You work relentlessly throughout the year, making your customers happy with the best service you can provide, and your performance score looks great. One day you receive one complaint from a customer and baam! it hurts your performance score harder than losing your most precious possession. Welcome to the world of Zero-target goals where employees are expected to achieve nothing but zero on certain goals. Customer service, among various others, is one such goal where employees are expected to receive 100% positive feedback from customers. Any complaints and the scores are impacted heavily. These type of goals has always been a point of controversy on the grounds of ethicality. So, GroSum asked the experts to share their opinions on the topic. Let us take a look at What the Experts Think: 1. Ishtiak Ahmed Taher, Lead Consultant, WorkSMART Consulting “The phrase “zero-target” may evoke some confusions among us. The usual question that comes to our mind, “Does zero-target mean no target? But, how can a goal become a goal without any target?”. Your confusions are completely justified. But we are not talking about “no-target” here, rather we are referring to a goal whose target is “zero”. Let me explain. Which employer would not want to have a “zero” work-related injury record? Which business would not want to have “zero” bad review in social media? Which football team would not want to maintain a “clean sheet” in every game they play? The list can go on. So, in case of a metric where any positive number corresponds to a negative value, a result of “zero” is usually a positive thing. However, a drive for “zero-target” should be seen in perspective. As mentioned before, in certain scenario, a target or a result of zero is desirable. But the question is, up to what point? Let us consider the work-related injury incident example I discussed in the previous question. The scenario explains that the plant had an alarming rate of work-related injury incidents. Let’s say the number was 500 in last calendar year. And further insight shows that there is a culture of complete apathy towards workers’ safety. So, a bit of initial investigation confirms that a massive effort is needed to eliminate the work-related injuries. The situation demands a complete “culture-shift” within the entire workforce. Now, while a result of “zero” injury incident throughout an entire calendar year is desirable, but is this target practical here? Here a zero-target may contradict the “A” (i.e. Achievable) component of SMART goal. And this unrealistic target may also drive wrong behaviors among the supervisors in the plant. They may completely give up on safety as they see this as an impossible goal to achieve or worse, they may resort to “under-reporting” of work-related injury incidents. So, it can be said that while a “zero-target” goal in certain scenario in business is a desirable outcome, but its likelihood of success should be judged in context of the existing benchmark.” 2. Ryan Barretto, Strength Strategy Coach, Facilitator, Situational Leadership & Corporate Trainer, HR Consultant, The Strengths Decoder “Here are my thoughts about setting zero-target goals: 1) What is the “why” for the goal to exist? 2) How exactly is the goal being defined? 3) How is the goal being measured? 4) What are the various steps required to accomplish the goal? How much control does the employee have on these steps? 5) How much impact/influence is there from external factors (current and future), including business & political environment, on the accomplishment of these goals? 6) Does the employee have any control on these factors? If so, to what degree can they influence or impact these factors to get an effective outcome? 7) What support can the immediate manager and the leadership team provide to the employee to achieve these zero-target goals? How will they ensure that they will provide the support sufficiently in time? 8) Will this support be included in the immediate manager and leadership teams’ goal sheets? What will be the criteria for measuring this goal here? As you can see, these questions can be used to analyze and review any types of goals, not just zero-target goals. For the question in the poll above, unless the goals were thoroughly considered from the lens of these questions, it would be difficult to assign some rating.” 3. Shivani Malhotra, CEO & Co-Founder, Positive Vibes Consulting “Zero Target is a mindset that gets developed gradually in an organization with the continuous efforts and initiatives of the top management. Any goals related to productivity and quality improvement cannot be executed smoothly without the involvement of management or key stakeholders in most organisations. Management needs to create awareness around goals on Quality of service and the expected Productivity standards. Various orientation & sensitisation sessions need to be conducted on a regular basis to create a “First Time Right” mindset as part of the culture or DNA of the organisation. “Zero Target” goals have an aspirational element to them. Organisations need to make the “perfect-performance aspiration” clear in the goal, and set a trajectory of improvement targets for the measure. Progress towards such goals should be graded or step-wise along with a reasonably challenging time frame. For Eg. the goal might be “To have happy customers”. And the measure might be “Number of Customer Complaints in a year” which could have a target of 5 in the first year, and a target of 2 for the year after, and so on, never losing the aspiration for 0. This is how a “Zero Target” performance evaluation needs to be reflected upon, in my opinion.” 