Using Performance Objectives to Increase Employee Engagement

When you think of companies with great culture and high engagement rates, what comes to mind? Free snacks? A relaxed dress code? Dogs in the office?

It’s true that these things can definitely help create an environment where employees are excited about coming to work. But to maintain high levels of employee satisfaction, loyalty, and engagement requires more than that.

In order to cultivate true engagement, you’ll need provide your employees with things like inspired leadership, sense of purpose, and a connection to something bigger.

Oh, and specific performance objectives.

Performance objectives? Really?

Yes, really. Without performance objectives, your team is merely showing up and completing tasks. And what’s inspiring about that?

Performance objectives can be that critical link connecting your employees not only to their work, but also to each other and, most importantly, to your organizational mission and vision. But in order for performance objectives to work their magic, they have to be designed and used properly. And this is where many businesses and managers get it wrong.

How to define them

We’re not just talking random numbers and metrics here. Performance objectives need to help employees understand why their work matters, how it affects the rest of the organization, and where it fits into the big-picture vision.

When choosing your indicators, look at each role and choose a few critical functions that must be done well in order for your employee and your business to be successful. After you’ve selected them, put them in context for each person so they understand why these things are so important, and how valuable their role is to the department, the company, and the overall vision. This is how you connect them to the work, the team, and the mission.

How to measure them

In order for performance objectives to be properly measured, there needs to be a well-defined scale, and a mutual understanding of what outcomes are reflected at each level.

When establishing your measurement scale, it is important that “satisfactory” isn’t the top category. Meeting expectations should be the midline, with room above and below to identify how individuals may be exceeding expectations or failing to meet them.

Here’s a quick example:

Measurement scale:

5 – Far exceeds expectations

4 – Exceeds expectations

3 – Meets expectations

2 – Falls short of expectations

1 – Falls critically short of expectations

This kind of scale not only measures the level of performance, it also provides room for growth, fluctuation, and improvement.

It also provides room for honesty. If you’ve got an employee who consistently gets all fives on their reviews, it means one of two things:

  1. This person has outgrown their job and needs a promotion.
  2. You’re lying.

Okay, we’ll say that in a nicer way. You’re not being entirely accurate or honest with your evaluation.

Maybe you hate confrontation. Or maybe you just really like this person. Or maybe you just don’t know how to offer constructive criticism and feedback. Either way, it’s a problem. Your performance objectives must be evaluated truthfully and correctly. If they aren’t, you’re missing out on the opportunity for valuable employee feedback and development.

You could also be setting yourself up for an HR nightmare. Need to fire someone for poor performance? It’s pretty difficult if they’ve collected a file full of great reviews.

How to use them

That said, far too many businesses use performance measurements solely to punish employees. This is one of the quickest ways to create a disengaged workforce.

Let’s review what performance objectives should and shouldn’t be.

Performance objectives should:

  • Help employees be more productive and successful
  • Help the organization meet its goals and achieve its mission
  • Empower individuals and teams to take ownership of their work
  • Create a clear and mutual understanding of roles and expectations
  • Provide a solid framework for feedback, training, recognition, and rewards

Performance objectives should not:

  • Simply be used to determine job titles and compensation structures
  • Be a punitive tool to point out where people aren’t meeting standard
  • Exist as a system for grading or ranking individual employees and teams

Using your performance management system to connect your employees to the organization, the work, and the vision will help get everybody where they want to go.

Not only will it enhance performance, communication, and trust, it will draw your employees in rather than pushing them away. And put everyone on the path toward better engagement.


Photo by belchonock