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Job Description Syndrome and the Case for Fewer Goals...

You're the Talent pro.  You develop a performance system that allows your managers to establish performance goals for their direct reports. 

But did you lock down the system to prevent your managers from entering too many goals?Plug_ears

If not, you should probably do that.  Like now.  It's important.

Humans are "stackers" and "hoarders".  Left to our own devices, we'll hoard things because we don't want to make choices about what's most important.  That's OK when we're filling our garage up with consumerist junk (did I mention you are not your khakis?).

But stacking and hoarding is poison when it comes to setting performance goals for the folks who work for you.  The science behind the performance scene tells us that if you give someone two goals, they'll do pretty good making progress towards both goals as long as they have the talent and resources to get it done.  Give them five goals and they'll probably be able to make progress toward 2 or 3, or if you're lucky, 4.  Give them more than five goals and they'll be lucky to make progress towards 1 or 2 of the goals in question - too much noise.

If you leave the decision, of how many goals, up to your managers, you'll get a behavior I call the "job description syndrome".  Left to their own devices, managers will write a job description for you that includes about 40 responsibilities to post when you have an opening.  What's most important?

I have no clue. Imagine how the candidate feels. 

The "job description syndrome" seamlessly transfers to goal setting in performance management if you allow it to.  What do you need to measure regarding the team member's performance?  The manager can't stop themselves.  They list 10 things. The team member just wants the review to be over.  Did I get 3%?  Please make the noise stop...

Just say no to "job description syndrome", both in your job postings and your goal setting in performance management.

Be brave.  Lock down the system to a maximum of 5 goals.  I'd say three, but I don't want you to get run out of your company like Captain Queeq in the Caine Mutiny.  So we'll start with 5.

Do it and you're not crazy.  You're crazy smart.  Make people talk about what's most important. 

That's why you're the talent pro.



Hi Chris. While locking down the # of goals in the sytem can't hurt, that isn't the answer. Ater all, creative managers will quickly learn that they can just put "see attached" and add those additional goals elswhere. Afterall, one of the reasons we promoted them was probably for their problem solving skills. ;)

We need to teach managers how to better define goals and prioritize the key work they need accomplished. The answer isn't in the tool, but in changing behaviors.

Paul Hebert

I think you're right on point here Kris. Job descriptions aren't really job descriptions - they are task descriptions that "hopefully" lead to completing a job.

Measure the job - not just the tasks. The tasks are simply one persons idea of how a job "might" me completed. I look at it like I do with my son mowing the lawn.

The job description might say: Mow lawn, trim edges, clean up.

The task description is: Get mower, fill with gas, pull string, go back and forth in a diagonal pattern, empty grass catcher, get out trimmer, check trimmer twine, etc. You get the idea.

Now if my son decides to trim first, mow second - did the "job" get done? Sure - did he follow the tasks? Not really - he went out of order. What if he decided to use the string trimmer to do the whole lawn? Is that a poor job performance or a departure from the task list? If the job - yard cut - is still done well - who am I to care how.

Focus on jobs first, tasks second only if the job isn't done correctly.

Rarely do people have more than a couple of jobs - therefore, the number of measures should be small. How those jobs are accomplished is really up to the individual using the task description as a starting point.

We focus too much on the how, not enough on the why and how well.

Jan Brockway

Focusing the goals on the few and most important is a great first step. The next step is to focus on results not on output. So the goals aren’t things like “Produce XYZ report by the 12th of each month” and more like “Through analyzing key reports, identify and implement 3 improvements each quarter to the XYZ process.”

The focus on goals should to drive an organization forward, not what to makes it run day to day. Everyone in the organization should have some component of driving toward the ultimate strategy of the organization. Measure and pay employees for doing that, not just for delivering their job on time and with quality.

LTC Performance Strategies

Great post. In our business, we’ve noticed that when employees and their supervisors are asked to list the employee’s key responsibilities in priority order – quite often, the two lists are quite different. In our work, we’ve seen the difference that a 1-2 page job description or mini-profile ( with responsibilities listed in order of priority) can make. But we have to remember to keep our goals S-M-A-R-T - (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and time-sensitive.
I think your analogy of a hoarder was a great message for what becomes of a person with unrealistic, vague and an excess of goals.


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