Wildly Important Goals — A Reality Check

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Apr 02

Yesterday, I wrote about why I love WIG’s — Wildly Important Goals. Wildly Important Goals, you will recall, are defined simply as “if we don’t do this, we will fail.” Consequently, people are assigned only 1-2 goals for the year. I noted that I had used them with my team for one performance review cycle and had some very good results.

But, Wildly Important Goals were only used for one review cycle.

Why? Well, goals are often used for performance reviews. Performance reviews can be a slippery slope when it comes to achieving goals, depending upon the management and the culture of the organization.

Criteria for using WIG’s

I’ve found that being able to use Wildly Important Goals in a corporate setting is dependent upon four factors:

  • Stable management. If you have reasonable assurances that your manager will be the same over the year, you have a better chance of succeeding.
  • Management has no issues narrowing the goal focus. Management should love this approach — but you know as well as I do that they like lots of goals, cascaded down from on high and applied to our work, knowing that there is no way most individual contributors can substantially affect the goal.
  • Management has no issues with only 1-2 goals per person. Not only the number of goals, but unique and different goals for each person on the team. This is tough, considering that management likes to rate everyone as if they are doing the same job with the same talent within a group.
  • Priorities won’t likely change. If you are in the middle of the year and all of a sudden some mess gets to your business, WIG’s won’t work. The basis on how the goals were built no longer apply, a killer situation for WIG’s.

There is a more subtle problem with WIG’s, reviews and management. It has to do with risk.

WIG’s and Risk

You see, goals on a review translate to money for raises. When you have a lot of goals, the percentage weight associated with them is small. Getting a “needs improvement” on a goal weighted at 5% that you had no control over and missed isn’t so bad if the other 95% is rated higher. In other words, more goals with lower weighting will give you a more average rating and raise. It is safer.

WIG’s — Wildly Important Goals — on the other hand, will often have weights of 50% for each goal. Miss one of two — or both — and all of a sudden that “needs improvement” means a whole lot more. Especially if the goal is no longer applicable to the work.

Thus, WIG’s carry a lot more risk to the individual performance review — with little reward built into equation.

WIG’s Don’t Get Rewarded

Think about it. If you meet a Wildly Important Goal — something that is defined as “we will fail if we don’t meet this goal” — then that is worth an “average” for a score on the performance review. You met the goal, nice job. You didn’t beat the goal, exceed what needed to be done; nope, no need to reward that.

The fact that you did something that would have caused failure if you didn’t meet it doesn’t enter into the lexicon of current rating systems, except, perhaps executive compensation.

Yup, just met the goal. Average. Nothing new or exciting here. Move on.

The missed opportunities are a shame.

  • Scot Herrick says:

    It is tough to determine what is “critically” important and what is merely important — translating to a “met the goal” rating versus something more outstanding.

    It’s really a culture issue in companies. They provide lots of goals, weighted no very much to each goal, and many that are not even measurable or in the control of the employee. Yet, the employee is rated on those goals.

    Just think of the power of focusing on 1-2 goals in your position for the review period (even if it is only 3-months long). That kind of focus allows great things to be done. And we miss it with the way most companies set up their reward structure.

  • As a Generation Y employee, I agree that WIGs can really help motive a team and help get a project moving. Indeed, fear of failing a project at work or disappointing a client really drive us to prevent those things from happening. Similarly, you bring up a good point that WIGs often don’t get awarded. It is a bit frustrating, though, that managers will put so much pressure on their employees to meet particular goals, and then not award stellar performance. Mangers often give the impression, “So what, you met your WIGs, that is expected of you.” Pressure and high performance could go hand-in-hand in the right environment. Recognizing and awarding high performance would encourage employees to continue to aim high – thereby creating a virtuous circle of feeback.

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