Performance review goals in a highly mutable environment

BLUF: How do you set meaningful goals in an environment where roles can fundamentally change several times in a year.

My employer is introducing performance related pay and giving annual reviews (that previously few managers have bothered with because they have been meaningless) teeth.

This is causing some concern in the business unit I'm in as our environment can be highly mutable.  We're essentially an internal consultancy and can be placed on projects for periods ranging from a few days to a few years.  Our only work is on projects, we have no 'day jobs'.  When not on placement we are 'on the bench'.  Whilst most people will only have two or three placements a year, 5+ is not unusual and seven to nine is not unknown.  The roles a person is placed in during the year can vary quite widely so, in particular for someone like myself with a very wide skill set to offer, the skills used, and therefore objectives acheived, on one project can be very different from those on another.

The concern is that someone might be set objectives one April (our year matches the financial year for reporting reasons) that are not relevant to the work they do for much of the year so they don't acheive them.  Also someone might spend a long period on the bench because there's a shortage of roles and not have the opportunity to acheive their goals.  Since this is the result of things outside their control it is considered unethical to hold them responsible for the result. 

These concerns are coming as much, if not more, from the managers performing the reviews as they do from the staff subject to them.

Does anyone have any experience of a similar situation?  What would be the best way to resolve this without going the route of setting very vague goals that could be satisfied in any roles?




Sure do...


Set goals based on the project world you live in.  Set a standard for quality and timeliness on each project.  It could include deadline behavior, meeting customer requirements written and otherwise, customer satisfaction (I do understand they're internal) surveys or inquiries or on-line forms, budget compliance, etc.  Whether a direct serves on 3 projects or 9, these standards are his report card.

If you do worry about bench time, set standards for continuing education completed per down time period.  For every 15 days of downtime, complete one 10 day on-line course, achieve one technical certification of #.# CE's, etc.

And while everyone tells me this "can't" be done - and then I always prove them wrong whichever client I'm working with - I also recommend a goal for number of projects.  Usually this takes the form of internally billable days, since some projects are long and some are not.  The issue here is that someone on your bench for 100 days a year is NOT good for them, you or the org.  They cost money, and bring little value.

Technical people always say no, you can't do that, we have no control over what projects we're on.  And they're right, they don't control it, but they have enormous influence over it.  The best folks always get used more than the less effective.  That means it's organizationally reasonable to ask everyone to get better...AND to get better in the areas the org values, versus what's technically exciting.  This also motivates project-based-workers to look  for work, to create relationships, to know the customers.  They don't like it...but it's effective.

And, I think there will be more of this in the future...keep us posted.


You, the manager, are also now in Sales


Mark's point about "internally billable days" targets is incredibly important.  (It's often called "utilization" and calculated as a percentage of available working days actually spent working on client projects.)

Utilization can also be calculated for the team as a whole.  And that's your metric, too.  As the manager, a big part of your job is to "sell" your team to other stakeholders who would benefit from their expertise.   Maybe the right analogy is that of "talent agent." 

You'll find that being able to show on-time, on-budget project history, along with documented skill sets of team members, will make selling easier. 

As Mark says, "It's like all this stuff fits together..."

John Hack

Mark, thanks  I'll take


thanks  I'll take these ideas forward.  I'm not in a position to implement things myself but will be presenting them to the people who can, full credit will be given.

We do have a target of 200 billable days per annum.  There's about 255 days in our working year and we each have between 29 and 34 days leave per annum,  So, assuming no sickness absences, we each have a buffer of 21 to 26 days a year bench time.  This is assuming we use all our leave, if we don't then we lose the leave days.  We've just rolled over from 2008/09 to 2009/10 and I lost 24 leave days out of a total allowance of 31.

These people, for the most part, aren't technical.  They're mostly Project Managers, Business Analysts, Programme/Project Management Office Administrators &c. 

A key issue is that the number and type of projects on going can change drastically over the course of the year so there can be a period of  huge demand for one particular role type at one time so we're having to put people in to those roles who maybe aren't ready for them yet  or are really suited to more demanding roles (e.g. a while back there was a big demand for Business Analysts so we had PMO admins (who were really stretched and working above their normal level) and PMs (who were working below their normal level) doing BA work along side BAs) then a few months later everyone rolls off and there's no roles for them to move into.   

A big part of the reason for this variability is that we're quasi-external (IT was sort of outsourced in 2006 and we went with it) and therefore have no input into the overall scheduling of programmes.  There's also issues around some commissioning managers having a predjudice against 'internal' staff for project work and prefering to get contractors in.  Part of the rationale behind the 'outsourcing' was that we could then bid for outside work and that the predjudiced managers would see us as consultants who just happened to be a lot cheaper and know the organisation well.  None of this has happened yet.

