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by, Tony Flannigan, Organisation Development and Talent Management Director for Johnson Matthey PT Division

It’s that time of year again when we have to set people’s objectives! What is a good objective based on?  Results? Goals? Inputs? The answer is: a good performance objective should be about the contribution a person makes to a result.

Just to clarify some language terms first. What is the difference between Responsibilities and Accountabilities? Responsibilities tend to be set top down and are the shared goals or targets of the organisation. Accountabilities are unique to each person and are about the person’s  contribution to the result.

Why should you hold people accountable for their unique contribution and not the collective result?

  1. LUCK – The result may be a consequence of luck, not focussed effort. E.g. the car dealer whose dealership double sales in one year above the trend of all other dealers in the same brand. He may have benefitted by the only competitor in his region closing their salesroom which means people who like to buy cars from a local dealer now have only one choice.
  2. LAG – the results may be the consequence of a predecessor in the job laying all the right long term foundations for success. E.g. the Mining Engineer who used some of his resources to open up new tunnels as well as just harvesting what has already been opened up for access by someone else.
  3. PASSENGERS – results tend to be a measure of collective actions so if there is some deadwood in the team the result may have come from the extra effort of a few superstars making up for the slack of the passengers in the organisation.
  4. SHORT TERM – truly successful businesses are sustainable over time. Just focussing on short term results may blind the need for short, medium and long term things to be done to ensure repeatable success as in the lag example above.

So should a leader only focus on contribution, not result? Absolutely not! Both are essential to allow people to perform at the highest levels of their innate capability. Without a result / goal / desired outcome there is no way of defining what is required to achieve it. The result is the starting point for defining the contribution required to achieve the result.

Also, what is contribution? Contribution is only a contribution if it adds value. Hard work, effort, grunt, graft, persistence, etc. counts for nothing if it is not adding value to a customer in some way, be it a customer paying for a product or a customer in need of a service. Examples of unique added value contribution could be Manufacturing Operators tightening the production specification of a product to improve performance. It could be a Line Manager coaching an employee in a missing skill. It could be someone in a service role such as HR providing guidance to the line managers on some new employment law.

Contribution is about what you GIVE that is in your control. Results are about what you GET which is largely a function of what you give, if focussed wisely, but also a function of things out of your control. E.g. the oil price.

In summary, clarity of expectation of a person’s unique contribution leads to the highest levels of performance and growth.

As Marcus Buckingham quoted “There is no such thing as a confused productive employee.”