My company subscribes to the theory of SMART goals. After listening to your cast on setting annual goals I saw the light. The S, A and T in smart are unnecessary given a measurable and time-bound goal. I'm stuck however on the assertion that goals do not have to be realistic if they are M and T. An example:

I want to lose 50 pounds by March 1, 2008. Measurable? Yes. Time-bound? Yes. Realistic? Probably not.

In the setting annual goals cast you assert that it is the manager's responsibility to ensure that employee goals are realistic so the R in SMART is unnecessary because it will take care of itself. Using the weight loss example above, this goal would pass muster given that a manager is not competent (which could very likely be the case). If that is the situation then doesn't adhering to SMART (with a strong focus on M and T) still make sense?

Can anyone comment on this? I am all about simplicity and want to enforce MT goals instead of SMART goals. However, I want to make sure that I am not setting my employees up for failure.

jhack's picture


If the manager is not competent, you are likely to have un-smart SMART goals anyway. Work with your directs to create goals, and align them with yours. Use your best judgement to determine goals that are acheivable.

M&M aren't suggesting that "acheivable" isn't good - they were simply pointing out that the focus of the goal setting should be on Measurable and Timebound.

In a podcast, Mike talked about eliminating 600+ bugs in a short time frame. By setting an "unacheivable" goal, folks had to think differently and act differently to reach it (I think they got down to 7).

So even if the goal isn't acheivable, you might get further than you thought possible.

See also this thread: Toward the end of the thread, they address this issue.


Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Sorry, we just assumed intelligence and an interest in non-self-immolation. ;-)

I mean, really, are you GOING to set an unrealistic goal? I just really doubt it. If you do, I think your manager will see through it. If she doesn't, and you fail, well, you'll learn. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.

Realistic as a standard falls into the category of obvious to me. As in, in the US, the goals should be in English.

Am I missing something?


gregt12's picture

John: Great reply...thank you for the advice.

Mark: Straightforward and to the point. Manager-Tools is a GREAT resource for this very reason.

Thank you!

Todd G's picture


True to use the analogy of losing 50 pounds by March 1 is probably unrealistic. Timely and Measureable, yes. However, extend the time out to June or July, the the realistic piece is there. Then when this is done, the Timely part suffers as well.

I can truly see where Mark and Mike think SMART goals are "Stupid." Although, they did not come and say that exactly, when you look at the whole.... They are.

I agree. If we were to set unrealistic goals, then yes, we need to be coached. But I believe that when I set my 2008 goals, they are Measurable, Attainable, and Timely. I believe it is only a matter of how much effort we put into reaching them.


gnattey's picture

[quote="mahorstman"]I mean, really, are you GOING to set an unrealistic goal? I just really doubt it. If you do, I think your manager will see through it. If she doesn't, and you fail, well, you'll learn. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.[/quote]
Firstly - I agree.

Secondly, I'm interested in some opinions...

Perception of realism is commonly based on experience. If a goal seems unrealistic to you, or a direct then there is an opportunity/obligation to coach/mentor the person into that way of thinking, or adjust yours. Either way, a discussion needs to be had. What are peoples thoughts on this??

I did a similar thing to Mike and got a very different approach to issue management and even created the opportunity for automated testing to reduce implementation issues... This was based on my prior experience - and not on the organisations.

jhack's picture

If your team is new, you might need to help them see the path forward. We can do this, then this... (start with some backwards planning)

Once they're used to thinking big, they'll relish the challenge of figuring it out for themselves.


MsSunshine's picture

Do I gently tell a direct that a goal they believe in is not one I believe she & I should have as a goal because it is left over from a previous organizational structure and supposed to just continue "in the margins"? If she has spare time, I'd rather we find a better goal or task to work on. Or do I just let it slide if that causes less disruption - which my whole being is screaming NO NO to?

In telling me about the goal, the report said that she hoped I would support it. It's a joint "in the margins" project that she is sharing with another person who is not on my team. Her comment was that the other manager was "less than supportive" and she hoped I would understand the importance of doing some infrastructure work. I'm very concerned about her morale and she has a lot of influence on the team. Additionally, in our system, the employees first draft their goals and submit them to the manager. (I've already talked to everyone about this being a two-way task.)