In terms of knowing the customers to get roles, we have a very rigid process for role assignments that has to be followed.  Even if a 'hiring' manager knows me and knows I'd be absolutely perfect for a role they would still have to follow the process.  They can't just phone up and say "I want Stephen, send him over please.  I'll fax over the purchase order now" and I can't say "I've found myself a role, they'll pay my standard day rate, here's the purchase order.  See you in a year!"  My last two roles have been ones where I already knew the 'hiring' manager and they explicitly requested me, but still had to go through the process.  I don't like the going out and building relationships thing but I'm working on it, I must be getting better as people are looking a lot less creeped out than they used to.

I do like the idea of a target based around continuous education whilst benched.  I'm the bane of our L&D team as I often push people to get on training and suggest online and other free courses.  We have an ongoing problem getting people onto training, mostly due to the local government culture.  Training has always been something that was done to staff and it's hard to break people of the habits. One of the things that would drive me up the wall as a union steward and ULR (Union Learning Representative, union reps trained and resourced to help people (union members or not) find training and funding for training) was recommending a course to someone and them saying "If my manager wants me to go on training he'll send me."  I've plugged MT (and other podcasts, PMBA, free online learning sites &c)  to my fellow staff and to L&D, even gotten a few links (including MT)  put on our e-learning site, and keep recommending courses.  Back in my base office there's a bookcase full of about 300 of my own books that I've brought in and said anyone can use.  I figure it's like water dripping on a stone, eventually I'll break through.

[Actually that reminds me of something I've been thinking of suggesting for a while.  You've said a number of times that you want us to direct people to the site rather than sending them files we've downloaded or deep linking direct to the casts.  I do respect that and think I understand the rationale.  However, it does make it more difficult to get people interested.  People who may be quite willing to listen to a cast and would probably download more once they've listened to that first one somehow never find the time to download that important first cast (I liken it to people who will spend 20 minutes searching for the TV remote rather than just walk over to the TV and change the channel from the controls on the TV).  I was wondering if it would be possible for you to produce a 'taster' cast that we can share, maybe with some marketing collateral on the end.  Something that can be emailed to colleagues with a note along the lines of "Dude, listen to this then go to the site."  It gets rid of the psychologial barrier to listening to the first cast, it's there in front of them rather than them having to go to the site and download it.]


John, thank you.  For


thank you.  For clarity and avoidance of doubt, I'm not the manager in this case.  We have a team of 8 people who handle pitching us out to the projects and programmes.  They also handle things like sourcing our laptops and other such kit.  The manager of that team has as one of her metrics the average utilisation across us all.

My aim here is to find ways to help them help me and my colleagues.


Stephen- Thanks for the


Thanks for the suggestion, but no, we won't do that.  We think the hurdles we've asked people to go over are barely more than trivial.  We know others may disagree, and, well, I think we'll have always have some disagreement about what is reasonable until we can beam stuff directly into folks' brains. :-)

From our perspective, we want everyone to listen...and, asking someone to go to the site and click on play isn't too much to ask. [And there's actually a longer discussion to be had here regarding 'why we're long', which at least in part is based on the idea that you can't learn calculus in 15 minutes...and management is harder than calculus.]

To say nothing of beginning our video archives.

Relatedly, it worried me a little to see your recent post where you directly quoted shownotes in the forums.  We see this as a public place, whereas shownotes are privately licensed.  We know respect and like you, and worry about the precedent it sets for others.

We're trying to find the right balance between getting all of our content out, and re-purposing it as well, and marketing it well, and pricing it not just fairly, but frankly cheaply.

As much as I hate to sleep, it does seem to be a requirement.


 Mark, it was just an


it was just an idea.  I have lots, some good, many bad.  I agree that the bar is very low, it distresses me to see people I work with, or know from elsewhere, falter at such a low bar.  I try channel that distress into upping the energy in my attempts to encourage people to listen to your casts and take advantage of the many other sources of advice and guidance out there on the internet. 

On the matter of quoting.  I have been trying to find the entry you refer to, to delete it.  Unfortunately whilst I recall making a quotation in an entry I don't recall exactly when or the context.  When I find it, I'll delete it.  I would only quote within the bounds of my understanding of the relevant treaties and statute defining fair use.  I became particularly sensitive to copyright issues on the web when some of my own material was taken and republished without my permission and without attribution.  As a result of this I researched copyright and fair use. 

Beam direct to our brains?  Yep, that would be very useful.  You wouldn't believe the number of times I've been faced with a situation and thought "Man, I wish I could plug into Mark's brain (or Mike's or Wendii's or John's or...) to find out how to do this."  Unfortunately, till that's possible, I'll just have to make do with my own brain augmented by listing to the casts and reading the forums.




Skype: stephenbooth_uk

Experience if how you avoid failure, failure is what gives you experience.