Do Your Performance Goals Give You the Whole Picture?

How do you approach performance goals for your employees? Are you still using SMART Goals? For years SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely/time-bound) goals have been the gold standard in writing goals for performance reviews –but I’m not so convinced that its still the best model for performance goals across the board. Here are a couple of points that got me thinking:

SMART Goals Only Give You a Part of the Whole

There are a limited number of jobs where 3-5 SMART Goals give the whole picture of performance for a job. Depending on your industry, it may work for some of your employees, but likely doesn’t work for all of them.

For that “other” population SMART performance goals alone aren’t that effective. While they are an easy way to evaluate performance against a  specific objective, they give little insight to everything that your employees have done or contributed — unless you write one for everything. When used as the sole indicator, these types of goals may fail to capture the whole, accurate picture of an employee’s performance, work, and accomplishments.

The Business Changes Too Fast

Technology has played a big role in the ways and speed at which we work. For many companies, there is an advantage in being nimble and agile in order to meet customer and market demands. The ability to quickly change direction may impact priorities and projects that your employees are working on. In a fast-paced environment SMART goals will become stale,  rendering them virtually meaningless at the end of the review period.

3 Methods to Keep Performance Goals Fresh, Relevant, and Timely:

Ditch the “set it and forget it mentality”

Encourage managers and employees to regularly review, update, and assess performance goals. Depending on your review cycle, that may mean once a month or once a quarter – work with your teams to set the cadence. This approach allows you to add or remove goals that are no longer relevant based on business needs and  track updates or progress. You’re also doing a “mini-review,” giving timely feedback to your employees and making adjustments along the way. WIN! Added bonus, you’re writing reviews during the period and not at the end of the period. DOUBLE WIN!

Turn SMART Goals Upside Down

Turn the concept of SMART Goals on its head and have SMART Results that explain how specific examples, projects, or deadlines support a larger overarching goal. This concept would allow you to have a broader goals that may withstand the changes of the business and puts the emphasis the “how” an employee’s work supported the larger goal using the SMART format. High engagement, good communication  and clear alignment between employee and manager are required for this method to work successfully, but for some of your more senior or project based roles this method allows for more collaboration and milestone reporting. It also gives a good opportunity for manager to say “yes – stay on this path” or “Danger Will Rogers, we need to do some course correction” and adjust goals or approach as needed.

Mix it Up – SMART Plus

Create a combination of SMART performance goals and some broader goals with SMART results. This method allows for some flexibility and coupled with regular check ins and updates to goals can be a great way to capture a true picture of performance for a wide variety of employee types and jobs.  Depending on the employee or job the combination may be more specific SMART goals and a one or two broader goals or vice-versa. Be careful not to have too many goals as this may lend itself to that. 3 -5 goals is generally a good rule of thumb – but use exceptions as needed and where it makes sense for the length of your review cycle. Anything more than 7 or 8, in my opinion, is hard for the manager and the employee to manage.

Regardless of what method or approach you choose, consider the needs of your employees and your managers. Make goal setting easy, seamless, and meaningful.

What do you think of using SMART performance goals?

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Andrea Devers

Andrea is an HR technologist and change management expert. She’s has built her career in global HR Compliance, HR process improvement, and shared services across all functions of HR. Connect with Andrea.

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