Update From Brett

Goal Setting: Aim Higher Than You Might Think

Reach higher with your goals and you can achieve great things.

It is End of Year Review time and as we complete our reviews we also turn our attention to goal setting for next year. Reviews and forecasts are a big topic of discussion among the Director Team, as FY12 has been both rewarding and chaotic with regards to our performance.

In terms of total achievement it feels like one of our best years. We took on a lot of work, didn't make as many goals as we usually do, but the overall production was higher than many other years, maybe the best ever. I want to reassure everybody that when we are aggressive with our goals it is ok if we do not achieve them all as long as we still make most of them. In FY12, we did a lot of big projects yet operations stayed stable, peripheral things got done, and generally we were stretched but not broken.

However, I've worked with some groups in OIT that were unable to set availability targets for services because the SLAs were new and they are afraid of missing their targets. This is not acceptable and if you have difficulty setting your targets I will ultimately be forced to set them for you.

Goal setting is a prediction of throughput. We'd like to optimize the throughput and understand its levers...employee motivation, funding, governance, internal friction with other groups, etc. So if having too much work leads to personal frustration that lowers morale and productivity, you cannot optimize. On the other end, if we took on only one or two projects a year, we would underachieve.

As a result of our attempts at optimization, there are varying layers of stress. By having a few goals we cannot meet, we determine our true capabilities and boundaries of throughput. There are stretching levels of stress and breaking levels of stress. If we always met every goal we wouldn't know the full extent of our ability.

One of my favorite performance review responses was that, "one of the traits of good leaders is that they accept some failures as the inevitable result of risk taking." That may be the motto of the Brett School of Management, but it is also true for everyone. There is no leader without followers, no team without staff, and we have to be just as willing to look at a batting average that's not 1.000 and know that it's still good (as they say in Bull Durham, practice your sports cliches). We can't fail to have a target. We have to put a stake in the ground, have courage, and believe that the end result will be higher productivity.

Metrics are not easy for everyone. When I think about communications, MarComm has a hard time trying to find meaningful metrics. They can count some things, such as meeting a production schedule. But once they have achieved this goal, a new threshold must be established. Even counting hits and readership has finite limits for improvement. There is a threshold of success that one must hold in place while setting new goals.

When we think about operational work, we have to grow outward (like a pearl), into a third area of achievement where exceptional performance is achieved. A lot of times, this is the frontier. Once you get wilderness, you don't know the path so you have to explore. Like we did this year with incident SLA, you have to put a stake in the ground. In month zero, take a chance, accept some failure as the ultimate result of risk-taking, and be willing to have the professionalism and courage to live in that undefined frontier space, while we figure out what the possibilities of our performance levels are. We set Incident SLA ranges based on little or no data and did just fine.

By setting aggressive targets in FY12, we collected data that can help us plan for FY13. Having actual "story points" (we scored every major objective and we know how many points we achieved and we can do the same things next year), we will soon be better equipped to perform macro-level divisional goal setting, which we have never had.

So be brave this year in your goal-setting and try to optimize your own performance. Aim a bit higher than you think you can produce and you could find yourself doing excellent work and getting compensated for it.

- Brett Coryell, Deputy CIO, OIT