Edit: you can find a more up to date version of this article at The Easy Guide to SMART Goals and Objectives.
“Hey, how was your weekend?
Yeah great . . . . . . . . . [as you’re responding you remember that the annual review discussion was scheduled for this morning].
Look it’s that time of year again. I don’t know why the company makes us do this. You know what you have to do and I know what I have to do.
But we have to get on with it otherwise I’ll get harassed by HR for weeks. So here’s your objectives for the next year.”
That start has got you about as motivated as a three toed sloth would get to do a few laps of the forest. You may not have to imagine this scenario, something similar has possibly happened to you in a past job. The vast majority of people have experienced this.
You reluctantly sit down and start to read through the first objective, “Provide good service to all customers”. You agree with this statement, but immediately start to think “but I do that now”. This is the sort of thing that leaves the performance management process stalled at the starting gate.
Perhaps you work in a progressive company and you set your own objectives together with your manager. If you do, that’s great! I’m going to share with you some simple tips for writing goals that motivate. The sort where you and your boss will really know you have achieved something.
You might be running a business and looking to increase profits, innovate with a new product or reduce time to market. You can achieve these things by setting goals for your people, making sure they have the skills needed, providing feedback and rewarding their contribution. This article is all about setting the right sort of goals.
I’m keen to talk about other parts of the performance management process in future articles. Including techniques for getting a large workforce aligned to the organisation’s goals – something not so tricky in smaller companies. But for now I want to start helping you solve some of the biggest problems with traditional appraisal approaches.
So let’s start.
Fans of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy know that the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything is 42.
The answer to our problems in this case is equally simple. But unlike the ambiguity of the answer “42”, it‘s all about making sure there is nothing ambiguous about what you want to end result to look like.
The answer to life, the universe and how to write objectives that get results is SMART. One of those great memory aids to use so when writing goals you can think “are these SMART?”.
Let’s take a look behind the acronym.
S – specific.
OK you need to be specific. Why? Because your people are going to do what you ask them to do. So you need to be specific about the end result. Use action words like “to increase”, “to establish”, “to reduce” and “to create”.
You can also use specific to remind yourself that objectives need to relate back to a specific organisational goal.
M – measurable.
Imagine playing a video game that didn’t show you some sort of score or progress as you went along. People wouldn’t play it – there’s no motivation!
You want something that will allow the person to gauge how well they are progressing toward achieving the objective. You don’t want an objective that is vague. This leaves room for misinterpretation and that will end in disgruntled people.So tell the person how you are going to measure the achievement. Then you both know when it hasn’t been achieved, when it’s been met and when it’s been exceeded.
For example, ‘100%’, ‘a $ figure’, by 5, etc. A number allows people to see if they have achieved the goal.
It’s also a good idea to record the source of the measurement. For example, the profit & loss report for retail division, client survey, sales reports.
A – achievable.
Once upon a time there was a team leader and three bears. The Papa bear’s objectives were too hard, there is no way they could be achieved. Papa bear just gave up at the start.
Mamma bear’s objectives were too easy, they just weren’t motivating at all.
But baby bear’s objectives were just right. They were a stretch and it might be difficult, but baby bear thought there was a good chance she could achieve them. She was one motivated baby bear!
R – relevant.
Is the objective within something the person will have control or influence over?
No = disgruntled, not motivated.
Yes = let’s get it on!
It’s also a great idea to think of “R” as relate. Relate the objective back to the team and company goals. Being part of a team effort is much more motivating than just having an objective.
T – time-based.
What is the time frame for achieving the objective. A target date and some milestones help keep things on track.
Stay tuned for part 2…
In part 2 of this article I’ll give you a specific example. We’ll revisit the opening example, “Provide good service to all customers”. And we’ll rewrite it using the SMART way.
How do you manage to do this when you are time poor?
How do you manage to write SMART objectives and get people aligned to your strategic plan when you are time poor? The answer is technology. Cognology has designed a performance management system that reduces the time it takes for managers and improves the quality of the objectives they are writing.