|Posted on September 7, 2010 at 4:04 PM|
Very recently a report on whether SMART goals are dumb came to my inbox (Are Smart Goals Dumb). This report takes direct aim at the SMART goals that so many managers and organizations lean on. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.
This way of thinking through goal setting has been around for years. And I use the phrase “managers and organizations lean on” very purposefully. Way too often goal-setting exercises using SMART goals are a crutch. They are used to make managers and organizations feel good about their management prowess and have little to do with setting the organization, teams and individuals up for success.
In fact the authors of the study in the above report say, “we discovered that people’s goals are not particularly helpful. In fact, our survey found that only 15% of employees strongly agree that their goals will help them achieve great things. And only 13% of employees strongly agree that
their goals this year will help them maximize their full potential.”
They further found that there was no correlation between SMART goals and individuals and teams achieving great things. Now perhaps goal setting isn’t always about the desire to achieve great things but most of the time it is about wanting and needing teams/individuals to achieve very good things! The study found 8 factors that did correlate with the achievement of great things. They are:
What I found startling about this list was the similarity between this list and the findings in the book by Geoffrey Bellman and Kathleen Ryan, “Extraordinary Groups: How Ordinary Teams Achieve Amazing Results”. Bellman and Ryan list several things that extraordinary groups exhibit:
The book has a great model on aspects of self, group and world (whatever the group`s definition of world is) that lays out what is needed in those 3 dimensions to affect transformation and create the environment for teams to achieve greatness.
A Little Magic
I’m always fascinated when researchers and experts arrive at similar places from different paths. In this case, both the report and book also ring my emotional bells. I have been on OK, good and great teams and was able to very quickly relate to what the report and book cover. The two lists are not identical as one is about goals and the other about aspects of high-achieving teams. Yet a few things pop out for me as I go through both lists:
Both are really talking about tapping into the individual`s and team`s heart, not just head. The book talks about the magic that seems to happen when a team transforms itself and its result into something great. Having been there it does indeed feel like magic and sticks as a defining set of memories that I constantly seek to replicate.
And Some Common Sense (The Hard Part!)
Of course, not too many organizations are ready to manage by magic! Neither the report nor book authors suggest that either. The report outlines a different way of approaching goal setting (HARD: heartfelt, animated, required and difficult) and the book has many good suggestions for creating the best team environment possible.
But in spite of my concern about how SMART is implemented, I`m not ready to throw out SMART goals just yet. As the saying goes, let`s not throw out the baby with the bath water.
The concept of SMART is not all wrong:
In the end, what is wrong is a slavish following of SMART as an annual or team start-up thing to do vs. recognizing that setting goals is one component of the larger picture; or saying that every goal must meet the SMART rule vs. allowing room for some goals that allow the magic back into the work.
Since the vast majority of work today gets done by teams, setting goals independent of setting a good team environment will not net us the results we need for the organization. I understand the desire for models and rules to help us manage and lead. But leading and managing is about using those models and rules intelligently, in context and with an understanding that they are never the be all and end all.
I won`t throw out SMART goals. I think they can live alongside HARD goals. And I will attempt to remember the purpose of goal setting is not so I end up with a list of things I can manage against but rather about one of the things I do with individuals and teams to enable them get the results the organization needs. There are no shortcuts!