SMART Goal Setting — Relevant for Cubicle Warriors

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Mar 27

Doing a Google Search on “SMART Goals” will yield something in the area of 450,000 hits. You’d think with that much information out there, we’d all do a better job of working the SMART goal setting process on the very goals that often become directly part of our performance review. But many of us don’t really get the right way of doing SMART goal setting simply because the goals are part of our department — and not about US.

SMART, of course, is an acronym: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals. I’ve already written about Specific, Measurable and Achievable. Today, I’ll take a look at Relevant.

Relevant goals, in a typical definition:

means two things; that the goal or target being set with the individual is something they can actually impact upon or change and secondly it is also important to the organization.

Depending upon the maturity of your management organization, relevant goals are the simplest part of the SMART process to set. Starting out, the goals look like they would be relevant to us as the goals usually start out with higher levels of management and then cascade down to the rest of us.

But there are still a few issues that need to be addressed:

In the attempt at relevancy, we goal the unbelievable.

In “increasing shareholder wealth by 10%,” we somehow attach our departments customer satisfaction rating as being relevant to “shareholder” wealth. In the broadest sense, it probably does relate. But “shareholder wealth” is all about the returns on the stock of the company, not on what your department’s customer satisfaction rating is this month.

The goal, in other words, needs to be relevant to the rest of the hierarchy of goals provided by upper management as well. If nothing you do relates directly in increasing the stock price, don’t set a goal in that category. Only have goals that are relevant to the work you do.

The goal must be something you can impact.

This has been touched on before in that you need to be able to have some control over the work to affect the change associated with the goal. The trap here, however, is we can often only impact part of the goal and not the goal itself.

This usually shows up where your team is a homogeneous group of individual contributors all doing the same basic work. In a software development position, for example, you can only impact the number of defects associated with your own work — but the goal, too often, reflects an overall department goal of reducing defects. If the department fails in this goal come review time — even though you contributed 90% to the goal and your teammates contributed 0%, you fail. But don’t worry, you’ll get a nice pat on the back for all your work.

The lesson here is that your goal must be 100% attainable by YOU. If not, time for a discussion.

Relevant over time.

Here’s the fact: I’ve never in my career had one goal that survived the entire performance review year. Budgets changed, business conditions changed, the organization changed, the team changed, my manager changed, my job duties changed — it’s corporate life.

But we don’t often manage our goals to the degree necessary so that the goal at the beginning of the year is just as relevant at the end of the year. And if the goal isn’t relevant at the end of the year, there is lost productivity, engagement, and meaning in the work we do since the goal needed changing.

Goals lose relevancy every time there is a change in your work and the goal isn’t re-examined compared to the new work being done. And what do irrelevant goals mean when it comes to review time? All that stuff you’ve been working on since the world changed isn’t relevant to the review. You get pats on the back for the terrific work and rated average on your now-no-longer-relevant goals.

That’s no way to win.


  • Bike Games says:

    Make reachable goals help too. Don't make impossible goals that you know you can never reach in the time frame.

  • […] meaning for readers of this site by looking at how each part – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Bound – can be better tailored for those of us working in […]

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