It’s important to set behavioral goals

When it comes to setting goals, we often think performance areas are quantifiable and therefore easier to measure because we can assign and track them with a numeric value—for example, how many grant applications were processed without error, what was the response rate to the call volume received, how many students or alumnae were supported and how timely and accurate were the responses? While these goals are valid and focus on the team’s output and needs, they do not focus on increasing or changing behaviors that might also be essential to the department’s overall success.

The truth is, most staff members and their managers find it much easier to measure performance goals, but have a harder time talking about how to develop themselves by creating behavioral goals such as oral and written communications, peer relationships and partnering, conflict management, and more (Yale’s Behavioral Competencies Information Guide).

A few things are certain, behavioral goals are for reinforcing positive actions, and for modifying behavior in areas that need refocus, development, or sustained change. They are also an important dependent variable for performance goals and, without a doubt, are a requirement to maintain a culture of acceptable performance standards across Yale. 

While at first glance behavioral goals may seem challenging to write, they can be just as simple to draft, convey, and achieve. The most impactful way to create behavioral goals is to write the desired outcome exactly as it’s meant to be displayed in the workplace. The more descriptive and vivid this behavioral expectation, the more inclined you are as a staff member to meet the target objective. This accurate approach to describing the behavioral goal can almost guarantee a successful outcome.

Below are two examples of a staff member’s behavioral goals that support the competencies of both oral and written feedback (and conflict management). The staff member prepared this draft to discuss it with a manager before finalizing it for the year. As with all goals, managers should be prepared to discuss and document why goals are important and what relevance the goal has to the staff member and the organization.

Goal: Sample 1: Increase my email communication effectiveness (written communication).
Sample 2: Improve my meeting facilitation skills (verbal communication).

In-person and phone communications are collaborative, timely, respectful and effective.  
Sample 1: The goal is to carry this same approach forward with email communication, particularly in conflict situations.
Sample 2: The goal is to also improve communication skills by running effective project meetings that are time efficient, have the appropriate team members in attendance, follow the published agenda, and ensure action items are followed up on.

Critical Importance:

Sample 1: This approach will strengthen peer relationships and enhance collaborative efforts across campus.  It will also bring more consistency to how others experience my communication, style, and approach regularly.
Sample 2: This improvement will strengthen my leadership effectiveness and credibility with peers.  It will enhance project management efforts forward and enable me to listen more attentively and make others more open to sharing their points of view, supporting innovative thoughts and ideas to come forward. 

Measurement: Observation and feedback from others.
Timeline: FY21

By writing specifically about a behavior’s desired outcome, the staff member demonstrates the accurate approach. This approach presents an opportunity to personalize the goal and make the outcome more meaningful, demonstrating how staff can personally develop and contribute to Yale. While goals need to be measurable, behavioral goals can be much more of a challenge to quantify. Don’t over think it. Typically, behaviorally-based goals are measured by observation and feedback. In the example above, it could be an increase of in-person meetings or a decrease in client complaints about email communications. 

When setting the goal, consider what will be necessary to support reinforcing or changing a behavior. What type of mentoring or coaching is required? Is there a training or learning instance that will be necessary to support growth? Is an outside intervention needed to enable this goal and the individual’s success? If so, such factors need to be taken into consideration when establishing the realistic timeframe for the goal.

Organizations (and key talent) large and small across multiple different industries understand that setting behavioral goals remains a management coaching/feedback best practice. They also recognize that such goals elevate performance to new heights and improve overall cultural dimensions within their workplaces. The best organizations focus not only on performance expectations, but also on setting the right organizational behaviors to drive a culture of excellence.

Learn more about Yale’s performance management process and the goal-setting phase of its cycle.