It's the time of year where people set themselves goals - for the whole of 2011, for the next few months, or just in general. And you can read a lot about SMART goals and how great they are. Opinions vary
on exactly what the letters stand for but I'll go with Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. So if I'm giving you a performance review and I say "you should be more helpful", that is not a SMART goal because we can't measure your helpiness and it's also not terribly specific and I haven't given you any kind of time frame for improvement. If you're not helpier tomorrow, have you failed your goal? What about next week? Next month? How long do you have to get more helpful? If I say "you should fill out your timesheet more often" it's still not a SMART goal because it's vague and doesn't have a time element and so on. I can make it a SMART goal by saying something like this: "over the next 6 weeks, at least 5 weeks' timesheets will be completed by 10am
of the next Monday morning." The relevance will have to come into play when I explain to you that late timesheets delay our billing of clients and mess up our cash flow. (Or whatever; we actually don't use timesheets here, but that's not the point.)
So OK, we have this concept. And it seems like a pretty good one. After all, if you write it like that, we can come back after 6 weeks (or whatever) and say "pass" or "fail". But let's look at the timesheet-laggard above. Let's say that person misses week 1 and week 2, then goes flawless after that. Still fail? If you feel that way, then as soon as the laggard misses week 2, why keep trying? You've blown the goal, right?
Then there's the matter of the consequences of blowing the goal. Am I going to fire you for messing up my invoicing and causing cash flow headaches and just generally not caring about the business? (I might.) But if you have a goal to pass a particular cert, and you fail it, is anyone going to fire you? Or you have a personal goal to run some distance under some time and you don't get to that time, will you give up running?
Here's I. M. Wright on why having a dozen year-long SMART goals is just wrong
- they take so long to write, if people meet 11 out of 12 they can still have a fail of a year, they're all about you when you're actually part of a team, and so on. Since they're unavoidable at some companies, he has some suggestions how to have 4 or 5 really good ones. He also doesn't like SMART for stretch goals, and I agree. Christophe is more about how things change over an entire year
, so the goal is probably not relevant by the time limit. The top answer to this StackOverflow question
says they're not good for developers, period.
In answering this StackOverflow question
I realized something. SMART goals are good for "shape up or else" goals, put on a person by someone else, that allow just a few weeks to achieve something really, well, specific, measurable, and relevant. Do your timesheets. Come to work on time. Include a decent comment when you check in your work. They're really not good for "be a better person", "lose weight", "make more money", or even "get a paid acting job". You just need a different way to express and measure progress on those kind of goals. If you're setting a goal for yourself, unless you think you're correcting a deficiency and have consequences lined up for failure, don't make it a SMART goal.