I recently caught up with some of the podcasts as I've been travelling, and enjoyed the MT goal setting casts (how to set Annual Goals and examples of MT goals).
I agree get MT part of it and 99% of the work is done, but I can't wholeheartedly discard particularly the S,A part although R is I agree in almost all cases redundant.
I over the years have been taught the convenient before functional acronym in various forms but thought it best as:

S - specific
M - Measurable
A - Agreed
R - Realistic
T - Time based

I agree M & T are the crucial ones, but I find the Agreed, in terms of process in my practical experience one of the most crucial steps towards success, that is when setting goals actually going through the effort of making sure all the various parties that may effect the outcome (my manager, my directs, my customers) actually have agreed also that this is my goal - in other words that all parties look at the goal and see the same thing and furthermore know it before hand. Particularly important for encouraging communication down the line if you are setting an annual goal and want a sense of urgency in the team to help achieve it.
Secondly the (S) specific I actually am not attached to that much but I remember in some of the Manager-tools coaching podcasts where Mark set really great goals that described the outcome so specifically you could close your eyes and see what it would physically look like once achieved. I think thats valuable and while arguably is covered in measurable (you can measure whether it looks like the description or not) I find Specific to be a more useful memetic prompt.

Maybe a move away from SMART goals is more necessary because as the podcast demonstrated it is taught so vaguely and haphazardly that it can mean 7 different sets of criteria and any combination thereof and it becomes more of a distracting exercise than a productive one.
But that said I thought I'd raise my thoughts on the S and A in SMART at least to say in their defence, that they may not be entirely redundant or stupid.
Maybe agreed is going to differ between cultures, but I definitely found particularly from lower in the heirarchy it is a big determinant of success.

HMac's picture

Great post tohm -

If I remember it, M/M's "A" stood for "Actionable" - that is, they suggested that the typical application of SMART goals had "A" being "actionable" and their reaction was something like....[u]well, duh![/u] of course it's going to be actionable...

I like your perspective on "Agreed" and the importance that agreement ( or commitment) play in getting work done through others.

The need to focus on agreement - to get commitment - is going to vary based on the organizational culture, the individuals involved, the nature of the goals. For example, it might not be so necessary to work at getting commitment in a very heirarchical organization, in a command-and-control culture, when you're working with a bunch of High D's, or when the goal is mission critical.

But even in those cases, it's worth spending some time thinking on how you're going to ensure agreement among those ciritcal to achieving the goal.


BJ_Marshall's picture
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You can get rid of the "S" because it's part of a well-phrased "M."

What doesn't get measured doesn't get done, so when you create your goal, you're going to want it to be clearly understood. A simple example might be "All referral cases processed within a week of receipt." Everyone in my office knows what a referral case is, knows what "processed" means, and knows what a week is. How more specific do I need to be?


tomas's picture

After that 'cast I started thinking of them as "sMarT" goals. The key points are measurable and time based - the M and the T. The other points are all valid but should be implicit. I think think they are still useful guides - not everyone chooses realistic goals, for example.

Actually, I have always thought the A was for achievable or attainable, which just reiterates the R for realistic.

jhack's picture

It is so much easier to describe to my team the goals they need to create when I stick to Measureable and Time-bound. The other stuff is all just gilding the lily.

"Eschew surplusage." - Mark Twain


tohm's picture

Hugh - thanks for the compliment. And totally agree that the relative merits of 'A' I guess depend on the amount of 'role power' as M/M define it you possess AND want to actually make account withdrawells from. My old training manager would always delight in reminding me that 'everything was a negotiation' although I will concede that when I think of it as a process/checklist Agreement should be right at the end as in - do all stakeholders agree that this is the goal we are aiming for?So I don't know if that doesn't disqualify it from being part of the 'goal setting process' in terms of how to write an effective goal, so much as makng sure the goal is effective in achieving the result.

BJ - Point taken and I mostly agree, get M right and S A (as achievable, actionable or whatever) and R (Realistic) become redundant but in answer to 'how much more do I need to be?' the answer may in your case be 0% more specific, but if it was 'how much more specific can I be?' I see a way that isn't degenerating into the word games (I don't think) that the MT model seeks to avoid. How I might apply S to your example (and again I also know that you mentioned your staff all know the implicit meaning of the goal)
starting with "All referral cases processed within a week of receipt." All is fine for M because it is explicitly 100% and 'within a week of receipt' is the 'time-based' element but getting Specific I would say 'by 5pm of the 4th working day after the day of reciept' taking out any vaguries of whether if recieved 10am Monday that means it is due monday morning, at 9am or 10am or is it due 5pm Friday night or simply 'before the weekend' then maybe again it isn't necessary by your own qualification but what does 'processed' mean here applying the visual element of specific it might mean 'case form signed by supervising manager' or 'awaiting signoff on managers desk' etc. I mean it may be a petty difference between effective and watertight, but as an experienced weaseller out of informal contracts I did like Mark's coaching goal test of being able to close your eyes and see what exactly is done (I think he gave an example relating to power point presentations), hence my confusion over scrapping S in the MT goals podcast.

tomas - agree totaly the M and the T is where the emphasis needs to be, and again the R has always stood for nothing more than 'Redundant' to me and was also taught A as 'Achievable' which made the SMART goal exercise a painfully redundant checklist when trying to use it in the past, using A as 'Agreed' was a revalation for me and I have to say helped me instill the new discipline of actually gaining agreement, I had several frustrating experiences as a servicing department with relatively low role power trying to introduce new initiatives to improve performance (like cutting out the field sales reps and taking orders direct from customers) that were left dead in the water because I didn't get agreement up front and it was seen as a challange to power rather than a highly beneficial delegation of an annoyance as I envisioned it.

