SMART objectives are stupid

I don’t think there are many employees, managers or people professionals in business that won’t, at some point in time, have been told to make their objectives SMART.  It’s the 101 of management training and something that has spread through organisations like Japanese bindweed.

If you’ve just landed from another planet, have been having a particularly long snooze, or are just very lucky and haven’t had the pleasure yet, SMART stands for:

Specific

Measurable

Achievable/Attainable

Realistic

Time-bound/Timely

The idea being that if you want to set a goal/objective then it should be all of these things – which is cute, but wrong.

My major issue is, that by the very nature of their construct, they’re limiting. They focus you on committing to do one thing, when another – which you may not have come across yet – might be three, four or five times better. The evidence to this is in the million plus performance conversations that happen each year when an employee is explaining that they didn’t do the five objectives they agreed, but have delivered x amount of other things that have added greater value.

Next, they’re entirely left brain and play to a Taylorian vision of business and process. They are the antithesis of creativity, innovation, and the search for exponential value add. It is hard to get passionate, emotional or excited about a SMART goal, because they’re intended to lock down your energy, rather than unleash it.

Finally, they’re linked to a performance management culture and approach that we’ve all pretty much decided is dead, done and buried – I know, I’ve been writing about it for ten years. The idea that there are such things as performance cycles, that we have the level of predictability and that we can improve organisational performance by setting a bunch of spurious goals and having a bad conversation once, twice or even four times a year through a “performance” review is nothing more than a hopeful, collective misnomer.

Let me tell you what works better – a shared and understood vision of success, empowered teams and individuals who are committed to creating that vision and leaders that coach, develop and support their teams. And whilst in one sense achieving this may not be SMART, it is sure to be the cleverest thing you could possibly do.