Quarterly goals: developmental path or carrot for a donkey?

The quarterly reporting system seems almost elementary if you ignore the fact that it is effective.
Lee Iacocca, “Career Manager”

At the beginning of each quarter, I send 4 invitations to the rally, one for each of the team’s team leaders. This one-hour meeting is perhaps the most important of all that happens in our quarter. The issues that we will discuss and the goals that we will set will affect the development of the employee, project and company.

There was a time when I perceived the quarterly conversations as a kind of obligation, where you need to put something in your goals in order to put ticks at the end of the quarter and get your bonus. Much water has flowed since then, many books have been re-read. I want to share my experience on how to make the quarterly goals tool work effectively for the company, manager and employee.

I usually rely on a long-range scope and a mix of three strategies.

Far sight: “If you don’t know where to sail, any wind is not fair”

When talking about quarterly goals, they often forget that the tool is not so effective in itself. For him to earn 101%, he needs another important component: a long-range sight, that is, a strategic goal that you need to strive for. A quarterly plan with such a goal is to think over the nearest tactics to achieve it.

David Allen, in his acclaimed GTD, suggested building short, everyday plans based on a vision of long-term life plans. Plan your way by seeing your destination on the map.

I use three such destinations, about them further.

Mix of three strategies: “Three sights for an employee within the company”

Sight One: Company Strategy

What does the developer care about company strategy? When I was a developer, it really seemed to me that no. However, strategic plans, one way or another, still affect the developer, is he ready for this or not. Does the organization plan to enter the foreign market? It's time to learn English or get used to the idea that an employee with a lower grade, but with good English will grow faster and participate in more interesting projects.

Ideally, goals that relate to the company's strategy are set at the level of managers, and they are decomposed into sub-goals for management. For example, the goal “build a temple” is decomposed into “lay the foundation”, “mix the concrete”, “lay the brick”. At the same time, it is very important that at each stage the employee who is set the goal of “bringing a brick” understands that he is building a temple. In other words, each goal should be explained to the top link of the strategy.

For example, a top manager can abstractly describe the goal of increasing profitability as “competitors are completely insolent, dumping in the market, it is necessary to become many times more efficient,” is decomposed for the manager as “percentage of productive utilization of the team”. And for an employee it translates into several different goals: from the need to certify and learn new technologies, to the request not to sit on the priest exactly when there is no project work, to proactively offer your participation in other commercial or internal projects.
It’s important to explain to the managers the whole chain so that they convey it to the engineers. Important, important! Otherwise, a person will thoughtlessly realize what no one really needs or just imitate violent activity.


Goals that automatically get out of a standard piggy bank (Number of spherical innovations per quarter. Number of virtual productive KPIs) mean an important piece of work in someone’s smart high-ranking head. However, for the rest, remaining a formal description, they end up in zilch and the generation of unproductive activities. Unfortunately, such goals do not affect the organization’s growth, but they influence the motivation and condition of the project, but with a minus sign.

Second Sight: Project Strategy

Any project, even if it is very ancient, and nothing new has been happening on it for a long time, has a development strategy. It may not be broadcast or even recognized by the manager, the project may live by the principle: “we support the project afloat somehow until it is closed.” But while something is still alive, it is something moving somewhere, and it’s good if the manager, like a good captain, thinks about the direction of his project and sees the shallows.

On growing projects, the strategy is usually clear without much thought. It is clear that since the project is growing, you need to fine-tune the training system and the continuity of knowledge. So, the project’s centenarians will have a goal to form a knowledge base or act as a mentor for young people.

There are sluggish projects where the same tasks have been posed for years. A well-thinking manager will quickly understand that after two such work, people will begin to think about the eternal and ask themselves why he is on this project. In this case, you can consider the possibility of development in new directions, or at least automate routine to the maximum and bring some employees to study interesting new tools.

After the manager clearly presented the project’s strategy, he can realize how to achieve the goals set out in it, discuss it with his boss and add it to his quarterly plan. A good reason to assemble a team, voice these problems and brainstorm. The obtained solutions are an inexhaustible source of necessary, understandable, motivating quarterly goals for employees.

Sight Three: Employee Plans

Where to get the employee career path strategy? Ask an employee, of course! The trouble is that sometimes an employee, especially a young one, is not able to clearly answer: what does he want from his career. At that moment, when the manager offers the employee to search for the goal together, he receives a significant plus in his karma. You can offer the employee several options to choose from. Read books about management, listen to programming courses, think together where a person can better realize himself.

It also happens that an employee simply does not want anything from his company, his goals are far from his career (to break a flower garden, for example) and he sits just for the sake of salary. At least it’s good to know about this, and to write out for yourself the anchors that hold it here in order to be ready for his departure. For example, the main anchor is salary and stability. So, a new large organization, having offered a slightly larger salary, takes your employee without options. There is probably no big sense in looking for a goal for him, although it’s worth trying to stir up and interest him in something new.

The best option is when you and the employee understand where he wants to come in about five years from now. I usually find in the organization a person who has already achieved this, and ask him to be a mentor. In addition, for very young developers, we have a planned development plan that includes a list of books and courses that need to be completed in stages.

Of course, it is advisable to develop an employee where the basic needs of the project lie. But it happens that in a project on .net the developer is eager to learn Android. I believe that let him study what is interesting and tell others about it. And life is a long and unpredictable thing, maybe one day an order for Android development will come.

Keeping all three strategies in mind, setting quarterly goals is not at all difficult. One part of them will satisfy the company's strategy, the other part will work on the development of your project, the third part will go on the development of the employee himself. All three types of goals are very serious motivators.
As a result, the employee sees that he is involved in a big business - the work of his company, knows how he affects the project and sees that the company is interested in its development. With this setting of work, bonuses for fulfilling quarterly goals that an employee receives are a pleasant bonus, and not a motivating carrot for a donkey.

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