Improve Performance Management through Mastery Goals

Posted: November 4, 2013 in Coaching
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In my last post I talked about how UK businesses believe there is a deficit in leadership and management skills, and that just 3% of organisations worldwide report their overall performance management system provides exceptional value. In order to deal with these issues I discussed how workers are looking for more meaning in their working lives, and that environments where creative, right-brain thinking is encouraged, with more self direction, can help achieve this. In short, I concluded that line managers need to become more effective at coaching their staff and one way in which they may be able to do this is through more effective goal setting. There are three different types of goals line managers can encourage their staff to set; and they are:

An outcome goal is something that can be influenced but cannot be controlled. For instance, an employee may state that their goal for the performance year is to be better influencing people at a more senior level. This is quite a common goal that I see within workplaces and the one to be avoided. The reason being is because it offers no context or example of how the goal might be achieved. Without a specific scenario in which this is to be evaluated, the employee has no control over the situation.

A performance goal, on the face of it, sounds pretty reasonable and has more depth to it than an outcome goal. For example, an employee may want to achieve X-number of sales per month, or get at least one of their business ideas agreed to by a more senior member of the organisation in the year. So although there is a clearer target, compared to the Outcome goal, the employee is still unable to fully control the outcome of these. For instance, the employee may not be able to control the amount of sales they may make because the business has had a drop in referrals for them to convert. Or the idea that they pitch to the senior team might be good, but their other colleagues just always seem to be one step ahead.

Instead, what the employee wants to be setting themselves are Mastery goals as they can fully control them and they aren’t ambiguous. If an employee is not able to achieve their Outcome or Performance goal, then they are likely to become disheartened easily at the first sign of failure. A Mastery goal however, is one that allows the employee to focus the mind on what it is they are trying to achieve and drills right down into the core of that goal.

For instance, rather than state you want to achieve X-number of sales per month, it would be better to state the following:

  • I want to ensure that I stay up-to-date with all current products that we sell
  • I will ensure that I continue to keep in contact with my branch network, on a monthly basis, about sales referrals.

Or, for the employee who wants to get better at influencing, why not set the following goals instead:

  • Improve my ability to analyse and report on data so I can present back to my senior managers and influence decisions.
  • Continue to follow market trends and important industry voices, via social media, to assist in providing me with credible information for making decisions.

The defining characteristic of the Mastery goal is that it is controllable and it digs down to the critical essentials of the task at hand. These are the types of goals that managers need to have their employees set if they want the performance management process to become worthwhile. Employees want to exert control over their working lives, and letting them set ambiguous goals is not going to help this.

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