Improved Performance – The First Step is Planning!

The five key components of effective performance management are planning, monitoring, development, assessment, and recognition. This article addresses the first component: performance planning.

Performance planning means setting goals and determining what needs to be done to reach those goals. Consider the results of studies on goal setting as reported by Edwin A. Locke of the University of Maryland and Gary P. Latham of the University of Washington:

  • People who kept daily records of all the food they consumed but did not set goals to reduce food intake did not alter their eating habits. Only those who set specific goals in addition to keeping records lost weight.
  • People who were given feedback during performance appraisals performed no better than those who received no feedback. However, when goal setting took place as a follow on to the feedback, performance improved significantly.
  • People who were given specific, hard goals either outperformed people who were trying to do their best or else surpassed their own previous performance when they had already been trying to do their best.
  • People who were given feedback on five different dimensions of their performance had goals assigned with respect to only one.  Their performance improved significantly only on that one dimension for which the goal had been set.[1]

Setting goals, measuring performance against those goals, providing feedback on goal achievement, and rewarding goal achievement improves performance significantly.

Goal setting improves performance through three major mechanisms:

  1. Goals give people direction and focus their thoughts and actions.
  2. Goals give people the ability to regulate their efforts in proportion to the difficulty level of the goal they have accepted.
  3. Hard goals that employees accept increase employee persistence at achieving the goals.

Besides improving performance, setting goals for individuals and groups provides many other benefits:

  • Goals can clarify expectations.  Employees find it helpful to know what management and supervisors expect from them.
  • Goals can increase the challenge of a job.  They can make a monotonous job more interesting to employees.
  • Goals that are difficult but attainable can provide employees a sense of purpose.
  • When people receive feedback that their goals have been reached, they feel a sense of increased liking for their job and satisfaction with their performance.
  • Setting and achieving goals can create self-confidence in employees, pride in their achievement, and a willingness to accept future challenges.

Setting goals for individuals is an important key to improving performance, but setting goals for teams is essential to the success of the team.  Because a team is defined as two or more people who must coordinate their activities to accomplish a common goal, by definition teams must have goals.

[1]  Latham, G.; Locke, Edwin A. (2002), "Building a Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation", The American Psychologist. 57 (9): 705–17.

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