Putting the ART into SMART

Smart people, but not that radical

SMART objectives: anyone who’s been trained in best practice for personal or project planning knows about them. It’s a convenient shorthand that’s found its way into common usage but is it any use? Sometimes I find a little redefinition is in order.

Having objectives that are Specific (well defined and focused), Measurable (we know when we will have achieved them), Achievable (we know we can do them), Relevant (they’re important for the job at hand) or Realistic (we’re not kidding ourselves) and Time-bound (we know when we have to achieve them) makes a lot of sense. For example, setting a goal such as

We will raise the level of customer satisfaction by 5% in the 10 lowest-performing outlets by the end of 2009

would be a SMART objective if it was reasonably achievable to deliver 5% in four months and everyone involved agreed it was an important thing to do.

It would also be possible to break down such a goal into sub-steps, each with its own SMART objective e.g.

Make sure all check-outs are staffed during peak hours.

However in some instances SMART doesn’t quite get transformational thinking in place: it’s all too easy to see how the sub-objectives might get diluted, ensuring that the ‘achievable’ objective is missed.

To avoid this I propose an amended version of SMART that forces thinking about objectives to be a bit more expansive.

Specific and Measurable are fine – you can’t improve on knowing precisely what you have to do and knowing when you have done it – but it’s the last three that I think need beefing up.

Instead of Achievable and Relevant/Realistic, I use Aggressive and Radical so that in my earlier example the goal might become

Raise the level of customer satisfaction by 25% by the end of the year.

As a test, you know when you have a Aggressive and Radical objective when people object with ‘That’s not possible’ or ‘We’ve never done that before’. At this point it’s time to deploy the new T – Tight, referring to timescales.

‘Let’s do it in two months not four’ is a good way of showing nay-sayers that you mean business (or confirming their view that you live on a different planet). I also find that T can also stand for Two or Three – hours, days or months: the lower numbers are more motivating than the higher ones, I find.

The key thing about this version of SMART is not that it winds up your more cautious colleagues but that it jolts you into a ‘why not?’ way of thinking. In putting together practical steps and SMART sub-objectives you can start to challenge the kind of thinking that, whilst perfectly correct, often leads to incremental change that gets increasingly diluted.

When you’re trying to move an organisation to deliver superior service this is invariably the kind of approach that’s required.

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