SMARTER: the next generation of SMART objectives

geschrieben von Peter Dilg (6. April 2012)

The good, old SMART

The old SMART

SMART is one possible approach to help setting clear objectives.
It is often used at the beginning of the management cycle:

  1. Setting Objectives
  2. Planning
  3. Organizing
  4. Directing
  5. Controlling

When we teach the basics of good management practice, we usually check if people know the SMART tool. Some do, some don’t. For those who do know the tool, we ask the question if they apply SMART.

You see: common knowledge isn’t common practice.

The bottom line is, that – although perceived as very helpful by most participants – the SMART approach to objective setting isn’t really flesh and blood of the daily common practice.


A brief SMART refresher

For those of you that do not quite remember what SMART is all about, here a brief refresher of what it stands for.

The SMART approach is valuable for receivers and for senders of the message or task. As the sender, you can check if you covered everything of importance. As the receiver, you can make sure that you do end up with a decent assignment, containing all the necessary information you need to turn the task into a success.

S = specific. That is: be as specific as possible when you set an objective. “Fix that!” just isn’t good enough.

M = measurable. This part helps answering the question of “How do I know when the task is completed? How do I measure that?”

A = achievable. Does the receiver of the assignment have all the necessary bits and pieces (skills, access, power, etc.) to accomplish the task? Is there enough time? Is there the necessary support from others?

R = relevant.This is the most important element of the SMART scheme: if things don’t make sense to the person I appoint this assignment to, it is not very likely that the person will engage in the assignment. The one will either try to avoid the assignment or s/he will deliver the minimum of what has to be done, to get over and done with it. So, having sense of understanding for the purpose, the meaning in what I am supposed to do does make a difference.

T = time bound.You specify deadlines, milestones, the expected end of story.

So far, so good.



What is the deal with SMARTER, then?

What does the “E” stand for?

E = would stand for “effect on others” in the first place. There are additional interpretations. Why is the effect on others so important? – In an integrated management system with fine-tuned value and process chains, it is important to check if what I am about to do has an effect not only on my context (process, team, silo), but also to the context and work of others. In environments of ever increasing complexity it is highly likely that what we do does have an effect on others. In these times we simply cannot afford to just focus on our own affairs. Karl Weick points that out nicely in his book “Managing the unexpected”.
Mindfulness is one of the new skills required for good managers. And not only for managers.

Other interpretations of the E
E = could also stand for “environmentally viable”. Is what I am about to do good for the environment? Will there be negative effects further down the line of actions? Here, mindfulness would be of great help, too.

E = could also stand for “ethically sane” – a topic everyone it the company should be sensitive for, particularly leaders that are supposed to lead by example.

Last but not least lat’s look at the “R”

R = would stand for “recorded / communicated in writing”. In coatings and workshops we experience quite often a situation where people get into extended arguments about who said what when and how that was meant.
You see: the meaning of the message is created by the sender of the message, not by the receiver. So, a nice practice would be to create a culture where the receiver of a SMARTER objective would always by default summarize what came across to her or him, verbally and in additionally as a short minutes text.


Try it out if you are interested in the experience of mindfulness and a SMARTER objective setting. Would be nice to hear about your learnings.


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