Shampi Venkatesh, Founder & ICF Certified Leadership and Executive Coach, P-Quotient

Shampi Venkatesh, Founder & ICF Certified Leadership and Executive Coach, P-Quotient

With three decades of coprorate experience panning Education Management, Quality Management, Franchisee Operations, IT Systems, P&L Management and Strategic HR, Shampi brings in a unique blend of Business Operations, Employee Experience and Business Partnering capabilities. She is known for creating high performance teams through inspirational leadership and being a strong practitioner of on-the-job mentoring and coaching, across large and distributed teams. As the former Chief People Officer of NIIT Ltd, she led her company to Rank #4 as a Great Place to Work and Rank #2 in Fairness on Performance Management in the Year 2013.

Since January 2016, Shampi has been investing all her time and energies in the areas of Change and Transformation;  work culture transformation of small and medium companies through her Strategic Consulting practice; and transformation of individual leaders through her Leadership & Executive Coaching practice, fully living up to her credentials from International Coach Federation (ICF) as a PCC. Even as a strategic consultant for her SME clients in Kenya and India, investing in knowledge transfer and on-the-job mentoring of the leadership teams is the hallmark of all her engagements. Shampi brings in hands-on experience, energy, empathy, focus, diligence, rigour and spirituality to her assignments. She works with senior leaders across various industries like Manufacturing, IT & ITES, Financial and Risk services, Education and Training, eCommerce, Life Sciences, Transport and NGOs.

In this Interview, Shampi shares her views on different aspects of the Goal Settings process:

How important is goal cascading & the need to tie every employee’s goals to an organizational objective? Is it always practical and effective?

We have all heard the famous anecdote about a bricklayer. If the guy is told to simply lay bricks, he does it mechanically. However, when he is told that he is laying bricks for a temple/church/masjid or for a home for the orphans, then the devotion and dedication with which he does his job is unparalleled! When you give a task to your employees, they will always do it like a task, without emotional ownership. When employees are emotionally invested, they want to contribute; when they are just financially invested, they only look at returns!

One of the first principles of employee engagement is to show the big picture; also happens to be foundation of high performance. Simon Sinek calls it the WHY! When employees know where the company is headed, what are the wildly important objectives for the year, and how their department is contributing to meeting that objective, then they are keen to play their part. The organization’s growth is always a derivative of individual and team growth. Knowing that their contribution is helping the company to achieve its objectives instils a huge sense of ownership and pride and feeds to into their own commitment and zeal.

So, yes, cascading goals and linking every employee’s goals to an organizational objective, is effective when it is done for the leadership and management teams. For the individual contributors in the front-line roles, I would advise more of role-based goals which needs improvement and/or special focus with a provision for one-two goals that the employee can take up based on their individual initiative or aspiration.

However, cascading goals takes time, effort and needs orchestration to make it effective. Typically, the OD or the PMS team take it up on themselves to get this done in a time bound manner using a standardized process and template for leaders to follow. In my client companies, I help them with this process step by step, and it is fulfilling to see how the goals get cascaded to all the way down to the middle-management. During the cascading process, it is important to allow time for reflection, analysis, fine-tuning the goals, and engage department/functional heads and managers. It is a two-three-day collective effort, usually incorporated into the Annual Strategy Planning milestones, however I prefer to spread it over two-three weeks for reasons mentioned above. When it is planned and calendared, then it is practical. We always make time for what matters, and this does.

Let me end my thoughts here with a quote – “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

In your opinion, should goal setting be a collaborative process between managers and employees? And why?

The primary objective of goal setting is to have an explicit agreement on what are the specific results expected from the employee for the given period and eliminate any ambiguity in the annual performance evaluation. That is the comparatively simpler part.

The more difficult part that needs consistency and discipline, is for the employee to focus on the scoreboard and do something constructive every day that keeps them moving closer to the goals. Executing wildly important goals in the midst of the whirlwind of a day-job requires individual focus and ownership. It must come from within and must be led by intrinsic motivation. Goals that are first discussed and agreed between the manager and the employee becomes a firm commitment first to own self before any other entity. When the employee is committed to meet their goals, they look for solutions, develop thinking prowess and begin to feel empowered. Thus, emotional ownership leads to accountability.

