SMART Objectives Redefined…

In many organisations there is an annual ritual, goal setting time. Time for that tired piece of management advice about SMART goals to be trotted out once more.

Everyone’s heart will sink… Staff will not want to over commit. Managers will push and cajole because there is pressure on them from above. The annual battle is on.

Can you get your bonus without effort? Will you know that, despite all your best efforts, your enthusiasm cannot get you there? Do your managers already know that they have missed their targets. Or have they managed to con their bosses into believing that the “stretch” target they have set has not already been achieved. Have they conned you into working hard for peanuts?

We need to get away from the counter productive nonsense of SMART goal setting. It looks good on paper but completely fails to take into account human nature. Emotion counts! Logic is virtually irrelevant!

Unfortunately it is not going away so let’s redefine it!

Stretch  -  be creative, be wacky, be different, change the rules for yourself and your organisation, be innovative, organisation want a step change, challenge everyone to be different, to take a different route, every organisation wants to improve, to make any significant change you have to do something different, forget incremental change, take a different direction.

Motivate – each day you should want to go a bit further towards your goals, you should want to meet and overcome any obstacle, your goals have got to be exciting, they inspire you, you should wake up in the night with fresh ideas on how to achieve them.

Alive – get excited, make sure your goals will keep you excited, infect others with your excitement, don’t worry if they look at you as if you are mad — you are! Your excitement will motivate others, it builds teams that endure and succeed.

Reach  -  set no limits, so what if it is impossible, the greats of this world didn’t settle for possible, why should you? If you get halfway to impossible, it will be 10 times further and more satisfying than your Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic Timebound goal.

Timeless — we have one life, lets keep on pushing, keep on going, keep on having fun, lets keep on driving to our great goals because we want to, never retire, never stop, just get another great goal.

Much SMARTer!

The Puppet Master

There is a guy that I have known for about 12 years. He is going to retire shortly. I have admired him since I met him. Those who know him will recognise this description, if he reads it I hope he takes as it is meant – it is a compliment, and those who don’t, well, just think on this description.

He has never been number one, but as long as I have known him, number two. He has been number two to many number ones. He has survived the passing of many number ones.

I joined him once when he was briefing another number one.  At the end of the meeting, I knew who was in charge.  I knew that the puppet was the star but my friend was pulling the strings.

He has several amazing abilities – he is universally liked but many don’t know why they like him. He listens very well, and keeps a confidence given. He takes care of those who put their trust in him. He advises with clarity and honesty. He can read people, their intentions, their emotions, their motivations, he can anticipate their actions, and very often shape them. He has a huge network of friends, many of them with influence.

He is a patient man. If he wants something, he will get it. He will plan a simple plan and “softly, softly catchy monkey” he will execute and deliver that plan.

But don’t cross him, because you will only cross him once. That network of friends that he has will turn into a monster and devour his enemies.

You don’t need permission to do the right thing…

When you encounter something that feels wrong, what do you do? Do you think, the guy that did it must know what he is doing? Do you think, it’s none of my business? Do you think, I’m not getting involved in those politics? Do you think, I’ll let him hang himself? Do you think, I’m busy right now?

Or do you think to yourself, that looks wrong, I’m going to take a little time to investigate? When you find there is a problem, do you then get involved and try to resolve the situation?

When you join an organisation, you sign up to its objectives. If anything contradicts those objectives then you signed up to take responsibility, to get involved and to do what you can to get a resolution. You signed up to do the right thing, you don’t need permission.

If you can see the big picture and the connections that others do not, if you can see the unintended consequences of decisions and actions, then what is important is the action that follows. The knowledge, the contacts, the courage and the influencing skills are critical to getting people to change direction and correct missteps.

When an issue arises, the question is, what is the right thing to do? And that is what we should try to do. Sometimes we fail and we make an new entry in the “I told you so” book or perhaps it should be called the “I failed to convinced you” book.

You don’t need permission to do the right thing but you may need friends and political skills.

Get out there!

Enterprise architects are often accused of “living in ivory towers”. They complain that their work is ignored. Architecture teams have their numbers cut, they are abolished, their staff are scattered around the IT function to “where their skills can be applied usefully”, and architects can be seen as an expensive luxury that adds little value. A good concept that fails to deliver!

A good enterprise architect invariably has significant practical experience at the sharp end of systems development, service delivery, or in the business. Good architects maintain contact with their roots and they develop new ones. This is critical to the execution of architecture work – and we must always remember “architecture is pointless without impact”.

An enterprise architect must have a range of practical skills covering data, applications, infrastructure and the business that they deliver to. The key here is practical. An architect achieves delivery through others. Those others must understand and respect the architectural insight. This means that architects must have credibility when they advise on decisions and implementation.

