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An Improved Report Card

If you want a quick insight injection on how to take goal setting and self-assessment to the next level, let this be your 5-minute primer.

25 January 2009

Most western education trains us to look back on a scheduled basis and evaluate how we have done so far. This process is healthy for assessing past work, but is practically useless for ensuring ongoing improvement.

It would be better if we had each child tape their current report card to the front of their desk where they can see it all the time, though self-esteem advocates would probably have a field day with that. An even more powerful approach would be to immediately set measurable goals with our kids based on report card results, then monitor progress toward those goals through management of intermediate objectives.

Even if you didn’t learn to do that in school, it’s not too late for you.

Start by retrieving your last performance evaluation from wherever you’ve stuffed it, and place it on the desk in front of you. Oh, if what you’re looking for is an employee review, don’t bother. Ninety-nine percent of those are completely worthless. You should be looking for an operating statement, a strategic plan with performance reporting (Balanced Scorecard is a great example of this), or a review of a project. Something with clear goals and objectives attached to it.

As you look at your performance evaluation, you are reviewing what Kaplan* refers to as outcome measures. These are measures that you can no longer influence – they are done, fini, komplett. If all you do is review them, you’ve simply wasted time finding the document. Let’s move on to something more productive.

Identify the four most important things you are planning to accomplish in the next year. If this is the first time you’ve thought about this, it might take a while. Do it! In contrast to simply reviewing your past results, this is NOT a waste of time. This is the most important thing you can do. These four things are your strategic objectives. Now, attach measurements to them. If one of your objectives is increase sales, you need to say by how much. If one of your objectives is to open a new market, you need to define how many customers you are adding, or quantify the anticipated growth in sales. If your objective is to cut costs, you need to offer a percentage of reduction or specify what your target operating budget will be in real dollars. These measurements are referred to as strategic measurements (channeling Kaplan again).

Once you have figured out your strategic objectives and measurements (or if you already know them), write the 3-5 things you must do to accomplish each one. These are your goals. Again, you must attach measurements to make them meaningful. For instance, if your objective is to increase active customers by 10%, your goals might be:

  • Prospect to 15,000 new customers each month
  • Send quarterly reactivation offers to customers who have not purchased in 12-18 months
  • Increase advertising exposure by 15% while maintaining current advertising budget (this is possible, by the way)

Those measurable goals are referred to as performance drivers.

Now you tape your report card to your desk. You make a plan for each upcoming period (I recommend a month, but some folks do this quarterly). The plan must include specific detail regarding what you will do to achieve each of the performance drivers. You break it down by week, so each week you can see an overview of what you are doing that week alongside an overview of what you will be doing that month. Every time you look up from your work, you have a visual reminder of what you are supposed to be doing. When you find yourself consumed by answering email, filing, and producing reports, you have that constant reminder of what is a priority, and you refocus.

If you want to read entire scholarly tomes on how to do this, they are readily available. My favorite is The Balanced Scorecard by the aforementioned Bob Kaplan and his writing buddy David P. Norton. But if you just want a quick insight injection on how to take goal setting and self-assessment to the next level, let this be your 5-minute primer.

*Robert S. Kaplan & David P. Norton, The Balanced Scorecard, 1996, Harvard Business School Press

© 2009. Andrea M. Hill

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