"I think our widget production is lagging behind. See if you can try to complete a few more packages each day. But watch out for errors. We don't want a lot of rejects; that just slows up shipment and gets everyone steamed."
These instructions were given by a manager who didn't take the time and effort to quantify his team's goals. As a result, the request is vague, and success is defined in broad generalities. Learning to quantify performance goals can take time, but it's a skill worth mastering. Quantified goals help you plan more effectively, evaluate your people more efficiently, and eliminate the uncertainty that can corrode morale. Here's a step-by-step approach:
Review the baseline data for your employees. Be sure you understand what they're doing right now. If, say, you think the team should be producing 30 widgets a day, it makes a difference whether they're currently producing eight, or 29.
Ask how you'd like to see employees' behavior change. What would ideal employees be doing differently? What would that change look like day-to-day? Would they be taking shorter coffee breaks, or spending more time with clients, or something else that would (to stick with our example) help them make more widgets? And breaks shorter by how much, or how much more time with clients? Draw an imaginary but realistic picture.
Discuss tentative goals with employees. Share your expectations and ask employees for their assessment. Are your goals realistic and fair? Ask them to help you sharpen your thinking. They know their jobs better than you do and can probably define goals with precision. Stay focused on specifics and possible metrics.
Agree on quantified performance objectives. After working out tentative goals with employees, ask them to think it over for a day or two. Then sit down together and agree on the numbers that will turn the goals into quantified benchmarks. Make this practice part of your routine.
Ask employees to help develop a performance strategy. Let them have as much say-so as possible about how they're supposed to produce the desired results. Of course, if they've been engaged in identifying and vetting proposed objectives, they may already have such strategies in mind—"Well, if we polish the widgets in batches instead of one at a time, then sure, we can turn out 30 a day."
Set up your monitoring and measuring system. How will you determine whether employees are making progress? How will you red-flag problems in the weeks ahead? A monitoring system can be as simple as a one-page weekly progress report, a weekly meeting, or an improvised form. What's important is that it works to alert you to problems, which should be immediately addressed, and to exceptional progress, which should be recognized and reinforced.