Over at Crossderry, Paul talks about the challenges of choosing SMART objectives for performance evaluations. As he points out, coming up with good objectives isn’t easy and, all too often, managers and employees settle for ones that are innocuous and toothless. I wish the situation were otherwise but in most companies there’s no compelling reasons for either of them to do the hard work.
While it didn’t occur to me the first time I read his post, I later noticed something unexpected with Paul’s definition of SMART:
Specific: Objectives should clearly describe the desired outcomes – focusing on results, not activities.
Measurable: Objectives should be measurable in either a qualitative or quantitative way.
Attainable: Objectives should be challenging, but attainable.
Relevant: Objectives should be relevant to support the team and company objectives.
Time Bound: Objectives should include relevant, realistic deliverable dates.
The concept of SMART objectives was coined by Peter Drucker in “The Practice of Management” back in 1954. I don’t have a copy handy but I’ve always thought that the ‘R’ stood for Results-oriented, not Relevant. As in, an objective should describe an outcome that you’re trying to achieve rather than activities along the way. Or, focus on impact not output.
Checking various on-line sources didn’t really clear up anything for me and in fact added a new option: Realistic. For my taste Realistic is too close to Attainable and thus doesn’t add enough value. To resolve this overlap, we could change Attainable to Agreed-upon; agreement is especially important in organizations (like public sector or unions) that need explicit stakeholder buy-in.
All of this brings us back to the original point: regardless of the acronym, if we don’t spend the effort to create smart objectives and make sure that the appropriate people are aligned around these objectives, performance evaluations are largely empty exercises.