SMART objectives can be really DUMB

How many people and organisations suffer through the process of objective setting, insisting they be SMART, and yet feel like they’re an unnecessary evil that gets in the way of the day job?

SMART is one of those cases where the acronym is so good, it takes over the whole process.

Of course objectives must be Specific and Measurable, although being measurable means that they have to be specific anyway. Objectives should ideally be Agreed, always Realistic, and adding Time-bound at the end is absolutely crucial – there has to be a deadline (I’m using the definition of SMART from MindTools).

In other words, being specific about what you want and when you want it.

The problem is that it doesn’t often work out that way.

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Making performance objectives measurable

Probably the single biggest challenge in setting performance objectives is making them measurable.

This is important because …

Human beings adjust behavior based on the metrics they’re held against. Anything you measure will impel a person to optimize his score on that metric. What you measure is what you’ll get

Dan Ariely article “You are what you measure” in Harvard Business Review

And if we get it wrong, it can be dangerous and lead to the measure having an ineffective, or damaging, impact …

It[‘]s really easy to decide to measure something … and screw up a team beyond belief. For example, if I measure how productive individual programmers are, then it[‘]s to the advantage of individuals to focus on their own work and spend less (or no!) time helping others. Completely kills teamwork

Brian Button (Agile programmer and blogger) in “‘You get what you measure’ versus ‘what you measure you can manage'” – article no longer accessible)

So it’s worth getting it right … but it’s not so simple …

The most important things cannot be measured

W Edwards Deming

This is even more true as most things sit within complex systems and have an impact over the long-term and so can’t be easily isolated or measured within a single twelve-month performance appraisal period.

Continue reading “Making performance objectives measurable”