Ishtiak Ahmed Taher, Lead Consultant, WorkSMART Consulting

Ishtiak
Ishtiak Ahmed Taher, Lead Consultant, WorkSMART Consulting

Ishtiak Ahmed Taher, SHRM-SCP is an expert consultant and trainer in leadership, reward & performance management, workplace communications, human resources management and labor law-related subjects in the corporate sector in Bangladesh. He has more than two decades of experience as a trainer and HR professional in Pharmaceuticals, Shipping & Logistics and Development sector in Bangladesh. Ishtiak’s core competencies include, but not limited to, Organization Development, Performance Management, Total Rewards, Learning and Development, and Labour Relations. 

Ishtiak worked across organizations like Square Pharmaceuticals, Maersk Line, Zuellig Pharma & Expo Lanka Group, United Nation’s World Food Program (WFP) etc.

An MBA graduate from the Institution of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka; Ishtiak has also an LLB from National University. He is also a certified SHRM-SCP (senior certified HR professional) and also a certified SHRM Certification trainer from the prestigious SHRM (Society for Human Resources Management, world’s leading forum for HR professionals and HR certification body, based in the USA). 

Currently, Ishtiak is the Lead Consultant at WorkSMART Consulting, a management and HR consulting firm in Bangladesh.  

Ishtiak can be reached at iat1502@gmail.com

In this interview, Ishtiak shares with us, his insights on different aspects of Goal Settings:


In your opinion, should goal settings be a collaborative process between managers and employees? What are the advantages of having a collaborative goal-setting process in an organization?

Goal setting is perhaps the most critical component of an organization’s overall performance management process. And no doubt, goal setting at individual employee level works best when there is a collaboration between the employee and his or her manager. This collaborative approach is not a mere “nice” thing to do, there is a clear business case why it is imperative for both the manager and the employee to collaborate

Some of the most important advantages of collaboration while setting performance goals are:

  • This is a great opportunity for the manager to discuss the overall business strategy with the employee. He can explain how the team’s as well as the employee’s works contribute to the achievement of this strategy.
  • The employee gets an opportunity to be heard as she can share her observations about the goals. As the person on the ground, the employee may explain how she can effectively influence and contribute to the goals as well as explore further opportunities. She can also explain her concerns about any specific aspect of the goals. In response, the manager can also share his or her concerns with the employee. 
  • This collaboration helps both parties to make a threadbare assessment of each goal, its relevance to the strategy, resource requirements and prioritize among goals. 
  • The manager and the employee get an opportunity to discuss about the employee’s personal development needs.  They can jointly formulate a plan to bridge the competency gaps for the employee to effectively achieve the goals. 
  • Both parties agree on periodical milestones that need to be achieved to eliminate “drift” from achieving the goals
  • As the manager gets the opportunity to collaborate with all the team members, s/he can get a bird’s eye view to ensure there is an equitable distribution of goals within the team. No team member should be over-burdened with unreasonably difficult goals relative to others.
  • This opportunity of being heard and being able to actively taking part in the goal-setting process brings a sense of ownership within the employee. This also makes him or her more engaged and committed towards achieving the goals. 

Overall, collaboration makes the goal-setting process very transparent and establishes clear accountability and mutual trust among the manager and the employee. As a result, this also enhances the likelihood of achievement or even exceeding the targets set against the goals.

Is it always practical and effective to have a collaborative approach of goal setting? What are the challenges of collaborative goal setting?

Collaboration between the manager and the employee is always the best way of setting performance goals. But, in certain circumstances, this approach of collaboration may become very challenging. For example, if the organization is dealing with some very turbulent business scenario where its very survival is at risk, that may not be a great time for collaborative goals setting. 

There is also an element of “negotiation” in the collaborative goals setting process. So, like “good faith bargaining”, the collaboration between the manager and his/her employees should be done in good faith. IT is not unusual to see when there is pre-existing bad relation between the manager and the employee. This lack of mutual trust is reflected on how they approach the goal-setting process. The manager may see this process as an opportunity to impose unreasonable goals on the employee. On the other hand, the employee may also disagree with whatever goal the manager may bring on the table. In summary, instead of collaborating with each other either both of them see this occasion as an opportunity to manifest their hostility to each other. From my experience, I had seen goals are being “ping-ponged” between the manager and the employee without any clear end in sight. 

Direct intervention is required from the manager’s manager with full support from HR to resolve such stalemate.  

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

Given that we are currently passing through some “football fever” (simultaneous hosting of major tournaments like EURO 2020 and Copa America 2021), sub-goals are like the build-up and the assist that lead to the goal in footballing parallel of performance management. So, while goal is the final desirable outcome, sub-goals are the behaviors or tasks that will help to achieve that over-arching goal. These are the smaller tasks, which combined, help you achieve the primary goal.

Let us consider a scenario in a manufacturing plant. There is an alarming rate of work-related injury incidents in this plant where you are the Production Manager. The Director Operations, your manager, sets following goal for you:

“Reduce work-related injury incidents by 70% across the plant within next 12 months”

You discuss the goal with your manager, go through the work-injury incident log, analyze the reasons and agree jointly to set following sub-goals:

  • Review the existing safety SOPs, benchmark them with the available best practices and bring in changes where necessary
  • Design and deliver adequate work-related risk awareness trainings for all workers in the plant
  • Install necessary warning signage to aware workers about the existing risks
  • Conduct a thorough risk assessments of different installations throughout the plant
  • Ensure availability of adequate PPEs and their proper usage by the workers
  • Install a thorough process of regular inspection, reporting and record-keeping of all inspections
  • Conduct weekly safety meeting to analyze progress on work-injury incidents and take further actions

If you accomplish the tasks mentioned above as sub-goals, you are expected to achieve the primary goal of reducing work-related injury incidents across the plant. 

To sum up, if we try to reach a stretched goal in one giant leap, the risk of failure is much higher. And we then might have to choose a trial-and-error approach which could be both time consuming and also drain out our resources without yielding the desired result. Instead, if we break down the goal into smaller tasks or sub-goals, not only we will achieve our goal much quicker, we will also have better control over the process of achieving the goal.

What is a zero-target goal? Is zero-target goal desirable?

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.

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

Global management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”. So, yes, all goals should be measurable. In a good performance management system, all goals should be as objective and measurable as possible. As leaders, our responsibility is to try to eliminate any subjectivity from the performance management system. 

However, the reality is performance and goals are not always about numbers. Frequently we come across goals that are qualitative or subjective in nature. Author Douglas W Hubbard, in his book How to Measure Anything said, “Like many hard problems in business or life in general, seemingly impossible measurements start with asking the right questions”. So, that is the first step towards measuring a subjective goal. And we also must remember that concept of measurement is about “uncertainty reduction” and not necessarily “complete elimination of uncertainty”. Simply put, “some measurement” is better than “no measurement”.

For example, how do you measure “values” of an employee? In such cases, we can take the help of a tool named “Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales” or BARS. According to PerformYard:

“BARS, are a type of performance management scale that use behavior “statements” as a reference point instead of generic descriptors commonly found on traditional rating scales. Designed to add the benefits of both qualitative and quantitative information to the appraisal process. BARS measures an employee’s performance against specific examples of behavior that are given a number rating for the purpose of collecting data.”

So, for measuring an employee’s compliance with company’s values, a BARS can be developed like the one shown below:

You can reinforce above BARS by adding more examples and explanation to make it more user-friendly for both the managers and the employees. However, this is just an example. Many organizations are using or exploring more advanced statistical tools to make their respective performance management system as objective as possible.

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