Mushrooms, Grapes & Michael Scott – The Good, Bad & Ugly of Goal Management…

Sean Conrad Driving Productivity, HR Technology, Performance, Sean Conrad

It’s no secret that I love analogies.  Most of us have heard the one about employees being like mushrooms, I’m sure. “Keep ’em in the dark and feed them bull…umm…fertilizer.” This comparison got me thinking about conventional talent management practices that all too often reinforce this notion that the employee is disconnected from the company – kept in the dark.

“People-centric goal alignment” is one of those practices.  You’d think that goal alignment in and of itself would foster teamwork, not disconnectedness.  You might be thinking, if they have goal management “how can they have employees that are in the dark?”  Well, that’s easy.  Organizations employing people-centric goal alignment are using a model where employees’ goals are tied to their managers’ goals.  Often, beyond that point, employees have no clue how their work impacts the organization. And what’s worse, they may have their goals connected to a manager like The Office’s Michael Scott, as opposed to those of Dunder Mifflin, the company.  Something tells me Michael’s goals might not exactly do much to inspire performance.

People-centric goal management is riddled with issues aside from employees not having a holistic view of the organization’s goals beyond their manager.  Goals in this model are a complicated web, so while it’s easy to set goals on the front end, it’s pretty difficult month over month, year over year to track them. When there’s little visibility into goals beyond that of Michael Scott manager, there’s probably no understanding of why or how work impacts the bottom line. And let’s face it, if Michael is your manager, he or she is likely to be fired at some point.  So what happens then to your goals when the person they are connected to leaves?  It can get messy.  This is definitely not the most strategic or straightforward way to drive employee performance.

In keeping with the mushroom analogy above, the “organization-centric” approach to goal management is more like cultivating grapes.  All of the employees are on the vine, connected and contributing to produce an overall, common goal – like great wine.  This model of goal management has employee goals tied directly to overall departmental and organizational goals.  This creates a clear understanding of how they connect to the “vine” and how, as a team, they work together to create something great.  So, if Michael Scott is walked out the door at a company where individual goals are tied to organizational goals, it isn’t a huge problem, and personal goals aren’t impacted.  Everyone can see the whole vine, and it’s easier to ensure all employees are pulling in the same direction.  Each employee is accountable, and on the whole, there are more opportunities for them to flourish.

Personally, I’ve always been much more partial to grapes, so it’s easy to extend that preference to goal management styles.  I’d rather be a grape basking in the sun than a cold mushroom in the dark any day.  And I think smart organizations would rather have happy grapes than miserable mushrooms, because at the end of the day, grapes are going to produce a stronger business result.  When results matter more than ever, organizations with grapes are going to be winners.

Editor’s NoteDon’t Feed the Vendors is a new series at FOT.  The goal of the DFTV series?  We get hammered by third parties who want to write at FOT, so we give them a challenge.  Write something cool and significant we can learn from/talk about in the FOT style, and you can roll with the FOT crew.  Try to sell our readership your product and/or provide a whitepaper, and we’ll openly mock your company in public for not understanding the DNA of our readership.  Many inquire, few follow through once they learn they can’t post a workup of their latest “research”.  For those that make the cut, we’ll offer up associate FOT membership as part of the Don’t Feed the Vendors stable.

Sean Conrad of Halogen Software is one of the ones that made the cut.  Show him some love in the comments for being up to the challenge and not writing something that should be read on PBS.