Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Are You As SMART As You Think You Are?

Each New Year we resolve to lose weight, quit smoking, or whatever. In the vast majority, these aspirations end in failure, but why does this happen?

The smart money, you might say, would probably be on a lack of goal setting. Without clear, measurable goals, the reasoning goes, we are doomed to fail. SMART goal setting has become such a staple of management training that it seems superfluous to remind you that the acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable (or Active), Realistic (or Relevant) and Time-bound.

Businesses and Government have enthusiastically embraced this goal-setting model and the world of work is now awash with SMART goals. But how effective are they?

First, a quick trawl through any random sample of business plans or appraisal documents will soon reveal that very few goals are SMART in practice. Setting a truly SMART goal is quite difficult; it takes time and thought to fashion something meaningful time that managers rarely take, in my experience.

Second: the things that are most easily measured are likely to be of the least use, and vice versa. In practice, people often measure what they most easily can, rather than what they should. Thus, for example, we might know how many meetings staff members attended, but their effectiveness therein is less well understood.

Third: organisational emphasis on goals and targets understandably shifts management attention towards results; the monitoring of "how did they get there?" is often left undone, potentially leading to nasty surprises later, when managers find good results being underpinned by dubious practices.

Last: organisational metrics are often confined to management activities. I frequently ask my course delegates: "When was the last time you were measured on your coaching activities?". "Never" is the most common, depressing, answer. It seems many senior managements, despite espousing them in principle, routinely ignore a whole raft of leadership activities for measurement purposes, filling managers' schedules by default with management activities, and thus constraining time available for leadership.

And so, as we embark upon 2012, my question to you is simple: are you as SMART at work as you think you are? 

By David Soloman, Learning Consultant, Capita Learning and Development

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