Team Leadership Toolkit

Leadership Skills

Setting Objectives

Employees should have a clear idea of what they are trying to accomplish. It is managers responsibility to help their employees set work objectives. Both of these statements sound self evident, yet they are not. Hundreds of employees muddle along doing the best they can without any clear idea of what they are supposed to achieve, how well they are doing and what their contribution adds to the organisational output. This is a sure way to demotivate staff.

Sometimes, "miracle" corporate turnarounds are achieved by measuring output and breaking that down into individual objectives, or even by matching what is often rhetoric at the top of the organisation with what people further down think they are trying to achieve. There are some fundamental rules that can guide you in setting objectives. A simple acronym is that objectives should be SMART.

1. Specific.

Objectives are only meaningful when they are specific enough to he verified and measured.

This is best achieved by stating them in quantitative terms and as outcome measures (i.e. a noun not a verb), e.g. "10% quality improvement in service levels" not "attend quality circle meetings once a month".

2. Measurable.

Start by identifying the general objective and the tasks to be done to reach this objective and then develop measures relating to these tasks. These measures may he quantitative (number of errors) or qualitative (customer feedback).

Some complex tasks are hard to measure and may require a combination of available outcome measures with inputs (behaviours) that are controllable by the employee and which are assumed to lead to successful outcomes, e.g. "explains how changes will affect staff’ in addition to "submits output report by the 27th of each month".

3. Agreed.

Objectives can be set for others or they can be set collaboratively with others. Research comparing the effects of participatively set and assigned objectives on employee performance has not resulted in strong or consistent relationships.

However, participation does appear to lead to more difficult objectives being set and such objectives are often more readily accepted and accepted objectives are more likely to be achieved. Further, commitment can be increased if objectives are seen as a participative method of clarifying employee expectations, rather than as a tool of punishment.

4. Realistic.

Objectives should be set so as to stretch the employee, but should not be impossible. Too easy and they offer no challenge, too bard and they can engender frustration.

There should be more than one, because an individual should not over-focus on a limited range of behaviours, or lack variety at work. However, there should not be too many, as they will inevitably conflict. They should be ranked.

5. Time Limited.

Open ended objectives are likely to be neglected because there is no sense of urgency associated with them.

An objective defines a future state: it is a photograph of "then" in words. For this reason, it is also good practice to write an objective in the present tense, so that you can fret what ‘ten will look like.


Feedback is an important part of the loop in fulfilling objectives. It allows the manager to check that the objectives are steering the employee’s behaviour in the right direction and it allows the subordinate to check how they are doing. It is not possible to give objective feedback without objective measures of achievement. In the absence of the latter, there is a tendency to mark employees out of ten for their ability to act like you. Competence-based feedback is a support In helping to keep feedback objective.

An objective has two components: the "End Result" or "Requirement" is one component; "Indicators of Success" or "Measures" are the other component.

"End Result" or "Requirement"

A general statement that describes what has to be achieved by particular individuals by a specific time.

"Indicators of Success" or "Measures"

A series of statements that specify’ the levels which, if achieved, will mean that the End Result has been met Indicators of Success fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • Quantity: How many? How few? At least/no more than..?
  • Quality: How well/good? What characteristics?
  • Time: How long? By when?
  • Behaviour: What has/has not been said/done? By whom?
  • Cost: How much? How little?
  • Resources: With how many personnel? With what machine/committee time?


End Result

Indicators of Success