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JumpFrom strategy to SMART objectives

For a lot of leaders and managers, it’s “that time of year again” – that time of year, where as part of the performance management process, we start setting objectives for the next financial year.

For many it’s an unwelcome interruption to the day job, a tick box exercise or a frustrating  process that doesn’t seem to contribute much.

A strategic management tool

Done well, objective setting provides a blueprint for how, as a manager, you’re going to achieve what needs to be achieved through your team this financial year.  It’s a powerful strategic management tool.

Objective setting offers most value to the organisation, the leadership team, line management and employees when it’s used to translate business strategy into action, particularly in times of change where clarity and focus is needed.

Cascading the strategy

Prior to setting objectives, the first priority for the senior leadership team is to effectively communicate the strategy and priorities so that managers can interpret this in the context of their department, function or team. For a manager, the best way to do this is in collaboration with your people, as part of a strategic planning session. This part of the process is about making sure that every area is aligned to the goals of the business. It’s also about engaging people in those goals, and through joint problem solving, deciding what’s needed to achieve them.

Setting individual objectives

Once the strategy has been communicated and there is clarity on what needs to be achieved at department, function and team level, then it’s time to have conversations with individuals about their own objectives. Sometimes managers jump too quickly into defining SMART objectives  (I use this to mean Specific, Measureable, Action-oriented, Relevant Time Bound). I always recommend managers spend more time up front in joint conversation with their people answering some key questions:

  1. What OUTCOMES do we want to achieve?
  2. What RESULTS do we want?
  3. How will we know we’ve been successful?

From this, you can then work backwards to set your SMART objective:

  • Specific: what’s the objective that will give you the outcome and result you’re looking for?
  • Measure:  what will tell you you’ve been successful?
  • Action-oriented: how are you going to do this – what’s the action plan? What resources do we need?
  • Relevant: does it clearly relate to the overall strategy of the team / organisation? Will it add value?
  • Time bound: when will we achieve it?

This process gives managers, teams and individuals their blueprint for success. It’s the plan for how what needs to be achieved is going to be achieved and for understanding what resources and support are required. Objectives should be reviewed regularly – a check in to see – are we on track?  If you’ve got the objective setting piece right, both the manager and the individual will have a vested interest in how things are going. In the same way as a manager, you wouldn’t kick off a project and not look in on it again for a year (would you?!), you’d want to review regularly to see are we on track?

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