At the start of a new business year you want to get everyone as focused as possible, as quickly as possible, so hopefully you’ll be busy writing new objectives and setting goals for your business. Ideally this is all part of a positive, year round performance management process that includes 121’s, development, and appraisal. The more effectively you can plan and align performance, the more efficiently your organisation can operate. 

However in our experience, this activity is rarely done effectively, if at all. This is particularly true in the businesses that stand to benefit the most; from fast growing SME’s, to not for profit organisations with aspirational ideals. The challenge is disseminating the vision or ideals down the organisation to make sure that everyone is fully focused on the activities that really make the difference. If you were to put everyone in your organisation in a football stadium and ask them to ‘Close their eyes and all point North’ what do you think would happen? If you are confident that everyone would stand in perfect alignment then read no further. If not, perhaps now is the time to focus on defining quality objectives and cascading them.

Across the entire Performance Management process, aside from objective setting, appraisal is probably the most well-known event. However, unlike objectives, appraisals sit right at the end of the process. The purpose of having appraisal is to motivate and focus staff to give their best, while defining how successfully they have been performing. How can this be done fairly if the process does not start with clear objectives that outline the expectations on an individual’s performance, and demonstrate how performance aligns with the business objectives? If you can put these in place, once you have reached appraisal time these clear objectives will allow you to accurately reflect on the progress that has been made. You want people to be focused on their objectives for the majority of the year which means revisiting them regularly to keep them relevant.

What is involved in cascading objectives?

This Performance Management topic is critical. However in a nutshell:

1. At the top level, decide 4- 6 strategic goals for the year. If the ultimate one is a financial goal, go down a level by asking what the main driver of that result could be in each of your key areas e.g. Not for profit – New donor acquisition; Customer Service – Retention rate; Manufacturing – Lean or productivity metrics.

2. Make them SMART and visible to the management level below. 

3. Ask your staff how their can department help to achieve the SMART goals. Help them to define relevant SMART targets for their area.

4. Ensure the departmental targets are cascaded, so the remaining levels become individual targets by discussing what staff can do to support this departmental/strategic goal.

5. Document and manage individual performance against these goals over the course of the year

And that’s pretty much all there is to it! The key with cascading objectives is to ‘chunk’ the objective down at each level to make it relevant to that team or department. Cascading is not simply passing the same objective right through the organisation as that creates a disconnect as the person at the bottom may not see how they can influence that objective.

If the process seems unnecessarily time consuming, remember that goal setting is proven to increase clarity, productivity and motivation. Can you really afford for 80% of your organisation to be without clear direction? Without clear goals, people will either coast, look elsewhere, or make up their own, which may not be in the direction that you want them to be.

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