Setting Task and Behavioural Objectives


Most managers have at some stage in their career to manage under-performance. A typical reason why an individual’s performance fails to live up to expectations is that objectives have not been clearly defined and agreed at the start of the performance management process. In this article the authors discuss the process of setting both task and behavioural objectives.

What gets in the way of achieving objectives?

When an individual is not achieving their objectives and is under-performing, there are a number of key questions the manager should consider:

• Did they dedicate enough time to carry out the performance appraisal to ensure the most appropriate objectives have been set and agreed?

• Did the team member fully understand the measures and objectives they have been set?

• Did the line manager explain to other people the level of authority that the individual has been given to complete the task?

• Were the objectives themselves:

• Stretching enough?
• Worthwhile to the business?
• Adding value?
• Helpful to the individual?
• Realistic for the individual to achieve?
• Measurable – does the manager know when the individual has achieved them?

• Was sufficient priority given to the objectives?

• Did priorities change?

• Did the individual have the skills, knowledge, and capability to carry out the objectives?

• How motivated did the individual feel to achieve the objectives?

A robust objective setting process

Most organisations use a performance management process which starts at the beginning of the year with the following steps:

This process means that individual objectives are then linked to team and corporate objectives. The objectives need to be SMARTA: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound and Agreed. In order to do this a useful check is to ensure the structure of an objective is as follows: 


• Achieve £500,000 of new business from the xxx sector by 31st December 2010
• Develop and implement a influencing skills training programme for middle managers by end of quarter 2 2010.

It is helpful for each objective for the manager and their direct report to identify the steps to be taken in achieving the objective and to define clearly the measures of success. This helps ensure that the employee is clear exactly what needs to be done and what the expected outcomes are.

For example, if the objective that has been agreed is: ‘Carry out rigorous performance management for direct reports during 2010’, the manager and individual may agree and document the steps to achieve the objective as:

• Appraise each individual in the team using operating business process by end of Quarter 1 2010
• Set appropriate SMART objectives with each individual by end of Quarter 1 2010
• Agree a development plan for each individual by end of Quarter 1 2010
• Give feedback and discuss performance at monthly one to ones
• Hold a minimum of ten one to one meetings per person per year

In this example the agreed measures of success would be that by the end of 2010:

• Every direct report will have a development plan
• There will be a succession plan in place for the department

The manager can then monitor the performance of the individual against the objectives, providing feedback and on-going coaching where appropriate. More formal meetings are then held at mid-year and year end. At this point an annual rating is given to the individual around their performance.

Behavioural and task objectives

The problem with a purely task based approach to objectives is that the individual may well achieve the tasks they have been set but do so in a way which is counter-productive. For example they may be aggressive in their approach and uncooperative to other team members, or an individual may have poor presence and impact but still score highly in the attainment of task objectives.

Best practice organisations benefitted from having behavioural as well as task-focused objectives.

What are behavioural objectives?

Behavioural objectives outline the behaviours people need to display in order to perform the tasks effectively. If a task objective concentrates on What the individual needs to achieve, a behavioural objective focuses on the How.

As part of the objective setting process a manager may identify a particular behaviour that the individual needs to specifically develop in the coming year. 
If the organisation has a competency framework or set of organisational values, they can use these to help identify and write behavioural objectives.

Like task objectives, behavioural objectives need to be SMART:

• Read the financial section of one quality newspaper each week and discuss relevant information with line manager at least once a month
• Communicate monthly reports via formal presentations to team leaders every four weeks
• Update line manager weekly on workload and offer assistance to other team leaders when appropriate
• Keep up to date with new products and services throughout the year by reading new product literature within one week of launch

Setting development objectives

As part of performance management it is best practice to encourage individuals to set objectives for the development of their skills, knowledge and expertise. When setting development objectives together, again the manager should ensure that the objectives are SMART. They also need to recognise that development can take many forms, not just training courses. Examples of development objectives are:

• To attend X workshop by July 2010
• To achieve membership of X industry related professional body by end of quarter 3 2010
• To shadow line manager at four meetings of X by end of June 2010
• To read X publication by end of quarter 1 2010


By making objective setting a collaborative process, with clear expectations set by both parties, there is more likelihood of the individual achieving their objectives. Likewise, by focusing on how the task needs to be achieved via behavioural objectives and setting development objectives the individual is more likely to be motivated to achieve high performance.

Sarah Cook and Steve Macaulay. Sarah Cook is Managing Director of leadership and service excellence consultancy, The Stairway Consultancy Ltd. Steve Macaulay is a learning development consultant at Cranfield School of Management. Steve can be contacted at, tel. 01234 751122, Sarah at, tel. 01628 526535.

You may publish this article in whole or in part. The only requirement is that if in print the article must state - article by Sarah Cook, Stairway Consultancy Ltd,

If you use this article in whole or in part electronically, the requirement is that you inlcude the following code on the page:

Article by Sarah Cook of the Stairway Consultancy. Specialists in <a href="">Leadership</a>, <a href="">Customer Services</a>, <a href="">Team Building</a> and <a href="">Personal Effectiveness</a>.

The code should look like this:

Article by Sarah Cook of the Stairway Consultancy. Specialists in Leadership, Customer Services, Team Building and Personal Effectiveness.

If you do not do this you will infringe our copyright


Looking for high impact training material?

We have a wide range of Training Games, Activities, Toolkits, Books and DVDs.

Training Shop