Self-centered employees and goal alignment

Last Monday I got on my soapbox and told everyone to review their quarterly goals and their performance reviews, and insinuated that caring managers might do the same for their employees.  On Friday, around lunchtime, I finally took my own advice (sort of).  I looked over my goals and found two tasks which I had forgotten.  I have 3 weeks to complete those, and it shouldn’t be a problem.  I’m glad I found them when I did!  But I’ll be honest with you; I didn’t find the time to crack open my performance review.  I’ll do that at the end of the quarter.  And, I didn’t do the exercise with my team members’ goals, just my own.  I didn’t have time.

So what’s the lesson here?  I’ll let Polly Pearson explain part of it, as seen in this twitter screenshot:


In an ideal world, your manager is actively and regularly invested in your career, looking for relevant opportunities, working directly towards your success, and always aware of what you’re working on and its importance to the company.


There’s a reason that when a plane loses pressure the flight attendants tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first before tending to your children.

We don’t always have the time to do the things we want to do.  Sometimes we’re fortunate just to get our own work done.

So how do you, as a manager, make sure you’re helping your people succeed in addition to yourself?  If your workplace makes use of Management By Objectives (or other systems where goals are set and measured every quarter), you can get some assistance by aligning your goals carefully.

  • Management directives: A goal like “deliver all performance reviews by XYZ date” or “meet with individual team members weekly” is achieved by basically doing your job as a manager.  If you’re tending to your goals, you’re doing some people management.  Unfortunately, there’s no business justification for these goals.  So while this works, it’s somewhat clunky in the overall scheme of things.  I often take goals like this, but they always account for a tiny fraction of my overall objectives.
  • Explicitly aligned goals: Give the manager a goal like “Team supports release of Foozle feature in Q1,” and everyone on the team gets a “Support release of Foozle feature” goal.  The goals are explicitly aligned now.  If everyone wants credit for the Foozle feature, the manager is talking to every team member regularly, reviewing progress, and giving lots of opportunity for development conversations to take place.  The benefit of this kind of goal is natural alignment to business objectives.  Managers’ successes are explicitly tied to the successes of their teams.  A possible drawback is that it complicates differing measures based on differing amounts of influence.
  • Implicitly aligned goals: This is more complex, and involves creating complementary but not explicitly aligned goals.  A manager may be responsible for delivering a product with acceptable quality by a certain date.  That manager’s employees are responsible for delivering the results that manager feels will be necessary to achieve the overall objective.  An interesting side effect of this approach is that individual contributors can achieve all their goals while the manager is still held accountable for a failure — a failure to properly break the business objective down into measurable team member goals.

Clearly implicitly aligned goals can be more challenging to manage.  I often end up with a handful of explicitly aligned goals and am happy with myself if I can work in some of the complementary goals as well.

The benefit and drawback of any compensation system that is driven by goals is that compensation drives behavior.  The wording of your goals can drive your team to work together and create natural opportunities for growth and development … or it can turn everyone into bookkeepers trying to game a system for a few hundred dollars.