John - Agree MT by definition has to be easier than SMART and I'm not particularly attached to preserving neat acronyms over effectiveness, but at the same time I can definitely see situations where being REALLY (S)pecific and attaining up front (A)greement can greatly improve effectiveness, but on the whole I like solutions to be simple and easy yes, so MT is a good tool if used responsibly, say, like a pocket knife.

stephenbooth_uk's picture

[quote="wmarsha1"]You can get rid of the "S" because it's part of a well-phrased "M."[/quote]

You're making a huge assumption there, that M is well phrased. I frequently find myself having to deal with issues that stem from two or more people have slight but significant differences in their understanding of precisely what a term means in a particular context.

One example, I'm going back about 3 years here, relates to server uptime. The senior manager (reported directly to the director of the department) in charge of IT support agreed a goal (as part of the SLA with client departments) of "99% uptime on all servers" with penalties for failure to meet it and bonuses for exceeding it. To him, as with anyone else in IT, "99% uptime" meant that servers would be up and running for 99% of the stated service period for the applications it supported, less any agreed outages. So if the server supported an application that was only used during the business day (typically 08:00 to 19:00, Monday to Friday less any public holidays, in this organisation) it would be up for 99% of the 11 hours a day between 08:00 and 19:00 for the approximately 250 working days of the year, or about 2722.5 hours, and the rest of the time they may be up but we could take them down for whatever period. We hit and even exceeded that goal on most servers. At the end of the first year the customer departments tried to extract the penalties claiming we had actually achieved less than 50% uptime on most servers. It transpired that they interpreted "99% uptime" as 99% of 24 hours a day, 7 days a week regardless of public holidays or the stated service hours for the applications, or 8672 hours. Those servers had been shut down for backups, upgrades and maintenance on evenings and weekends, which was fine according to our understanding of the goal but not according to the customer departments. In the end it was all sorted out, we didn't have to pay any penalties and year 2 the goals were explicitly specified but it was scary for a while.

[quote="wmarsha1"]What doesn't get measured doesn't get done, so when you create your goal, you're going to want it to be clearly understood. A simple example might be "All referral cases processed within a week of receipt." Everyone in my office knows what a referral case is, knows what "processed" means, and knows what a week is. How more specific do I need to be?[/quote]

I like what tohm said about what does processed mean. Signed off or on the appropriate person's desk waiting to be signed off. Maybe it means signed off, all subsidiary processes completed and packed up for archiving? You may know what it means. Your team may know what it means. Does your boss? Does that temp you got in to cover whilst one of your team is off on their honeymoon? Does that new direct you hired to replace the direct who left last month?

What is a week, in this context? 5 days? 7 days? 5 working days? Are you worried about what time it arrived? If something comes in at 15:00 on Tuesday does it have to be complete by 15:00 the following Monday or close of business the following Monday? Do you know? Does your boss? Do your team? Does the temp or the new direct?

That may sound petty. If we're talking about aspirational goals or you have a reasonable boss then they probably are. If however you have an unreasonable boss (remember M&M have said that there's always an assumption of ethical behaviour in their advice and their advice could be applied unethically) and the goal is used as a performance measure, i.e. whether you'll have a job next month, you need to know precisely and specifically what you're being expected to deliver. That's not a hypothetical, I've worked in those sorts of environments.

Reading this thread I've come to the conclusion that the S, A and R are needed as subscripts to remind you to check that the goal is specifically defined, that is it actionable/realistic and agreed (I know I've had a few goals imposed on me that on deeper inspection turned out to be not actually possible, and they certainly were not agreed).


BJ_Marshall's picture
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[quote="tohm"]I mean it may be a petty difference between effective and watertight...[/quote]

Thanks for raising this great point. In my example of "all referrals being processed within a week of receipt," I guess I would need to scrutinize each part of that goal to see whether anyone could rationally weasel out of it.

[quote="stephenbooth_uk"]You're making a huge assumption there, that M is well phrased.[/quote]

Now I'm seeing an MT goal related to having Ms free of assumptions. I've entered a recursive loop ad nauseum - Help! :lol: Seriously, though, you're right: I am assuming that the goal is universally understood by all interested parties. I think I can mitigate this risk by making my Ms watertight with no wiggle room for interpretation.


ctomasi's picture

For what it's worth...

As I deliver performance reviews this week, I'm finding the staff is happier to think about "MT" goals instead of SMART goals. It's simpler and we're getting better goals out of it.

tohm's picture

it occured to me that SMART is two tools relly, one an ineffective tool for [i]remembering a set of criteria[/i] and that is what MT goals is far superior in and the other is a set of criteria that can work as a great tool for setting goals, if you happen to be lucky enough to have been taught or remember the right ones. It's like when my friend pointed out the old memonic tool 'Thirty days has September, April...' which rimes and helps you remember how many days to each month, but you can actually mix up the order in any way so long as the crucial rhyming months stay the same. same thing hapend to the SMART acronym.
So in that regard MT is a big improvement because it is much easier to teach and remember and apply.