Guide to adjusting Performance goals during COVID-19

Effective performance management should create alignment and a shared understanding about what has to be achieved, and what individuals or teams have to do, learn, and develop to be successful. Ideally, performance management systems are implemented to improve individual performance that helps with organizational success; however, more often than not, this isn’t the case of performance management. 

One crucial aspect of the performance management process are goals. Goal setting helps inform employees what is expected of them and benefits employees through improving their motivation, satisfaction and determination. Goal setting also demonstrates value for an organization with improved productivity and performance. 

The importance of goals during a crisis 

It’s likely that, in the midst of a crisis, you’re managing competing priorities, which can make it easy to put an indefinite hold on the performance process; however, a shared vision and goals to help meet your vision, are more important than ever. 

  • Research focusing on how executives handle crises has shown that those who handle crises well take a broader outlook and longer term view. This demonstrates that they trust their teams to make decisions, ensure that people know what is expected of them, and what they can expect from others.
  • Goal setting has been shown to improve persistence in the face of obstacles. 
  • In addition to changing priorities, your organization is also likely dealing with major shifts in how you operate (e.g., moving to an entirely remote workforce). Virtual teams are more likely to encounter challenges with communication and coordination, and are more susceptible to a lack of team cohesion and trust. Focusing on the things that you can accomplish together, rather than what can be accomplished individually is one way to mitigate the strain of working remotely. 
  • By clearly articulating goals and uniting our teams in their efforts, we can infuse individuals with a sense of clarity during a time where they might be experiencing increased ambiguity. Goal setting creates a sense of alignment and shared understanding about what they should be doing to learn, develop, and be successful moving forward. 
  •  Goal setting is also a critical component of the evaluation and development process, meaning that we should adjust as necessary to maintain some sort of performance process. While COVID-19 will pass, it’s unclear when that is. Maintaining key aspects of the evaluation processes will serve us when decisions around promotions and compensation adjustments inevitably need to be made. 

Considerations when adjusting goals

Given the level of impact your organization has felt in response to COVID-19, you are likely going to have to adjust goals that were previously set. You will also want to consider the nuances for different parts of your business (e.g., goals in one region or department might be more heavily impacted than another).

At the organizational level 

In a time of crisis, it is vital for an organization to provide their employees with a clearly defined mission and purpose to keep them motivated and aligned. When it comes to adjusted organizational goals, ask yourself the following: 

  • What makes sense for you to pursue right now?
  • What goals might be unobtainable or not help the company succeed during this time?

You might find that you need to adjust your strategy and communicate this to your people.

At the department level 

Once the organizational goals are updated, you will likely need to adjust department or team goals so they are aligned with organizational goals. We recommend creating a focus group that includes key stakeholders from your team for an ideation session. Ensure that this is a safe environment to freely share and iterate on ideas. If goals are no longer aligned to organizational goals, document why they are critical to accomplish. At the end, you should decide upon 3-5 goals and assign an owner to each. 

Consider discussing some of the following questions: 

  • How can our department or team have the most impact on the organization’s updated goals? 
  • Looking at our previous goals, what critical goals should be carried forward? What should we abandon? What can we adjust?

At the individual level

Consider the same process we outlined above for team goals when adjusting individual goals, with the only difference being that the manager plays a role as a coach. Remember that when employees have a voice in setting their own goals and aligning them to company initiatives they tend to set higher goals and have higher performance than those whose goals were assigned by their manager. Participative development of goals not only results in greater clarity around expectations but also produces more effective strategies for how to achieve them.

Managers should plan to meet with direct reports to review updated team goals and ideate on each team member’s individual goals. Individuals should also seek feedback from their teammates on updated individual goals. Consider some of the following questions: 

  • How can my individual goal align to team goals? 
  • How can we set a goal that is inspiring?
  • How can my updated goals still align with personal development opportunities? 

Now, more than ever, we can see the importance of adaptability and agility in the workplace. We can use this opportunity to create a framework or process for adjusting goals in times of uncertainty and disruption. 

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