A lot of management training has been done to drive operational performance improvement through the use of SMART objectives. Unfortunately this useful tool has been taken to extremes and become quite dangerous.
SMART objectives are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. Who could argue with that?
There was a great push by consultancy firms to get us to move to SMART objectives so we could manage people through the results on a spreadsheet or database. It made face to face communication less necessary, apparently, as results could be posted and reviews conducted remotely.
This cold numerate measurement is known as the tick-box culture. The measurement has become more important than the activity. Hospitals deliver health care to patients to achieve the tick box scores to satisfy their customer, the government, that pays the bills. The focus has been lost from the real world of actual deliverables to the media world of spin and manipulation of tick-box scores.
What I argue against is the loss of operational performance. The tick-box scores are out of kilter with reality.
And there is worse to reveal.
When you undertake a strategic or tactical plan you make assumptions about the world and prepare objectives to achieve success.
The system of SMART objectives is set up to drive staff and organisation behaviour to achieve the plan.
The military has a saying that the greatest battle plan will never survive first contact with the enemy. It’s the same with an organisation’s plans and reality.
What is needed is a system of DUMB objectives: demand driven, unifying, motivational and broad.
DUMB objectives are changed to suit the demand today, this week, this month.
They pull the organisation together ensuring that as a whole, performance is improved today, tomorrow, next week, next month.
They need to be “visible” to be motivating. People need to feel they have done that pile of paperwork, laid that brick wall or handled that many flights today.
Finally they need to be broad. Sometimes the original plans and objectives are quickly out of date and other challenges arise which require the organisation’s response. They must be capable of adapting to what is needed rather than what is being measured through SMART objectives.
DUMB objectives require more management effort. You can’t set a DUMB objective and forget it like you can a SMART one. You have to go and see and talk to people. You have to manage and even show some leadership.
DUMB objectives must be pulled and pushed to match the real world demand today or tomorrow.
The organisation’s people will respond with a performance to match the demand when the motivating element is done correctly.
The routine measurements of performance take place in the background to monitor the organisation’s development.
DUMB beats SMART any day!
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