Goal Setting or How Being SMART Isn’t Always the Right Objective

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Over the years much has been written on the subject of goal setting with most conventional wisdom coming down in favour of the SMART objective setting process.

SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound) has been around since the 1960’s and is used by organisations to create effective objectives for themselves and their staff. In fact the SMART objective setting process is taught on many management training programs as the right way to set objectives in any situation.

There is, however, a slight failing with the whole idea around SMART objectives which is, to be fair, not a problem with the process but the wider context in which goals are set. All too often organisations set objectives for their staff only to find that in the final analysis that very few have been achieved or even attempted.

So, what is the problem with this approach to objectives, and why do they so often fail to capture the imagination of employees? The SMART model is missing two very important elements that will nearly always sabotage the take up of any objectives.

WII-FM

Often when organisations impose objectives on their staff the initial question that will be raised is ‘What’s In It For Me?’ and in fact this is a perfectly valid question. A goal or objective whether at the corporate or personal level must be something that is a personal objective. It needs to be initiated, understood and bought-in to the individual for whom it is a goal.

High level corporate objectives by their very nature are impersonal and as such there is rarely significant buy in from employees. Even objectives that are tied in to personal rewards (such as a bonus) do not have a high buy in factor if they are too impersonal. There needs to be a sense of ‘I can make a difference to this’ at a personal level for it to really be taken up by staff.

It can be often be difficult with corporate objectives around profitability and growth to make these personal, and rightly so. These are corporate, high level objectives and unless an individual is tied in to them in some way (as a shareholder for example) then any attempt to cascade these down to lower levels will fail.

The WII-FM issue is for the most part the highest motivator for an individual and a truly effective goal setting strategy takes this into account.

Fascinating Captain

The other and equally important theme missing from the SMART objective setting process is that of interest. For a goal to be really effective and attained it needs to be interesting, exciting and something the individual can get passionate about.

Too many goals, especially corporate ones, are lacking in the area of being interesting. For example, an objective on quality will only be pursued by someone who believes that quality is of interest, for those people who believe it to be important (but not interesting) they will try to ensure that the quality doesn’t drop but it is unlikely that they will go out of their way to ensure quality improves.

Interest in a subject can be generated through corporate reward, however it is rare that this happens as, like the personal side of objective setting, it is outsise the SMART model.

PRISM – the lighter side of objective setting

The SMART model is good and has served for a long time, however in today’s modern society, with vast tranches of the working population becoming dissatisfied with their lot a new approach to coporate oblective setting is required.

The PRISM model covers all 5 points of the old SMART process and adds 2 more. PRISM is an acronym for Personal, Realistic, Interesting, Specific and Measurable.

Does this mean that PRISM objectives are not Achievable and Timebound? Not at all, in the PRISM model for an objective to be truly Realistic by definition it has to be Achievable, if it is not achievable then it isn’t and could never really be realistic.

As for the time element of the objective this is covered by measurable. In a science experiment for something to be measurable it needs a start and an end, in life the same applies, if an objective is to be measured it has to be measured against time as well as any other measure, so in the PRISM model Measurable means against all criteria and not splitting out the time elements.

It’s all Me, Me, Me

The PRISM model doesn’t profess to be the ultimate solution for corporate goal setting woes however the addition of the personal and interest features into the process will add new dimension to the objective setting process and will guarantee that the objective has a considerably higher take up than those set with the SMART model.

Corporate goals do not have to be faceless and force fed onto the workforce, by making any objective Personal to the individual and of Interest (with or without reward) then your chances of actually attaining it will dramatically increase.

So, next time there is a strategy session and the subject of goals appears, just ask yourself 2 questions, ‘What does it do for me?’ and ‘Just how interested am I in this?’, if you can’t answer those then perhaps, just perhaps, you need to rethink your goals.

More information regarding staff performance, the PRISM© Goal Setting System and additional tools for improving organisational management can be found at http://www.achievinggreatness.co.uk

L Stuart Avery 2005 © Achieving Greatness Ltd. All rights reserved.

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