How NOT to set Objectives

Most of us have come across SMART objectives, and we kind of get why they are a good idea.  If people are working towards well formed objectives, it tends to improve their performance somewhat.

Roger BannisterHow else did we get the 4 minute mile  (set 60 years ago this month, as it happens, by the great Roger Bannister)?

My experience of working with managers in businesses of all shapes and sizes around the globe is that whilst they seem to know about SMART objectives, they don’t apply the concept.

The objectives they themselves are working to (and thus most probably the people they manage are working to as well) demonstrate a somewhat different SMART:

loppy.  They use loose language, vague timelines, woolly verbs, weakening adverbs.

eaningless.  The objectives are not something they can relate to, let alone influence.  Often they rely upon others to do their bit in order to hit the objective, and so the individual is able to escape accountability.  Or they may be aspirational business speak that sounds fine but means nothing.

A rbitrary.  Objectives are set which do not tie in to the core business priorities, leading to misalignment and potential conflict of interest.  This is often because the manager is not clear about what the priorities are either, and so we end up with a “spray and pray” approach, hoping that sufficient effort will be relevant to the priorities that we achieve them in some way or another.

outine.  The objectives are set around routine activity which forms the bread and butter of the employee’s contribution, and should be taken as a given.  This stuff should be treated as a target (a very different thing from an objective), and performance managed in the usual way.  Setting targets as objectives is a wasted opportunity to motivate and focus the individual on new and high impact contributions towards team goals.

imed-out.  Because the objectives are not reviewed regularly (they should be part of the ongoing regular reviews between manager and employee) they have often been completed and then not updated (why not replace with a new one?), or have become irrelevant or inappropriate.  How likely is it that an objective set in Maye 2014 will still be relevant and valid as stated on the document 12 months later?   Not very, I suggest.

Sad  but true.

How SMART (in the positive sense of Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timed) are your objectives?  Are you guilty of any of the above?  If you are, rewrite them, I suggest!  They’re not meant to be written on tablets of stone:  far better that they are kept organic, and updated or modified as the need arises.

I’ve just filmed a video on the subject which I’ll add in here once it has been edited.  Meanwhile I can’t resist inserting this glorious excerpt from Big Keith’s Appraisal in The Office.

About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at
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4 Responses to How NOT to set Objectives

  1. Carolann says:

    LOL!!! The manager kept looking off into the distance, for help, I’m certain. Thanks for the laugh, Michael.


  2. I wouldn’t hire that guy just because he chewed gum at his interview, never mind what an unenthusiastic twit he was. It was good for a laugh anyway.


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