My thoughts are that:
[list]I am honest about my opinion - don't apologize. It should not be a goal and not be something she works on.
I get the organization to either bring this out of the margin or tell me clearly that they want it to continue.[/list:u]
[list]1. I just started managing this group less than 2 weeks ago. Four good people have left within the last 3 months. HR and my entire management chain are worried about more people leaving.
2. This person is a good, dedicated worker in a geography remote from me that I met in a working group and have maintained a relationship with. I need her support to help bring the team together - lots of issues there! She knows me but not as her manager. I don't want to come across as unsure of my principles.
3. My current boss worked with her a draft including this goal as the interim manager. So, there is some expectation that it's a good thing to do. However, I feel strongly about my position.
4. It's left over from a previous organizational structure where people were managed by job area not by product. It was a low level "nice to have" task. (I don't believe in "in the margin" tasks but that's another topic!) I calculate that doing it this way will take them 5 years to complete at the current rate - at which point the content must be almost totally irrelevant or they will have to continually fix past work and it never gets done. We're still struggling with the transition.
5. I do believe that my team should contribute to joint infrastructure tasks for the benefit of everyone - just not marginal ones! But the priority it has to the organization given that it's supposed to be "in the margins" screams bad goal to me!
6. But there is another cross product team that would like to see it happen. However they seem either unwilling or don't have the clout to make it a priority to be scheduled to really happen.[/list:u]

jhack's picture

Make sure your team understands the larger organization's goals. Bottom up goals work only if folks are fully cognizant of the greater mission.

When someone feels strongly about a goal that may not be organizationally aligned, try to find out why they're so passionate about it. Try the "Five Whys" technique (

You might find common ground between a goal you have and what's driving her commitment to this one. If it's learning a new technology, helping the company prevent data loss, or whatever, you might be able to help her see another way to her goal (or see her project as a means to yours).

If not, then you need to drive the goals. Make sure that your manager is aware of this situation and will back you up. If keeping her is that important, then letting her spend 10% of her time on a "pet project" might be the perk that keeps her. In that case, it's a worthy goal.


WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

What's the goal?
Why does she believe in it?
Why don't you believe in it?

Without knowing the details, we're shootin' in the dark. :wink:

MsSunshine's picture

:oops:' I was trying to generalize but here's the info

The person does documentation across products. The goal is to create a glossary of all terms used by all software products. Doing this at about 1 1/2 hours a week each for two people for a year has gotten them to letter "C".

She believes that the company has lost something by changing to product based teams versus function based teams. She likes consistency and trying to make documentation the best it can be.

I believe consistency between products is good. :D I believe that you have to temper the desire for perfection by the reality of the resources I have. Why I don't believe in it is that the company hasn't invested any more in this over 15 years. At this rate it will take them 5+ years to finish - at which the software using those terms will be obsolete and those terms meaningless. So, she's just frustrated. I'd rather have her spend any spare time around projects doing something that the company cares more about.

WillDuke's picture
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Thanks for the details. Hopefully I can make a semi-intelligent comment. :)

What type of communication habits (DiSC) does this direct have? I'm thinking she's probably a C. You'll want to adjust your approach accordingly.

Where you are.
She had a project / goal that she was working on. The company shifted and that project needs to change. Being a C, she doesn't like change. Being a C, she would like to see everything completely documented to perfection. This project suited her to a T.

If she's only losing 1.5 hrs a week, and it makes her happy, is the rest of her contribution worth it? I know plenty of people who lose more than 1.5 hrs a week on less useful things. :)

That being said, the ideal solution is to find a new project for her that appeals to her C nature just as much but that benefits the company. Do you have one?

When you have that project ready, try something like:
"Susan, the work you have done on cross-product documentation has been thorough and complete. But since the company has switched to product-based teams that project just doesn't fit into the way we're doing things now. This new project..."

MsSunshine's picture

Thanks. I'll try that. I actually have one thing in mind that she actually raised as a issue and she'd be great at that would have a significant impact on the team and be a challenge for her.

I think the fact that this is really a job task not a goal was my real underlying issue. I woke up in the middle of the night with that realization! (Sometimes my waking brain needs to just get out of the way....) In looking at the goals today, I found that most of them were actually just job responsibilities and not stretches.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Wow. She's working on a goal you don't agree with?

TELL HER TO STOP. Use that time more productively someplace else.