4. Shampi Venkatesh, Founder & ICF Certified Leadership and Executive Coach, P-Quotient “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.” 5. Poorna Pushkala, Senior VP HR & Training and Branding, Samunnati Financial Intermediation & Services Private Limited “The performance on these zero-target goals are measured by way of retaining the standards (mostly instances where there is a need to be 100% or moving towards 0% – 100% in case of compliances; reducing trends or 0% in case of TATs, Grievances, Complaints etc.,). We do not differentiate these from other sets of goals and these are given the same importance and follow the same process.” 6. Vivek Anand, Founder & Chief Mentor, Skillhub Learning “Numbers can be distracting. Time to focus more on Impact and that may not be measurable in short term. Time to give priority to Quality & Impact over numbers” 7. Mukund Menon, Founder, Liveware People “Zero target goals are often called CTQ goals ( Critical to Quality), where the target cannot be anything less than zero. For example, if you are setting goals for employees located in the factory and the company wants to drive safely as an agenda, one of the goals for people working in the factory will be – ‘there will zero life incident in the year for all those who work in our premises and ensure everyone goes home safe” which means we should avoid all life incidents ( fatal accidents ) at all cost. We cannot have a target other than zero. This will also be a message to the employees in the company, that safety orientation is of importance and the impetus given to safety in the company. The zero targets are those which should be considered non-negotiable. Don’t do zero unless it is reasonable. We cannot have a zero complaint from customers as a goal, considering there will be complaints from customers. Zero targets should be realistic and they are those which any incident creates a major impact to the people, business, image or company.” 8. Ravi C Dasgupta, Founder & Chief Consultant, RCD HR Consulting “Zero deaths, Zero defects, Zero waste, or 100% compliance can all be examples of goals where the target is perfection. Anything less than that seems inappropriate. For example, how would it sound if the goal for workplace injuries in a factory was 5 per month? Sounds like you need to injure 5 people to meet the goal, right? But if one sets the goal as 0 are you setting up the employee for failure? Aiming at absolute perfection in your goal setting may lead to unwanted results. For example, would information on a workplace injury get suppressed, or reported as something else? I believe that all goals and targets should inspire and motivate improvement. So instead of aiming for perfection which may seem unattainable and unrealistic, a significant improvement over the actuals of the previous year would be a better way to set the target rather than a zero-target goal. So if there were say 10 workplace accidents a month in the previous year setting a target like “ 30% reduction in workplace injuries from 10 in the previous year to 7”. Each year, one can lift the bar closer to the absolute zero target, without risking demoralising the employee, or making them feel compelled to fudge the results so as not to get penalised in the performance cycle.“ 9. Shivangi Page – Auty, Founder Director, North Star People Solutions “For zero-target goals, it is possible to measure both quantitative and qualitative results. Soft, intangible results can also be converted into measurables. E.g. Employee Engagement is a soft goal that can be measured through indexes/scores of a survey.” 10. Jacob Jacob, Group CHRO, Malabar Group “There are areas where you cannot have Zero-Target goals it is errors or customer complaints unless there is a reporting. Only then can you really innovate and improve your customer services. So, some of these zero target goals from a process perspective does not really help the organization because then the people will work towards trying to hide the truth and trying to ensure that the customers give fudged feedback. The culture or fabric of the organisation is degraded when you say that there will be zero-tolerance on customer complaints and errors that are actually counterproductive to the organization. Zero-tolerance needs to be exercised on things like theft, integral issues, sexual abuse and so on that has an impact on the behaviour and creates a negative image of the organization. So, zero-target goals make sense for them and not for goals like customer complaints and errors. There has to be some level of confidence only then can you pick those up in weights and come up with newer means of understanding the process of what the customer complaints are about? If training is deficient? If there is a deficiency in some of the other processes that the person is working in the organization. So, all of this will ensure there is an ethos of collaboration and reporting for the betterment of the organization. Otherwise, for me, zero-target goals don’t mean anything because it is like pushing people to hide the process & truth and only focusing on outcomes and achieving them somehow or the other that discourages good organizational ethos to a large extent.” 