Improve your appraisals with one small word

Something that’s been coming up in Zoomly’s workshops recently is goals. Not in a good way; we’re talking about goals that are unclear, too vague and utterly unhelpful. Whether the topic is appraisal discussions, coaching skills for 1:1 conversations or simply giving feedback (yes, you can have a Zoomly workshop on each of those topics), bad examples abound.

Appraisals seem to bring out the worst culprits. Here are some examples*:

  • ‘Be the go-to person for XYZ.’
  • ‘Have more gravitas.’
  • ‘Be more strategic.’
  • ‘Show us you’ve got what it takes.’
  • ‘Be less reactive.’
  • And my personal favourite: ‘Be more statesmanlike.’

Pity the recipient of this nonsense: they may know that their manager has seen fit to set them a goal to work towards. But they’ve no idea how to reach it.

When I hear participants drifting towards this twaddle, or sharing examples of it being heaped on them, it’s time to pause for thought and a provocation: ‘Does the recipient know what they need to DO?’  Of course they don’t. They’re aware that something needs to change but they don’t know what to do.

Here’s a simple way to turn an unclear goal into a clear one. First, add the word ‘by’ and then complete the sentence by using a verb.

  • ‘Be the go-to person for XYZ by writing a blog post and presentation about it that we can circulate to clients next month.’
  • ‘Have more gravitas by backing up your opinions with evidence.’
  • ‘Be more strategic by using research insights to identify business opportunities by the next sales update.’
  • ‘Show us you’ve got what it takes by getting three meetings with prospects next month.’
  • ‘Be less reactive – and more proactive – by collaborating with the team at weekly meetings on what’s needed from you by when.’
  • And finally, ‘statesmanlike’. (Dear me. What could that mean? Do they expect a United Nations peace-broker?) ‘…by listening, suggesting mutual gains and reaching agreement.’

And when you’ve done all that, you could probably ditch the part before the ‘by’ and focus the conversation on the steps they’ll take and support you’ll provide. You might even coach the person to elicit the ways they’ll make progress. But that’s for another post…


*Got an example of an unclear goal? Please send it to me and I promise your secret will be safe.

You may find this post useful: When feedback ‘doesn’t work’

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’


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Image credits:

Business man on success ladder – @FatimaJ-Depositphotos

Confused with ways – @jesadaphom-Depositphotos

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