Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Employee Retention: Goals Progress

Business Strategies

This week we’ll continue our discussion about employee retention by looking at how to help employees progress on their goals.

2010.03.23_RuningHurdles This subject may at first glance seem facile, and it can be if intermediary steps for each goal is well defined.  There lies the investment and labor.  Finding the intermediary steps aren’t necessarily difficult as much as they’re time consuming.  However, it’s an investment worth making since defining metrics and showing progress in shorter intervals boosts the overall employee motivation, satisfaction, and productivity as they realize how much closer they are to achieving their goals by completing the smaller, more palatable goals. 

To demonstrate progress, you’ll need to have already defined the employee’s goals and determined how to align them with the company vision, goals and profit motives.  During this definition, you’ll also need to determine milestones that are concrete, meaning measurable where you and the employee can determine whether they’ve been achieved or how much progress has been and what remains to mark it as complete.  They’ll also need to be achievable on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis.  These more granular, regularly monitored and measurable goals are what I refer to as micro-goals.  The more detailed they are, the easier it’ll be to determine whether they’ve been completed.

 WORD OF CAUTION: Given this definition there is always the danger of entrapping yourself and the employee to a path that may seem unattainable or simply wrong for either the employee, the company or both.  Once you’ve created the micro-goals, some managers and employees may feel that there are no other paths to achieving the annual or lifetime goals EXCEPT for that defined.  This is simply wrong.  As a leader and manager, your role will be to use these micro-goals as guide posts to where the employee and the company see benefits, but not in how they are achieved.  The how can and should be adjusted during the regular intervals when the employees discuss their progress.  In fact, it’s quite common for the micro-goals, the annual or even the lifetime goals to change as 2010.03.23_RoadWithPebblesthe employee makes efforts towards achieving them.  So, please, please, please keep in mind that you should NOT feel entrapped by defining goals and micro-goals.  Go to the review sessions with the knowledge that life is not defined by straight and narrow paths, but by those filled with pot-holes, hills, and curves that require an open mind, agility and flexibility to insure its successful and enjoyable completion.

After the micro-goals are defined and agreed upon, you’ll need to schedule regular checkups with the employee based on when they were defined to be completed.  So, if the micro-goals were defined to be achieved on a weekly basis, then you schedule a three to five minute checkup each week on the same day of the week to determine whether the goal was completed, or, if it wasn’t, what prevented its full completion.  Your role at this stage becomes that of the mentor who provides guidance and resources for removing any blocks and insuring the employee’s success.

As with other posts on this subject, let’s elucidate the concept with an example.  One of the professionals I worked with a number of years back told me he wanted to become a project lead and, possibly, a project manager.  He was at that stage a senior developer with more than eight years of experience developing software.  For the sake of anonymity let’s call him Sam. 

I’d worked with Sam for a good part of his eight years of experience and knew he had the potential to lead, and he needed training in newer development paradigms (object oriented programming) as well as how to apply process and rigor to insure repeatable results.  What’s more, , he had to learn to lead teams, meaning he needed to learn to listen to other developers’ concerns, designs and help them learn how to work through them to become better developers, rather than simply do the work himself.  We knew his goal of becoming a lead and a project manager would be three to five years out. 

We agreed that his objectives for the coming year were to learn the new technology paradigm and apply it to the current list of projects under our control, as well as learn how to lead on tight timelines.  We came up with the following annual goals:

  1. Learn new technology (.NET Framework) syntax by attending a three-day course on the subject within a month
  2. Learn new technology paradigm and apply within six months by developing particular parts of the new solution with which he was completely familiar in the legacy system
  3. Learn to lead a team of two or more people to reduce to zero the total number of reported severe errors on production system within the year
  4. Attend and complete a time-management course immediately (Franklin Covey’s 7-Habits training)

You’ll notice all of these had a definite timeline and measurable result.  However, they were still not granular enough.  We had to back in to dates for when each one would be complete by either selecting course dates, where they applied, or creating project timelines with a breakdown of intermediary steps. 

Once these were defined, we checked in on a weekly basis in the hallways or in an office for a few minutes to determine if all was on track.  We also scheduled a regular quarterly review process when we looked at our timeline and what he was able to achieve. We agreed that whenever he felt he couldn’t complete a week’s or month’s goal, he would immediately ask for a meeting with me and determine how we could remove his block.

What was the result?

2010.03.23_ManOnWindyRoad As happens with many goals that are well defined and measurable, he was able to complete all but one of them.  What he wasn’t able to fully achieve was becoming a lead developer and project manager.  Nevertheless, his tenacity and perseverance, along with what he learned about goal setting, inspired him to go further.  Shortly after leaving our group and joining another in our company, he was promoted to lead a geographically dispersed team of five, not only as the lead developer, but also as the team’s project manager.

As you can see, the process of showing goals progress is really about granular definition of steps required, the micro-goals, to reach the larger annual and lifetime goals.  The initial time investment in defining these pays dividends as it streamlines the weekly, monthly, and quarterly reviews.  As a result, your employees will be more satisfied with their progress, remain motivated in completing them, and become more productive, directly and positively affecting the company bottom line.

What Do You Think?

Feel free to share your thoughts about micro-goals and progress reviews below.

Related Posts

Insuring Employee Retention
Employee Retention: Be a Goal Miner
Employee Retention: Goals Alignment

Photo Credits: fdecomite, sburke2478, Shahram Sharif