11. M P Sriram, Co-Founder & Partner, Aventus Partners “From my learning and experience, it is very rare for an organization to achieve a zero-target consistently. For example – When we are talking about customer complaints, while it might be nice to say that I have a zero target on customer complaints but in practice, customer preferences are evolving daily. We are all human beings and might not be at our best everyday. Somedays we might be at our best in the morning but after might be bad for whatever reasons. So, having a zero target is not practical. You can instead have a target trending closer to zero. For example, the six sigma concept that was crafted 20 years ago is an excellent concept that doesn’t talk about having zero-defect but about 1 defect in the mean. So, here we are talking about reducing the number of complaints and bringing them as close to zero as possible but absolute zero would not be possible because you will be placing unrealistic expectations on your people. You need people to believe in these goals, believe that these goals are possible, doable, achievable and in control of theirs so that they can have an impact on the same. So, a zero target goal is nice to talk about but it is more sensible to have a goal that is more realistic like six-sigma but it has to be customised as per your context.” 12. Dr. Padmaja Palekar, HR Expert & Advisor; Managing Director, BaggedIT Solutions Pvt Limited “When you are talking about zero target goals, the first thing that organisations need to have clarity on is whether they have their metrics in place to capture all this information. If they say that I want no complaints from the customer, the question that arises is whether their product is so good that the customer is not going to put up a complaint. Now instead of putting that as metrics, the organisations might want to think of tracking the quality of the complaints, assess the reason for the customer complaint and then say that these are the kinds of complaints that are coming in, out of which we think that these, say,5 categories are in our control and we will put up a zero target or minimal 2% of error is what we will give the customer service executive to solve these complaints. But what is not in our control will not be tracked. Imagine a call centre fellow calls me today and tries to sell a credit card, I am in a bad mood and I scream at him saying why the hell did you call me, why did you call me without informing me or asking me if I am busy. Is it that fellow’s mistake? No. It was my mistake because I was in a bad mood and I reprimanded him. Now he will get reprimanded in his organizations because these calls get recorded. The organization doesn’t analyse whether the customer’s mood was in the executives’ control, which wasn’t. So that is the whole purpose of categorising the feedback you are getting or categorising the zero target goals that the employees are given. Giving a zero error goal to the accounts department is possible because easy to track and a mistake there is going to be fatal. Since there is technology to support and the human eye to look at it. Inspite of this, I will still not recommend a fully zero target goal there, but where you can track it, you can have it. However, when you are evaluating I think it is very important for managers to consider the reasons why somebody has not been able to achieve it. And that need not necessarily be for only zero target goals but also all goals because in every goal multiple factors impact its achievement. Not everything is in an individual’s hands despite efforts. But if the efforts of what is achieved are not looked after by the manager then the employee’s effort goes down the drain. Hence, it is important to capture all this information before giving any rating.” Conclusion In conclusion, the majority of experts question the practicality of the zero-target goals set by the organizations since it not only sets unrealistic expectations from the employees but also takes a huge toll on their mental well-being due to the immense pressure they experience to realise these idealistic targets. Instead of focusing on setting Zero-Targets, companies should try reducing the undesirable targets year after year with a look-out to near achieve absolute perfection, if not wholly. Furthermore, employees are motivated to work more effectively and yield better results if the organization recognizes their efforts and feedback they received throughout the year rather than focus on a single or just a few undesirable incidents.