If you’ve been handling performance management for any length of time, you are familiar with SMART goals. Based on this framework, goals are developed that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. They work very well in many instances, but they are not perfect.
Performance management continues to evolve. We’ve already witnessed the dethroning of the annual performance review. Now we’re seeing organizations going above and beyond what is possible with traditional SMART goals through advanced goal-setting techniques.
Why Is Goal-Setting Important?
Being able to set goals is critical to performance management. After all, if you are unsure where the employee needs to go in terms of performance improvement, it is impossible to tell when they have actually grown or if they are making progress at all. However, the conventional definition of SMART (and the associated baggage that comes with the underlying meaning of the acronym) leaves something to be desired in today’s world.
Changing the Way You Set Goals
Just as organizations are increasingly moving away from the outdated annual performance review, we need to change the way that we set goals in relation to performance management. However, there are many different options. Choosing the right one for different needs and situations is important.
The SMART format has served well, although it is certainly limited. One choice that can allow you to benefit from using the same familiar format is to redefine the individual elements of the acronym. For instance, rather than specific, the S might stand for significance. Rather than measurable, the M might stand for motivating. Instead of achievable, the A might stand for accountability.
You get the idea – redefine the individual components here, and you can create a goal-setting tool that is actually useful for today’s organizations. You can feel free to get creative, too. There is no need to limit yourself to one word per letter. Realistic and rewarding can work just as well for R as anything else.
Self-Defined Goals Matter More
How much do you really think the goals you set for an employee matter to them? Yes, they will strive to achieve them, but do you think they resonate with the employee on a deeper level? In most cases, they will not. There are a couple of reasons for this, but the most important to understand is that, often, goals imposed by others matter less to us than those we impose on ourselves.
To tap into this, work with the employee to set goals. Lead them toward the goals you want them to set, but let them reach that point on their own. This is best done through one-on-ones where you can create an ongoing conversation and support their journey toward those goals through ongoing information and education.
Have Them Write Them Down
The written word has immense power. Once something is written down, it feels like it crystalizes in our minds. By having your employees write down their performance-focused goals, they can commit to them more.
As they write goals down, your employees can commit to achieving each one. It’s really all about buy-in and having something tangible to remind them what they are working toward each day. They can put those goals on a piece of paper and keep it in a desk drawer, or even put them on a sticky note and attach it to their computer monitor. However, it works best for them – the point is to keep them visible so that there is always a tangible reminder of what they want to achieve.
Pick Up the Pace
The reason that the annual performance review is being abandoned is that it does not fit the pace of modern business (if it ever did). Providing an employee with feedback on behavior or missed opportunities from what might be months ago does no one any good. Moreover, today’s business environment changes almost daily. Your feedback needs to enact performance change immediately.
To pick up the pace sufficiently, you will need to set goals and then evaluate your progress toward them regularly. This can be done quarterly, but many industries require even greater flexibility. One-on-ones and informal chats give you the opportunity to monitor and measure in real-time while providing feedback that will affect employee performance and customer satisfaction today and tomorrow.
Put Modern Technology into Play
Once upon a time, managers had limited access to tools, but today, there are many different options. The shift toward remote work has accelerated the development and use of digital tools like Microsoft Teams or Trello. These can be used to help you set goals, track progress, and even communicate and collaborate with your employees.
Let’s take Trello as an example. Essentially, it is a glorified Kanban board. It allows you to create columns and cards that can easily be used to codify goals, set paths toward reaching them, and more. This gives employees not just a written goal but a defined process by which to attain that goal. As each goal is reached, cards can be archived, and new goals can be added so that your employee can continue to grow and develop.
Resist the Urge to Set Busy Goals
Setting goals is important, but they must be meaningful and relevant. If they are not, then achieving them is nothing more than another form of busy work. Busy is fine as long as there is value and importance in what is being done. However, busyness for the sake of busyness is a waste of time and resources that could better be used to achieve something more significant and impactful.
The Future of Goal-Setting
Goal-setting will always be a key part of performance management. However, the means and methodology used will continue to evolve and change. The future of goal-setting is clearly visible – greater agility in order to meet changing needs, improved flexibility and adaptability on the fly, and less adherence to traditional models that no longer have the value and relevance they once did.