Creating Behavior-Based Goals is Easier Than You Think

by Jamie Resker | Posted | Performance Management

Creating Behavior-Based Goals is Easier Than You Think

When we think of identifying and setting goals we typically think of areas of performance that are quantifiable and measureable. Here are some examples:

  • Reduce errors by 50%
  • Increase sales by 15%
  • Increase conference attendance by 20%

These goals are all valid and focus on the work. Ah, but what happens if the area for focus is related to a change in behavior? How is it possible to put a measurement, time frame and specifics around intangibles such as interpersonal skills, communication, teamwork, conflict management style etc.?   

Well, it is possible. And while there are two different approaches to creating behavior-based goals, one is more effective than the other.

Two different approaches to creating behavior-based goals

To explore these two approaches let’s look at “Jack” and the behavior issue his manager has identified.
Jack has two sides to his communications skills:

  • He's generally known as being collaborative and respectful and when conflict arises his in-person communication skills are fine
  • The opposite can be said of his email communications

When Jack attempts to address conflict via email it's as if his emotional intelligence is completely absent; he's riled more than a few people as a result. His manager has had several conversations about this and Jack seemed to understand what was expected. Yet complaints continue to roll in.

As part of their next performance review discussion Jack's manager wants to create a goal to address Jack’s approach to email communications. 

The off-target approach to creating behavior-based goals:

A commonly used approach focuses on describing what we don't want: a statement of the "off-target" performance.

Example of the off-target approach: 

Decrease the instances of conflict created through your email communications with others.   

The on-target approach to creating behavior-based goals:

The best way to create a goal for behavior change is to definitively describe the desired performance - what we want to see. The more vivid we can paint the picture of what success looks like, the more likely it will be understood and achieved. I call this approach using "on-target" language.

Example of the on-target approach:  

Jack, you’re effective when dealing with colleagues during in-person and telephone communications.  You're known for being collaborative and respectful. The goal is to carry over this same tone and approach with email communications, particularly when conflict arises.

When conflict arises use a respectful tone via email communications or forgo email communications as a first resort; instead utilize in-person or telephone communication. This approach will go a long way in building relationships with peers. 

Notice the difference between describing what we don't want or want less of, and the explanation of "on-target" performance. This latter approach provides the opportunity to elaborate and personalize the goal for the given situation. 

How to measure behavior-based goals

Goals must be measurable – we all know this. And because behavior shifts are difficult to quantify managers oftentimes miss the opportunity to create a meaningful – and thereby more effective – goal for the employee.

The measurement for behavior-based goals can usually be phrased as: "Observation and feedback." The manager will be on the lookout for an increase of in-person communication and a decrease in emails that end in conflict. 

The feedback portion of the measurement means hearing fewer complaints from email recipients.

Create the right time frame for this kind of goal

Quantifiable goals measuring productivity and efficiency are normally time-bound:  by July 15th, 2015, by the first quarter etc.  

For behavior-based goals we want to consider two things:

1. Is this something the person can just start/stop doing? If so, the time-frame is "Now – Ongoing."

2. Does the behavior change require support such as mentoring, coaching or perhaps an outside intervention or training? If so, the time required to complete those supporting activities needs to be included.

A great way to create goals

When it comes to writing goals I like to use a format that breaks the objective down into its parts:

Goal

Actions

Importance

Measurement

Time Frame

Increase email communication effectiveness.

Jack, you’re effective when dealing with colleagues during in-person and telephone communications.  You're known for being collaborative and respectful. The goal is to carry over this same tone and approach with email communications, particularly when conflict arises. When possible forgo email communications as a first resort; instead engage in more in-person and telephone conversations.

This approach will bring more consistency to how others experience your feedback and viewpoints and will go a long way in strengthening peer relationships which is key to cooperation.

Observation and feedback

Now - Ongoing

Behavior-based goals should focus on desired future performance

Thinking in terms of desired performance creates an opportunity to be descriptive, painting a future-oriented picture of the preferred behavior and the benefits it will bring.

This just makes sense and is foundational to best practice employee coaching and feedback. And when the behavior change is presented as a goal to achieve, it’s a lot easier for the employee to see his or her accountability in reaching it. 

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