Most organizations speak clearly and eloquently about their most valuable asset – their people. They have a genuine desire to create a culture that retains the brightest and best employees, and can articulate how their employee development initiatives either ensure the organization flourishes, or relegate it to floundering.
What predicts flourishing or floundering? It’s the use of fuzzy thinking regarding your goals, objectives and the employee development initiatives that support them.
I recently heard a senior leadership team say “we want our employees to produce valuable work.” I asked how the executives defined valuable? For the next thirty minutes the conversation that took several twists and turns but ended with the CFO claiming that valuable is defined as having high degrees of quality and accuracy, and the CMO claiming that valuable meant building quality and meaningful relationships with potential and current customers.
Most executives miss the point regarding what a learning objective really is. An objective is something that is behaviorally specific – not general, broad, or fuzzy. An objective is measurable and describes something tangible an employee does. Robert Mager in his book Preparing Instructional Objectives gives the example of being able to tie a knot. It’s measurable and behaviorally specific because you can see knot-tying behavior and therefore can determine whether it meets your expectations.
Objectives describe the behaviors and or performance you want to see and involves having leaders think seriously and deeply about what it is they want to have employees do. If the end result of any employee development work is go beyond the talk-aboutto the do-about then the following three recommendations can serve you well:
1. Differentiate between willingness and ability. Some employees have the ability to do a task but aren’t willing. Some have the willingness and no ability. Whenever you find employees who lack willingness you no longer have a training or development issue – you have a motivation issue that needs addressing.
2. Use clear language. For example, language such as “be able to discuss and illustrate an understanding of Excel and Word” is fuzzy language. Explicit language such as “create two spreadsheets importing data from two different formats and export this into a pie chart within Word” . You have to be clear about what performance you want.
3. Don’t confuse instructional and administrative objectives. Instructional objectives are those that focus on employee performance and administrative objectives focus on instructor/teacher/facilitator performance. The most important objectives are the ones that focus on employee performance.
How clear are your objectives?