How to Set Performance Goals: Employee Reviews Are More Than Annual Critiques

By Schachter, Debbie | Information Outlook, September 2004 | Go to article overview
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How to Set Performance Goals: Employee Reviews Are More Than Annual Critiques

Schachter, Debbie, Information Outlook

A manager and a supervisor of a large library system meet to discuss a library's decreasing service statistics. The supervisor comments, "I don't know what the problem is. Staff seem to be really busy but I'm not sure exactly what they're doing."


An employee asks her supervisor for feedback on a recent initiative that she developed for the department. The supervisor responds, "It seems fine, but it turns out that it's not what the manager wants us to be doing."

A supervisor meets with one of her library technicians and informs her that she is behind in her work and needs to process a minimum number of items a day, no excuses.

These examples illustrate situations that can arise when an organization has not developed a performance management system. Lack of clarity in setting and developing staff goals, lack of alignment between organizational goals and employee goals, lack of communication on priorities (leading to employee disgruntlement), all can be avoided through the effective implementation of a performance management system.

A performance management system is defined as "the process through which companies ensure that employees are working towards organizational goals." (1)

It includes more than just a performance appraisal. The performance management system is also composed of "strategic plans, manager accountability, pay, promotion, training/development, and discipline." (2)

Most organizations have some type of formal or informal performance reviews, but a performance management system attempts to provide the overarching structure for planning and analysis of activities for each individual, in the context of the organizational whole. Through continual assessment, the system ensures that successes are recognized and problems are addressed early. Better planning at the beginning of the year, including setting realistic goals for each employee, ensures measurable positive successes for the library and its staff, aligned with the larger organizational goals.

If performance management systems hold the promise for such great results, why do they often receive such negative press? Even a casual review of the literature on human resource management shows a number of concerns on the use of performance management systems. Many concerns arise not so much from the nature of the performance management system but the consistency and the manner in which it is implemented.

Be aware of the pitfalls. Consider the negative effects of a faulty or badly planned performance management system by imagining you and your staff experiencing the following situations:

" The library's performance management system consists of the performance appraisal alone, and is used primarily to provide negative feedback on employee behaviours.

" The system only considers employees' past performance without developing current and future plans.

" The system is used once or twice a year, with no regular feedback and coaching provided throughout the year.

" A forced ranking system ensures most employees are defined as mediocre.

" The system does not link performance to compensation or other rewards.

" The system is not used to assist employees to create goals and objectives linked to organizational goals.

" The system does not get revised over time to better suit the library that has implemented it.

Goal Setting

The main purpose of a performance management system is to align employee and departmental goals to organizational goals. This means that the performance management system must first have the commitment of the top library managers; it must be implemented from the top down.


Performance management begins with the chief librarian or senior executive linking her goals or objectives to the strategic goals of the organization.

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