and Compliance teams will need to dial up their support; or if the capital market shifts significantly, then the Finance department will need to step in and provide their support; etc. In the same way, all the other Functions/Departments have differing lead and support roles in different scenarios, and will need to operate in exactly the same way as the financial example above.

In a nutshell, for every result being pursued, there will be lead functions/departments and the rest of the organization will have an active supporting role, some being a lot closer and more critical to the specific result than others. These functions that are more critical to the specific results than others are the ones who need to actively collaborate with the lead functions and drive towards achieving the desired results.

In a collaborative sense, everyone has their role to play but all based on the idea that the goal is a shared goal. The lead's goal is to achieve their result. However, no matter how well the support functions/departments perform, if the lead doesn't achieve their result, the goal is not met. It is not about how well each function/department performs in relation to the goal, but rather how well the functions collaborate with the lead to achieve that goal. For this to work, it is important that each function can perform their actions and achieve results at the level required, based on the complexity being tackled. The actual level at which they perform their tasks must be calibrated based on what is required by the team.

This is what collaboration means, and the whole idea here is that all functions and teams have to work together to achieve the result. Whether the result is achieved or not, the whole play needs to be reviewed with minimal focus on the individuals and more on the quality and level of collaboration. The only time to focus on the individual function or unit is if the level of performance of that function is so far below expectation that it warrants a review of functional capabilities or culture (e.g. the collaboration failed because of the behavior of one of the functions or units). 

Aligning functional and Individual goals 

 There are 3 ways each person in the organization needs to think about their goals

  1. There are my teams goals – these are goals related to results the team under a manager/executive have to deliver. These represent results associated with collective impact of the results achieved by the individuals or individual teams under this person
  2. There are my collaboration goals – these are goals related to results that are highly dependent on other teams or individuals with whom this person has to collaborate with to deliver collective impact. For these types of goals, the performance of one person or team is almost irrelevant if the overall goal is not achieved
  3. There are my individual goals - these are goals the person needs to achieve individually. These goals are achieved through tasks that the individual needs to perform completely as an individual. These exclude results related to tasks that individual's need to perform that are highly dependent on others (collaboration) or others need to perform with the individual's support or guidance (team).
      • This is particularly relevant for management and executive roles where there is a need to ensure that these individual goals are clear such that their goasgoals seem like they are not made up entirely of team goals.-dependent. Examples of goals that fall into individual category for management and executive roles are stakeholder management, business strategy, planning and execution support, team engagement, etc.
      • For the individual goals at the management and executive levels, one source of input is the upward alignment from the team. This upward alignment represents support the team requires to achieve their goals. This support is called out because it is not addressed by the team goals; it relates specifically to what the team member needs the manager/executive to map out clearly in order for them to be able to achieve their goals
      • While it is possible for a management or executive role holder to achieve team goals and collaborative goals purely because they have fantastic team and fantastic collaborators, the individual goal requires a personal demonstration of value added. And it is in these individual goals we are able to understand how much value this individual could have contributed to the team achievement or collaborative results achieved.

See image below for illustration​

 At the individual contributor level, there is no team to cascade or align goals down to, but collaboration and upward alignment remain.

If you'd like to explore or discuss this ideas in more detail, please do not hesitate to contact us. 

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