The other day I overheard a business owner utter the classic lament, “We spent so much time and effort developing our strategic plan, and it’s pretty good, too, but we just can’t seem to make it stick.”

Breathe life into your strategic plan by designing a blueprint to support it. Create an operating plan that identifies specific actions, measures, persons accountable and timelines required to accomplish strategic plan goals. Tie individual performance measures to operating plan achievement. Only through this systematic, tactical approach can one expect ongoing high performance and positive results.

Effective performance management programs must have four components:

  • Clear and accurate job descriptions that paint a vivid picture of what is expected to achieve excellence
  • Meaningful, yet simple metrics that tie individual performance to the strategic plan
  • Ongoing training and support for managers and employees at every level
  • Regular communication to facilitate understanding, commitment, and results

To expand on each component:

Clear and accurate job descriptions

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The first step is to update job descriptions with every employee. Summaries that are clear and concise with key accountabilities in bulleted format work best. Keep to one-page or less in most cases. When employees understand specifically what they must do to succeed and how it impacts the organization, it’s much easier for them to make meaningful contributions and set goals accordingly. It also makes it easier for managers to manage.

Meaningful, yet simple metrics that tie individual performance to the strategic plan

Linking individual goals to division goals, which in turn, link to the strategic plan helps employees understand the bigger picture and how they fit in. Gaining an appreciation of their own relevance can kindle a deeper commitment to organizational success.

Goal setting is both an art and a science. It can be confusing even for the most experienced managers. Setting meaningful, measurable goals requires great deal of communication and training, especially in the first year. Keeping it simple is crucial.

Many planners find the SMART goals system useful. SMART goals are:

S-Specific Clearly defined

M-Measurable Objective and quantifiable

A-Agreed upon By manager and employee

R-Realistic Challenging and achievable

T-Timed Clear completion dates

Create a process that is as similar as possible for exempt and nonexempt employees. Although there are inherent differences between these employee classifications, establishing different goal and review cycles may be unnecessarily divisive. Develop goal examples appropriate to each group.

Ongoing training and support for managers and employees at every level

This is a “make or break” component. The performance management program is only as good as the people who implement it.

Many managers will need to shed old habits, learn new coaching skills and consciously allocate extra time communicating with their direct reports to make this work – a paradigm shift for some.

Training is imperative at the roll out, but so is ongoing support. Managers need group training and access to individual coaching assistance throughout the year. Ideally, make training mandatory, position it as a perk, and ensure that it is truly worthwhile.

Regular communication for understanding, commitment and results

First, recognize that you are not just instituting a program, you are changing the culture. Every employee needs to understand the program’s significance, the process, and to feel a part of it. Thus, the CEO must take the lead in instituting the program and guiding the shift. Communication from the top must be frequent and steady. Devise a comprehensive communication plan that identifies the CEO’s involvement, what the key messages will be, how they will be delivered, and when. Visible commitment and consistent participation of the senior management team is critical.

Messaging is extremely important. Any time you institute a program such as this you must answer two basic questions: “Why is this important?” and “What’s in it for me?”

Be clear about why the program is important. Do this by communicating program objectives such as:

To deliver superior products and services to our customers

To reinforce teamwork in a collaborative effort to achieve our mission

To encourage and reward excellence

Answer the question “What’s in it for me?” by articulating a program purpose such as: “High performance and its rewards are clearly defined so that every employee can personally contribute and share in organizational success.”

Select a few influential employees at all levels to help you develop the most effective way to facilitate program understanding and to garner widespread commitment.

Kae Rader is President of Rader Consulting, LLC and a Consulting Partner with Corporation for Positive Change. She has more than 30 years of managerial and consulting experience and is facilitator and speaker.