What to do when Working Harder Doesn’t Work
Mary feels like a caged animal. Barry, her inexperienced manager, just set a goal of increasing her production by 15%. She already works overtime!
Mary asks, “What do you suggest I stop doing? I already work overtime. What new resources are you willing to provide?”
Barry concludes Mary is resistant.
All Mary wants to do is succeed.
Mary’s sincere questions confused Barry. He ended the meeting. The topic never came up again.
A pushy manager would have said, “I don’t care how you do it, just get it done.”
Barry might have succeeded if he set learning goals along with performance goals.
(The story is true. The names aren’t.)
- Clarify focus. A good goal tells you what matters now.
- Increase frequency.
- Elevate energy
- Eliminate distraction.
- Enhance endurance.
Set high performance goals when:
- Skills have been developed.
- Strategy is clear.
- Processes are tested.
- Innovation isn’t necessary.
Learning goals focus on discovering new ways to achieve desired results.
Set high learning goals when:
- Innovation is required.
- Managers are inexperienced.
- Teams are newly formed.
- Employees are new.
- Systems and processes are untested.
Focus learning goals on behaviors that deliver results in new ways.
- Develop three new strategies to find 15% more clients this quarter.
- What four things could we try to increase efficiency by 2% this month?
- Create three ways our virtual teams might communicate and connect this week, that we aren’t already doing.
- Focus on learning when launching into new areas.
- Set deadlines.
- Seek constant feedback.
- Evaluate results. Learn what doesn’t work; embrace what does. If everything works, you didn’t try enough stuff.
- Highlight learning. “What have we learned this week?”
Leaders who value improvement and innovation set high learning goals.
When working harder doesn’t work, try learning.
What might a high learning goal look like in your context?
**This post is inspired by, “Learning versus performance goals: When should each be used?” Thanks to Joe McBreen for sending it to me.
No amount of shoving will get the square peg properly into the round hole. We have to figure out how to widdle away the corners to make it round.
Thanks Cat. Helpful imagery. 🙂
Very interesting and informative post. Liked the adequate good visual!
Learning goals are good and appreciable for getting additional exposure and improving the professional image. However, it has to be recognized and rewarded. Many a times, things go unnoticed and one is taken for granted.
Taking additional responsibilities is a good way of advancing the career. It can be voluntarily or can come from the boss to a trusted employee. Never be hesitant yet work smartly in completing the assignment successfully in a stipulated time-frame or pre-set deadline. Also, provide the progress information and set an example of dedicated, loyal employee.
Thanks Dr. Asher. You open a new channel of thinking. How do leaders reward/recognize/honor learning in their organization. Usually, it’s just results that receive reward. But, as you suggest, learning should be recognized as well.
The tips in this post should be chiseled in stone on most people’s houses! This is some quality information!
One thing that’s missing in the above conversation is that if the employee already knew the answers to the questions you posted, they would already be doing it, not asking for assistance. When stressed and feeling time pressures already, telling them to come up with better strategies equates to adding one more thing to an already overflowing plate, at least in their mind. A state of overwhelm typically results in more “foggy” than “clear” thinking. Sounds like coaching may be needed for both parties to perform differently.
There’s an old joke about how we have learned how to do more and more, with less and less, and we can now do anything with nothing. The problem is that sometimes, some people actually think like that. Managers will believe that there is always more that can be got out of the system with no additional input. This is not the case. If any system is already running flat-out, and you want more, you need to systematically assess how you use the existing resources to get more out.
I’ve seen this many times especially in nonprofit organizations where the board has set high goals for the ED, yet failed to understand that the resources needed to achieve them are not in place-unfunded/unsupported mandates. In this situation it isn’t just the employee who needs to learn, it is also the manager. The challenge is how can the employee help the manager learn what he/she needs. That won’t happen by questioning-it has to be a direct conversation, which is predicated on the relationship being a mutually trusting one.
Nice take on the whole Learning Goals vs. Performance Goals, Dan! I appreciate your insights very much.
A learning work environment is a powerhouse! It bursts at the seams with commitment and loyalty. It self-pollinates with curiosity and innovativeness, also flexibility and resourcefulness. And, it rewards individuals, teams/groups, and the organization with steady growth AND stability.
I love this stuff – inspires me daily! One very valuable thing missing from the tips, I think, is the notion that all goals/objectives should be set by the individual who is in charge of meeting it. This is sort of hinted at by KathyM, but I think it’s worth making the point explicitly. The best way to ensure a goal is worked towards seriously is to generate a sense of personal ownwership and the best way to achieve that is to have team members set their own goals – consistent with team and company objectives and with agreement, of course. We’re just starting to implement OKRs in one part of our business and this is one of several key pillars of the initiative.