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Smarten yourself up…

As an estate agency manager or team leader, your ability to issue your team members with clear objectives is a vital ingredient to your success. But how can you guarantee effectiveness in this area?

“If it’s quiet on Sunday, will you sort the window display out?” the manager asked one of his staff late one Friday afternoon. I happened to be in the office on a consultancy visit, and made a mental note to use that question as a great real-life example on the following week’s management training course….a great example that is of how not to get something achieved! Given that one of the most commonly recognised definitions of management is “getting other people to do things for you”, this manager was clearly going to have a problem.

The forthcoming training course was to include a session on agreeing staff objectives successfully, a key area of people management but frequently one which causes problems.

Any objective that a manager is attempting to agree with a member of staff must follow a set of simple but effective guidelines. These apply to an objective that needs to be achieved that day, that month or over the subsequent quarter, be they agreed in a morning meeting, during a staff appraisal or merely as a result of an ad hoc discussion in the car park.

Firstly, the language must be specific. Any ambiguity may lead to a misunderstanding on the part of the employee as to exactly what needs to be done. In the example above, the words are so woolly as to be nigh on meaningless – what does “quiet on Sunday” mean? Furthermore, what does the manager have in mind as to how the negotiator should “sort the window display out?” An employee’s perception of this issue may differ significantly from that of the manager. Clarity of message is the key.

The next key element of objective setting is that they are measurable. It must be clear how success or failure of the objective will be assessed, so neither manager nor employee is in any doubt as to the outcome. Asking a valuer to “improve your conversion rate next quarter” could mean that just one extra percentage point from valuation appointments to instructions during that period will have that valuer feeling a sense of achievement, whilst the manager was hoping for a more significant increase. Of course, the non-specific language will also doubtless lead to problems as the valuer has been left with an easy route to help him or her achieve this objective – overvaluing or undercutting fees will achieve the objective but not help in branch performance in the long term.

Thirdly, all objectives must be agreed. Managers who simply impose targets upon their staff will risk experiencing resistance and demotivation on the part of the recipients, most noteably if the employee in question perceives the objectives to be too difficult to achieve or irrelevant to their work. A two-way discussion about what the staff member feels about the situation should take place, perhaps including the manager asking what the employee feels they could achieve in terms of targets. Often the response from the employee will be a higher figure than the manager intended to suggest – this will mean the subordinate will more readily “own” and believe in the agreed objective.

Objectives must also be realistic. Consideration should be given to previous performance, current workload, knowledge and experience, forthcoming leave and so on to ensure any work objectives are not pitched as too hard or too easy to achieve. Unrealistically difficult objectives will be worthless as they will be viewed with disdain from the outset. Soft targets which will be comfortably achieved can lead to staff coasting through complacency. All objectives should be achievable with appropriate effort.

Finally, there must be a timescale incorporated into each staff objective. This simply means that each goal is to be achieved within a certain deadline after which the success or failure will be measured.

In summary objectives must be SMART – specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and with a timescale attached.

If we consider the earlier example of “improve your conversion rate next quarter”, which is riddled with holes as an effective objective, it can be rewritten to follow the above principles as follows – “The conversion rate from valuation appointments to instructions to be increased from 43% to 50% during the period July 1st to September 30th, while maintaining an average fee of X% and a withdrawal rate of no higher than Y%”.

Assuming that this objective is presented to the valuer in the context of a two way conversation, and that he or she is comfortable that the target is “achievable with appropriate effort”, then it becomes a SMART objective.

These five simple rules will ensure effective objective setting, which will help staff focus on striving towards pre-determined goals. There will be no lack of clarity in employees’ minds as to whether they have met the required performance standards or not and ultimately make a manager’s life easier.

Julian O’Dell
TM training & development