While the process of enrolment and alignment during the collaborative process is time consuming, it is time and effort well spent with huge returns on investment, which is a bigger and wider objective. The manager’s responsibility is not just to set goals but also build a cadence of accountability through regular check-ins and encouraging the employee to operate in their circles of control and influence. A collaborative goal setting process sets up the employee for success; success that goes beyond just achievement of goals to growth as a leader, and that is the ultimate measure of success for the manager! 

Are sub-goals essential to set effective goals for the employees? Why?

I would prefer to call sub-goals – LEAD goals. Both LAG and LEAD goals are important. LAG goal is the final output, LEAD goals are which contribute to the LAG goal. You know that you have met the LAG goal at the end of the review period. LEAD goals are in-process measurement and usually predicts the achievement or otherwise of the LAG goal. For Eg – (a) Net Promoter score is the LAG goal, however Monthly C-SAT scores is a LEAD goal (b) Customer Acquisition is the LEAD Goal towards Revenue which is a LAG Goal.

In the above example, I would advise the Department head to take the Net Promoter goal and the Project manager to carry the C-SAT goal. This is on the premise that the actions and results of the team lead to a cumulative result. The higher you are in the ladder of leadership, the closer the goal is fully aligned with the company’s goals.

I do not prescribe individual employee carrying LAG goal and LEAD goal for the same KRA. It is like rewarding the employee for both the effort or actions and the result! It is a duplication of the KRA and that is not advisable, especially given the fact that no employee should ideally carry more than five-seven goals. The narrower the focus on wildly important goals, the higher are the chances for success.

When we can achieve that near-perfect balance of LAG and LEAD goals between managers and employees, we have addressed all components of a specific result area and that ensures higher chances of achieving the LAG goals.

How should zero-target goals be measured for performance in an organization?

Zero Target goals are ones wherein the lesser is the better. These are applicable to reduce defects and errors, achieve higher levels of compliance. Typical zero target goals are limiting expenses, minimize defects, reduce customer complaints, control attrition, minimize non-compliances, resolution time for tickets. These are extremely critical goals for support functions like Finance, Facilities, HR and Compliance departments. Also important for business leaders and managers to carry for company objectives of Process Complaints and/or Customer Experience. These help towards achieving continuous improvement across the organization and achievement on these goals reflect operational control.

For middle level management, where the key expectation is operations efficiency and effectiveness, these are important. Repetitive achievement of these goals over two or more performance cycles, make these a hygiene factor, forms part of base expectation and BAU (business as usual) and therefore need not be called out as goals anymore. For senior leaders, I would not prescribe more than one such zero-target goal, since they need to focus on goals that measure the efficacy of the growth and transformational strategies.

Should all goals be measurable? How to incorporate measurable parameters to otherwise subjective goals?

In my world of performance management, all goals need to be necessarily S.M.A.R.T goals. I follow Peter Drucker’s famous quote – What you can’t measure, you can’t control. So, when I facilitate goal setting for my clients, I ensure that not only all goals are measurable, but the calculation method and the source of data is also specified.  This is very important, since most often at the time of the annual performance evaluation or at periodic performance check-ins, one of the most common sources of debate between the manager and the employee is the actual data against the specific goal. When we do S.M.A.R.T goal setting, data is king and any ambiguity in data leads to conflict and stress, which defeats the very objective of goal setting and performance check-ins.

If there is a goal that is not measurable at the time of goal setting, then it is advisable to not pick up that goal, since the effort and time spent in developing systems and tools to measure the goal may not justify the yield. Any goal that needs to be measured must be fully supported by tracking methods and validated and auditable reports even if they are not automated.  The HR/Compliance teams are fully in their rights to audit the source of data that goes into a performance evaluation for reasons of fairness and transparency, since career growth and compensation decisions are based on these performance measures!

There are some subjective aspects of our work that may not be measurable because all that matters cannot always be measured! For example, you may want an employee to demonstrate needle movements on positive behaviour or give credit for organising in house company events or the transport executive for booking travel tickets. In these cases, we can set up a goal which allows for a manager’s subjective rating on a scale of 1 to 10 or we can incorporate a quick and simple survey to collect feedback from relevant stakeholders. In a nutshell, a qualitative rating is what we can use to measure subjective goals. These kinds of goals are usually set for people whose nature of work is highly transactional or for employees, where we must give credit for the effort and time being spent in accomplishing a task but extremely cumbersome to track and measure on a regular basis!