The Need for Clear Objectives – Part 1

November 13, 2012 — Leave a comment

The first topic in this series on “Your First Year as a Leader-Manager” is: The Need for Setting Clear Objectives. It is absolutely essential that the objectives you set for your employees are CLEAR!

Need for Clear Objectives

Otherwise, the consequences might be pretty serious. In fact, your role as a manager depends on it.

Almost by definition, the core activity of being a manager is getting work done through other people.  Once you are promoted into management you are not only responsible for the work you deliver but you are also responsible for the work of everyone who reports to you.  They succeed – you succeed.  They fail – you…well… will probably no longer be a manager. This is why setting clear objectives is so important.

One of my favorite examples of setting clear objectives comes from a colleague of mine at Xerox.  While travelling on business, she called home to check-in with her family.  As she hung up the phone with her husband, she relayed the following story.  The objective given to her husband:  feed the boys dinner tonight.  Her conversation went something like this:

 Mom:  You and the boys had dinner?

Dad:  Yes.

Mom:  What did you have to eat?

Dad:  Pizza.

Mom:  Did they get any fruit or vegetables?

Dad:  Not Yet.

Exercise: Think of a time you asked someone to do something but when you got it backit was not what you wanted. What went wrong?  What do you think might not have been clear?

I’ve asked that question to many managers. So what’s not clear?  What could have possibly been the problem with your request?

Here’s a list of what we’ve come up with over the years:

  • Manager fails to ask – “OK, Carol”, you say, “this one is really stupid – you asked me to think of a time when I ASKED ….”  Yes, most of the time, we as managers verbalize our requests, but I’ve also notice that many times we mental telepathy our requests.  We say things like, “Don’t they know it is part of there job to _________.”  If you find yourself saying things like this, you’ve made an assumption.  It’s important to be sure they know, by stating it out loud – not assuming.
  •  Employee fails to receive the request – This one is a reminder that when you ask someone to do something, it is best you do it in a way that they have time to ask a few questions about the request (see items below).  If you are in the habit of popping your head in people’s cubes or asking them to do something on your way to the meeting, should you really be surprised that they did not actually hear nor understand your request?
  • Not really knowing what the employee needs – It is important to know the individual to whom you are delegating.  Some people need you to be very specific and provide detail to them.  Perhaps even how to get started on the task.  Other people – may have done this several times – so they don’t need as much detail.
  • Not emphasizing the urgency – This is a biggee!  Most people I know have multiple conflicting priorities and their workload is bigger than it used to be.  If you aren’t clear about the urgency of the task and what impact will result if it doesn’t get done, don’t be surprised it they put it at the bottom of their priority list.
  • Reason for asking them instead of someone else – This follows from the urgency.  People will be more engaged with what you give them if they understand why they are the right person for the job.  Perhaps it is a developmental / growth experience.  Perhaps they have a unique combination of skills and experiences that will enable them to excel at the project.
  • Different ideas of what success look like – Here’s another reason to slow down and talk it through.  Your idea of success and their idea of success are more than likely different.  By talking it through, you create a shared picture of success.
  • Working with different parameters or guidelines – And while talking about success, don’t forget to include any parameters, limits, boundaries or guidelines they need to work within.


So far we have discussed the need for clear objectives and  seven ways they might be unclear. Next time we’ll continue with Pt. 2 and cover seven more problems that lead to a lack of clarity in setting objectives. In the meantime, be sure to sign up for my updates and share your thoughts in the comments!


In what ways have you experienced unclear objectives?