Help your people to be SMARTER

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In my last article, I brought you a simple yet powerful tool for your usage while coaching your people –the GROW framework. I left a remark considering the Goal setting part. It’s time to dive deeper into this phase.

Even a manager in their first stints may detect what their people are lacking due to professional demands. In that sequence, defining a Goal shouldn’t be that difficult, you might guess.

Allow me a slight detour. Consider your case. See yourself on new year’s eve: time to define your yearly goals resolutions. I firmly believe you face no difficulties expressing what you want to achieve. And for those goals, what is your success rate? Now that I collected your attention let’s get back to the main topic.

The principal issue with goal setting is the goal itself. But why?

Today I bring you another tool to help you in your management role: the SMART framework.

A mnemonic, as you may guess.

A goal should be Specific.

Sometimes the defined goal is “this World and the next”. Is just too big to grasp. An objective should be more specific. How much specific? Enough to enable you never to lose focus even when facing adversities. Sufficient to be easily explained upon request and straightforward to eliminate any faulty assumption. In his famous speech, John F. Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the Moon”. It was THE Moon. Most people, when defining objectives, “shoot to the stars and hope for the best”. Kennedy was specific in his target, evident in his pursuit.

A goal should be Measurable.

You defined a goal with someone from your team at the beginning of the year. You reach the end of the year—time to evaluate if the goal was attained or not. Unfortunately, I have seen too many managers subjectively assess their people’s growth – “I believe you are better/worse than before”. It happened with me before, and for sure, you had at least a couple of similar experiences yourself. You must admit that every time someone assesses your performance in such a way, it feels strange. It leaves a sour taste—the phantom of biased decision making.

Pearson’s management law states, “When performance is measured, performance improves”. It is paramount to measure the progress towards the goal. That way, you can assess whether the game plan is working or not, if you must make any adjustments, and how far the goal is. Pearson continues with, “When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates”. Of course, it will accelerate. People are more motivated when they see their progress and believe the game plan is appropriate to take them to success. 

Your people will accept better any feedback supported by facts and data. Supposing there’s a goal to be attained, measure and evaluate the progress. Leave the subjectivity out of this conversation. 

A goal should be Attainable.

Please, be realistic. If you have an under-performant element, it doesn’t sound natural to set a goal for high-performance. Leave all the “Mission: Impossible” stunts to Tom Cruise. A baby does not jump out of the crib straight to a marathon race. Remember the “The Tortoise and the Hare” tale? The tortoise slowly but steadily won the race. Even if you want to reach the Moon, first, you must build a good enough rocket for the endeavour. Having these mid-term goals will keep the morale high. Build the habit of achieving what you say you will.

A goal should be Relevant.

The objective should be in order with the grander scheme of things. It will be tough to defend a personal goal that goes way out of your principles and values. Professionally, our performance is part of the organisation’s performance. Depending on the organisation’s size or our position, the impact may be more or less noticeable. We should define our professional objectives according to the organisation’s vision and culture.

A goal should be Time-bound.

Parkinson’s Law implies that “The time it takes to complete a task and report its completion is not less than the amount of time made available for it. How one may be accountable for achieving or not the objective if one has a lifetime to achieve it? Having a deadline will bring accountability to the table.

It is common to see stress as something terrible, harmful even. And righteously so. But most people, when talking about stress, are referring to what Hans Selye called distress. This scientist theorised about stress in 1974, distinguishing helpful (eustress) from harmful (distress) stress.

We are used to knowing eustress by different names. For instance, receiving a new, challenging project demands new skills or allows for a career upgrade. Suppose the project is realistic with a real chance of completion. You probably feel pumped, full of go, driven to work towards success. You are more used to calling it motivation.

On the other side of the spectrum, if deadlines are unrealistically tight, you have to juggle multiple projects with a tremendous workload, or you are part of a toxic work environment, you feel the distress. That’s the other name of what you call stress.

Having a deadline for our goal will keep us on our toes.

Some goals have a longer term. The worst that can happen is not to fail. It’s hitting the target when the objective is no longer relevant. Periodically, we should evaluate and review the objective’s relevance.

I know it does not belong to the SMART framework but consider it a bónus, a SMARTER add-on.

Use this goal check next time you find yourself defining objectives for your team or helping your people define their goals. Give it a try; it’s time to be SMARTER.

Yours truly,

Ricardo Castelhano