Thanks to an influx of millennial workers and a steady flow of new technologies, companies today are changing how they track and inspire employee performance.

Some are doing more frequent, lightweight performance reviews. Others, like heavyweight GE, are conducting ongoing, informal conversations to make sure employees are on track.

Keep Employees Focused

Whatever route your company elects, one thing remains critical: the setting of performance objectives.

Whether done annually, quarterly or just informally, a well crafted performance objective can help stellar employees shine and illuminate where other employees need more assistance.

This is as true for Fortune 500 companies as for medium-sized and small businesses. In fact, one could argue there’s even less room for unfocused employees in a smaller business than in a large one.

When writing performance objectives, it’s easy to fall into the usual traps of being too vague, setting goals that can’t be measured and failing to tie them to company objectives. Here are four tips to get the most out of your performance objectives.

1. Define Success

If there’s uncertainty whether someone scored a three-point shot or a lay-up in basketball, the refs gather alongside the court and review the play to make a call. When it comes to performance objectives, they should be just as easy to keep score.

“Increase Brand Awareness” may sound like a great name for a goal, but without identifying how it’s measured, employees will struggle to show how they succeeded and managers won’t be able to adequately track the performance, either. Rather than being vague, illustrate the goal with a description. For example, if 30,000 people organically search for your website every month, a performance objective might be to “increase organic search to 40,000 website visits per month.”

Remember that basketball game? It has an end point. Add that to the goal as well, so those 40,000 website visits now will be achieved within six months, for instance. That makes measuring success even easier.

Vague descriptions not only result in unclear outcomes, they can also result in an unfair picture of an employee’s performance. Let’s go back to that vague objective, “increase brand awareness.” What that actually looks like will be different to different people. However, no one can argue whether 40,000 website visits per month actually occurred, especially given today’s many data collection tools available to even the smallest of companies.

In short, to get the most out of objectives, identify what success looks like.

2. Outline the Path to Success

You’ve identified a simple and clear goal. How will someone get there? Whether you’re an employee setting a goal, or a manager setting one for an employee, be sure to list the actions needed to meet the goal. Outlining specifics will increase chances of success.

Let’s circle back to the goal of “increase organic search to 40,000 website visits per month within six months.” The actions to make that happen could be to “attend an event.” But, that’s vague. “Attend two marketing events and sponsor a booth.” That’s better. “Attend the Social Media Conference and the Digital Marketing Conference with a 10x20 booth, two sales representatives and a speaking opportunity.” That’s much better.

The more specific you can be, the greater your chance of success.

3. Align Objectives with Business Goals

The best goals will align with your company’s mission, if not directly than indirectly. To get support and buy-in from people above you, set goals that play into the core of what the entire company is trying to achieve.

For example, if your department or company’s goal is to “Reduce Churn,” a performance objective could be to contact 10 percent of customers each month at risk of leaving and offer them an incentive to remain onboard.

More than 9 in 10 employees and executives surveyed by Clear Company noted that “lack of alignment within a team directly impacts the outcome of a task or project.” You’ll have the opportunity for greater collaboration among team members and departments if you align with a goal that the whole company is behind.

4. Include a Personal Goal

This is specifically targeted to employees setting their own performance goals. The best managers know that empowering people is far more effective than micromanaging them.

Trust that you know best what outside-the-box skills you need to improve your performance. Practicing public speaking, for instance, might help with networking or convincing shoppers that a particular item is the right one for them.

Learning a new language can open up new avenues for connection and engagement. By tossing in personal objectives, you’ll give yourself the opportunity to grow both personally and professionally.

What tips do you have for writing performance objectives?

Title image by Evan Clark