HRA Blog

Agile Goal Setting

Written by Barbara Irwin on .

I have a colleague that works in the tech industry. The other day, he and I were chatting about the intersection of technology and HR and he asked me if I ever heard of agile software development. I had not, and frankly, when he first started explaining it to me, I was completely at a loss. However, as he started to explain it in layman terms, I realized he had some interesting and relevant points as it relates to HR.

So what is agile development? I’m not a techie, so forgive the somewhat rudimentary explanation. When developers are creating a software application or a website, they have sets of functionality, needs and design elements that they want to incorporate into the product. Up until a few years ago, these developers simply rolled out the final product and presented it to users. The perfect of example of this “old” way of development was the original Healthcare.gov website that the government rolled out with much fanfare, only to discover that it was broken and offered a frustrating user experience.

With agile development, instead of just delivering a final product, developers work in short two week sprints and have a clear set of deliverables to achieve over this period of time. Instead of developing the entire product, they develop a portion of the product and present it to users for feedback. This allows them to understand what works, what doesn’t, and make adjustments along the way.  In the end when the product is finished, it’s as close to perfect as possible and meets the original set of goals set out from the beginning. Make sense? If not, there’s a few websites here, here and here that probably do a better job at explaining this process.

If I haven’t lost you yet, you’re probably wondering what the heck this has to do with HR? In our recent newsletter, I compared the Fantasy Football craze with the need to consistently and constantly evaluate your teams. This is much in the same light. When it comes to goal setting for your employees, most employees set goals during their performance reviews and only revisit them 12 months later at the next review. More often that not, those goals have not been met, or only partially met.

I really don’t think that this is either an employee or manager’s fault. Goal setting and performance reviews for so many people are a necessary evil. I’ve been in HR long enough to know for many, reviews are something that people view has to be done once a year because of an HR and/or company. For many employees they meet with their managers and then get back to their busy lives and their massive to-do lists. For many when the review period comes around they’ve looked at their goals that they set a year prior and went “oh yeah, I really wanted to do XYZ this year” but didn’t actually accomplish those goals.

I think it’s really intriguing to apply the same principles of agile software development do your organization’s performance review and workforce development processes. I understand that touching base with your employees every two weeks to see if they’re tracking towards their goals might not be realistic, but having an informal quarterly touch base with team members to see how they’re tracking is certainly doable. This ensures is that employees can keep their goals on the top of mind, identify if they’re tracking towards them, recognize if they need to pivot from, update, or create new goals, and perhaps more importantly, have the confidence to know that they’re on the right track.

In fact, in conversations with clients and colleagues, I’ve heard much of the same feedback. Their employees in this world of constant communications indeed want this regular, if not immediate, feedback from management. This goes a long way of ensuring that their individual contributions are aligned with the organization’s short and long-term goals.

So don’t wait around 12 months to see if your employees met their goals, be agile, be adaptive and help them succeed and achieve all their goals that they’ve set out to accomplish. If your entire workforce is consistently meeting their professional goals, just imagine the possibilities. I also think this agile process can be applied in other areas of HR outside of goal setting, but we’ll save that for another blog in the future.

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