Descriptive measures seem subjective. Don't we have to be objective when we evaluate someone's performance?

Of course we must be objective. But what do the words objective and subjective actually mean? The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language provides illuminating definitions:

ob-jec-tive (ob-j- k't- v) adjective

1: Of or having to do with a material object.

2: Having actual existence or reality.

3 a: Uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices: an objective critic b: Based on observable phenomena; presented factually: an objective appraisal.

sub-jec-tive (sub-j- k't- v) adjective Abbr. subj.

1 a: Proceeding from or taking place within a person's mind such as to be unaffected by the external world b: Particular to a given person; personal: subjective experience.

2: Moodily introspective.

3: Existing only in the mind; illusory.

It is a common mistake to think that descriptions of the quality of someone's performance are subjective unless there is some number attached. This is wrong.

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Objectivity lies in meeting the tests provided by the dictionary definition: If the appraiser is "uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices," if he is "fair," if she bases her assessment on "observable phenomena" like an employee's performance and behavior which are easily observed, and presents the appraisal factually, then that performance appraisal and that appraiser are indeed objective.

But it's easy to fall victim to the myth of quantifiability: the erroneous belief that in order for an evaluation to be objective, it must involve countable units.

Consider the Winter Olympics. The winner of the downhill ski race is determined by time. The measurement tool is a stopwatch. The fastest skier wins. In ice hockey, the winning team is again determined quantitatively: The winner is the team that scores the most goals. But what about women's figure skating? What do the judges count?

The answer, of course, is that there is nothing that they can count. Based on years of experience, with a clear model of excellence, and acting with integrity, they describe the performance and then assign a number to indicate their assessment.

In the Summer Olympics, the same is true. How is the winner of the hundred-meter freestyle determined? By the clockthe one who swims the fastest wins. What about water polo? Again, it's a quantitative measure: Whoever scores the most goals wins. But now consider platform diving. What do the judges count? Again, there is nothing that they can count. Instead, they describe the performance and assign numbers to represent their judgment about its quality.

Objectivity has nothing to do with countability. As long as appraisers meet the following three tests, they are in fact objective evaluators.

1. They have a clear model of excellence.

2. They are trained and experienced.

3. They act with integrity.

Remember: What people really want to know is the boss's opinion of their work. They want "subjective" information, to misuse the term. They want the answers to the questions: Boss, how am I doing? Do I have a bright future here? Should I be concerned about how well I'm doing my job? Are you pleased with my work?

There are no countable measures to answer those questions. However, every appraiser who is trained and experienced, who has a clear model of excellence, and who acts with integrity can answer those questions without difficulty.

Where does goal setting fit into the performance-planning process?

Goal setting is one of the key elements of performance planning. In addition to identifying the key responsibilities of the individual's job and the competencies or behaviors that the organization expects everyone to display, another critical element is setting appropriate goals for the upcoming year.

When the manager and the subordinate talk about key job responsibilities, they are talking about the specific requirements of the positionthe elements that might be included in a job description. But when they discuss goals, they are talking about what the individual will do in addition to simply meeting the job description demands of the position. Setting goals produces several important results:

- It forces the identification of critical success factors in the job.

- It mobilizes individual and organizational energy.

- It forces concentration on highest priority activities.

- It increases probability of success.

- It generates increases in productivity.

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Thinking about goals forces the individual to think about the job itself. Why does the company have this job? What should someone who is being paid to do this job accomplish? What are the most important activities that the person holding this job should engage in? These are the questions that everyone should ask regularly; setting goals and objectives forces everyone to do this at least once a year.

Goal setting mobilizes energy. If everyone in the organization is focused on a small number of important targets, then the energy of the organization is directed toward achieving strategic ends.

If goal setting isn't a part of the performance management process, then it will be easy to get caught in the activity trapspending time on activities that don't generate a lot of return but are done because they're familiar. If we have set clearly stated and measurable goals and objectives, we are less likely to work on low-priority tasks because we will be aware of what our high-priority responsibilities are.

Goal setting increases the probability of success. Setting specific objectives, and determining what it will take for the objective to be considered successfully achieved, tends to eliminate the excuses that are often offered up for failure: I didn't know I was supposed to do that. Is that important? Why didn't you tell me so?

Hot Tip

Goal setting directly increases productivity. Research on goal-setting programs has found that companies that introduced systematic goal-setting programs enjoyed an average 39 percent increase in productivity. Interestingly, the size of the benefit varied dramatically among the companies, with the key differentiating factor being the amount of management support. In those companies where top management lent strong support to the goal-setting initiative, there was an average 57 percent increase in productivity; but in those companies where there was little top-management support, the increase was a paltry 6 percent.

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