Writing SMART goals – part 3

Edit: you can find a more up to date version of this article here.

In part 1 of this article we looked at the definition of a SMART objective. In part 2 we turned the problem producing provide good service to all customers into new SMART objectives.

There’s three things left to do that’ll make the new objectives work really well for you. On top of this they’ll help remove headaches come review time. They are…

Performance standards, and

Let’s see what this looks like with our two new objectives from part 2 (Retain 99% of your customers, and Increase your Customer Service Satisfaction Rating to 4). We can break these objectives down further.

Objective: Retain customers

Measurement: Percentage of your customers retained. Using data from the CRM system.

Performance standard:
90 – 92% = partially met
93 – 95% = met
96 – 98% = exceeded
over 98% = outstanding

Objective: Increase customer satisfaction

Measurement: Your average customer satisfaction rating. Measured using the monthly mystery shopper result.

Performance standard:
This objective will be partially met when:

  • Average time taken to respond to customer requests is 4 minutes.
  • Mystery shoppers record that you are usually courteous.
  • Fewer than 1 in 10 enquiries need to be escalated to the supervisor.
  • On your follow-up, 7 out of 10 customers report that their needs have been met and no further action is needed.

It will be met when:

  • Average time taken to respond to customer requests is 3 minutes.
  • Mystery shoppers record that you are almost always courteous.
  • etc…

I’m using Measurement to describe the source of the data and how it will be measured. The Performance standards are basically explaining how the end rating or score will be determined.

This is great! Once those objectives are agreed by the manager and employee, there’s no disagreement as to the result.

But wait … that’s not all – if the employee knows how to measure their progress, they’ll know how they are traveling. Why does this matter? Well, when something is achievable and you know how you’re traveling, you’re much more motivated to reach the end goal.

Making the objective a more powerful statement
OK, now something I do to turn the objective into a really powerful statement . . .

Find out what sort of result your team member wants to achieve. Then write that into the objective. So Retain 99% of your customers for example. The measurement and performance standards stay the same. It’s just a memory aid. Making sure that when you think of the objective, you think of the target as well.

To illustrate why this technique is useful, it might be useful to relay a story about Ethan Hunt’s first six months working at Mission Impossible.

Basically he used to receive his jobs via video recordings on his iPod. The message would describe the mission goal, measurement and performance criteria. And then the iPod would self-destruct.

The only problem was within five minutes of the iPod self-destructing, poor old Ethan would be like Oh crap! How many bad guys was I supposed to capture again?

Now they include the target in the objective. And you know the rest of the story – he’s been very successful since!

Back to serious stuff now – a word of caution – don’t use this technique where there is a potential for putting an employee on a performance improvement program for unacceptable performance.

One thing left to do . . . and this is an important one. How is the objective going to be achieved? What actions are needed? You need to describe the steps or plan for reaching the goal.

Even if your organisation hasn’t reached the point yet where a manager and employee set objectives jointly, you at least need to have input on this one from the employee. For employees with little experience, you’ll need to do most of the work here in terms of outlining the actions. But even then, I’ve been amazed at the value of the ideas provided by inexperienced employees. It is so worth getting employees involved.

For people with a lot of experience, you’re really going to benefit by using their collective knowledge and skills. And they’ll be more satisfied and more likely to be motivated if they have planned their own action steps.

Some things to avoid…

OK there’s a few things you need to avoid when writing objectives. I’m not providing legal advice though, so if you want a definitive answer on what you can and can’t do, you’ll need to consult someone who can provide that advice.

  • Objectives must be achievable.
  • Avoid using terms that don’t allow a margin for error like always, every, each, all, never.
  • An objective can be very challenging, but it should be possible for someone to achieve outstanding performance.
  • Avoid describing objectives as things you don’t want done, focus on what you want achieved instead.
  • There can’t be an expectation for a person to be perfect.

Go for it!
OK there you have it. I hope you’ve got something from these three articles on writing objectives that produce results. Thank you to everyone for your comments and emails.

At the start of your next review cycle write SMART objectives. You’ll reduce your performance review headaches . . . . . and be more successful.

How do you do this when you barely have the time to get through your email inbox?

Learning how to write SMART objectives is one thing.  But how do you manage to do this for a whole team when you barely have enough time to get through your email inbox each day?  The answer is software.  Cognology has designed an online performance management system that makes the process easy.


About Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. View all posts by Jon Windust

15 responses to “Writing SMART goals – part 3

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