Why do People miss their Performance Targets?

Often because they think of the target differently to how you do!

Set your objectives well to ensure clarity and results!

What are Slippery Objectives? Those with the following traits:

* lack of clear language
* lack of context
* lack of a time-frame

Making your intentions really clear when you set objectives (both for yourself and others) keeps everyone on the same page.
I have had various comments from the recent objective blog “Great Objectives” with a general theme around the day-to-day challenges of objective setting and getting the desired result. The last post focused on ensuring the objective was deliverable, but omitted context…
Because clear objectives are the first tenet of good reports, good decisions,and good outcomes here is a general redress to ensure you avoid slippery objectives.

4 Steps to avoid slippery objectives

STEP ONE – Keep it Simple (or at least start easy)

Avoid over-complicating Objective Setting or put it in the “too hard basket”….
And definitely don’t expect to get it absolutely perfect first go – remember objective setting can be much easier than you think!

STEP TWO – Take Time to Create the “Set-up”

Be clear about the differences between your firm’s purposes, objectives and targets: (not trying to focus on the dictionary here – the aim is to label and recognise various LEVELS of fine tuning within your organisation)

Purpose – general overview of what you are supposed to be doing; a non-specific summary.
e.g. improve customer experience
Objective – a goal that supports the purpose – it preferably has begun to be  S.M.A.R.T. – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time framed.
e.g. decrease widget production defects by the 5th July
Target – the details of the “specific/measurable/time framed” parts embedded in a S.M.A.R.T. objective.
e.g. Decrease widget defects by 5 per day (from 26 daily defects to 21 per day) before 8th July 2013 –  where a “defect” is considered to be any damage and/or any fault that impairs the widget’s appearance or operation in any way.

Just because the Target setting part is difficult, don’t let that stop you from setting objectives; all too often, to everyone’s detriment, the whole process is aborted before it is started, progress is never made so reports, and decisions, continue to be misguided.



One of the biggest problems with objectives is the choice of words used to indicate the type of performance expected. Many slippery words enable a range of interpretations; and someone else’s “range” may not meet your standards or achieve the exact outcome needed.
The following chart lists some of the most common unclear words used in goals and objectives, as well as more specific, better alternatives.

Common Slippery Words

Clear Performance Words

Really understand
Fully appreciate
Grasp the significance of
Become familiar with
Become aware of
Have faith in
Be happy

When looking over your objectives, ask yourself if you could observe someone doing the behavior. It’s hard to observe someone knowing or understanding. If any of your objectives contain these vague words, rewrite them to include verbs that actually describe the intended behavior.
Also use this listing the Activity Categories of learning along with some of the more common verbs used when writing objectives for that category:

Activity Category

Clear Performance Verbs

Grasp Information State, Recite, Tell, Declare, Name, List, Define
Use Concrete Concepts Identify, Label
Define Concepts Classify instances, Sort, Categorize
Use Rules Solve, Show, Demonstrate, Generate, Develop, Create, Determine, Calculate, Predict, Defend, Support, Choose, Decide, Participate
Use Motor Skills Execute, Perform, Swim, Walk, Run, Climb, Drill, Saw, Assemble, Build

State how learners are going to demonstrate that they know or understand the skills. Try using words from the list on the right.

STEP FOUR – Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Start at the beginning, clarify your objectives then set some targets… try them out, TEST your targets first… Understanding cause and effect is critical to being able to make improvements…and understanding comes from good information and experience.
Avoid immediately tying objectives and targets to staff performance measures or remuneration. The only two things I find more de-motivating than being set an impossibly high target are being set a really easy one OR being set a target I can’t influence.
If you have new objectives, and are new to setting and tracking targets, give yourself and your team, space to make mistakes, to learn and to improve your BEFORE complicating things by adding incentives and disincentives; in a great team simply missing a target can be incentive enough!

What “slippery little suckers” do you have hiding in your objectives that you can tidy up today?


About the Author

Eve Blackall - high Res
Eve Blackall the small business answer to The Supernanny.
At Smart Accounting you work one-on-one with Eve who has already assisted hundreds of business owners increase cash-flow, grow profits, and ensuring businesses fetch the highest price when it comes time to sell.