The foundations for achieving this are experience, sound understanding of the principles, up to date knowledge, well worked through advice and good communication skills.

However, there are other key activities that we have to work at continually:

  • Get out there in the business – I am out at the sharp end of the business at least once a month and I encourage my team to do the same. We need to see the reality of the people who make the money or deliver the service. We need to talk to them and understand their day to day problems. We need to understand the opportunities for improving performance where it counts. We need to observe the impact that our architect work has on real people. We need to see how we have succeeded or failed. Our conversations with business managers and in IT will then have more credibility.
  • Get out there in IT – What is good for the business is good for IT. But here the opportunities to get involved and help are much greater. As architects, we have information, skills, knowledge and tools that can help in development and service delivery. We can take complex problems away and let development and service delivery team focus on their core tasks. If we offer to take a problem away then we must deliver, we must deliver on time, we must deliver a solution that is easy to take on. If we fail then we lose credibility. If succeed then we have people willing to follow our guidance. We also have advocates.
  • Get out there amongst the managers – I want my architects talking to the Head of Internal Audit about business continuity. I want my architects talking to board directors about new operating models. I want my architects talking to the Strategy Director about new lines of business. I could take the credit; I could be in the meetings. But it is my team that deliver; it is my team that need the day to day relationships to be more effective. My team has a lot more bandwidth and capability than I have. My role is to facilitate their involvement, build their business and interpersonal skills, back them strongly when the going gets tough, help them to understand the politics, make sure that the whole team is coordinated, and to support and mentor them so they are effective.
  • Follow through to delivery – Don’t walk away when the concept, the options or the high level design has been communicated. If you do it will be misunderstood, corrupted, its integrity will be violated, or it will be discarded. However well you communicate, no one understands your ideas better than you do, and no one is more committed than you are. When you walk away and your advice falls apart, it is not because it was bad advice. It is usually because it lacked interpretation in the light of reality; it lacked a nuance that you could not have foretold. You needed to be there to make a small adjustment. You needed to be there to say “not in this situation”. You needed to be there to make sure that the job was completed properly. When your advice has been delivered to the business and is achieving benefits then you can move on.
  • Be available – You can schedule yourself into meetings, and take a formal part in projects to get you out there. But you also need to be available when other people want you. There needs to be slack in the schedules to allow informal contact, there needs to be a service culture amongst the architects. We don’t mind if you drop by any time, we are not too busy to build relationships. We have 30 minute “surgeries” every morning for anyone who wants to turn up and talk.
  • Be flexible – In order to get out there, we need to be flexible. Architects needs to cover for each other, architects need to shuffle the workload amongst themselves as a natural way of working. It is critical for me that the team is a self managing team. I set priorities, the team organise the workload to meet the needs without heavy planning.
  • No silos – I got rid of job titles such as “project architect”, “data architect”, “infrastructure architect”, we only have enterprise architects. Everyone has a focus and I try to align this with aptitudes, interests and capabilities. But I expect everyone in my team to be credible cover for everyone else, my role is to grow the skills to accomplish this.

It’s not about numbers

Some years ago I was appointed as an interim manager to be Head of Architecture for a FTSE 100 company. The scope of my role was applications and infrastructure – business and data architecture was under another manager.

I had a team of 16 architects who had over the last nine months produced numerous architectural artifacts. They were very clever documents explaining all the options that had been evaluated, the evaluation process, the decisions made, and the reasons for each decision.

The team had lost its direction; it had done a lot of abstract architecting but nothing (zero, ziltch, nada, nix, diddly, zip) had been delivered. There was no plan to achieve delivery. Now was the time to get active and use this stuff to shape the IT service delivered to the business. We needed to get the application and infrastructure implementation teams to deliver the architectural vision that had been so painstakingly developed.

How did we get there?

  1. Get the right people
  2. Understand your customer
  3. Get a process
  4. Get some architectural artifacts to support the process

The Right People
I wanted architects who had the following traits:

  • Understanding of the business
  • Rapport with managers, users, developers and infrastructure staff
  • Verbal and written communications skills
  • Technical knowledge
  • Pragmatism
  • Bravery
  • Ability to operate with minimal supervision

I interviewed the team and I moved 12 out of 16 out of the team. Yes, that’s right I was left with 4 team members. I now had a strong core team capable of being a high performance self managing team.

Who is the customer?
As enterprise architects we have a complex customer base. Our aim, like all people working for the organization, is to help achieve the aims of the board of directors. An effective architecture team is visible at this level and has to be mindful of the impressions created at this level. For example, expensive resource that cause delay to business change will not last very long.

The business middle management implement change, applications are just a part of the change they are delivering. Sometimes they are parochial, narrowly focused, and often highly political. They have the ear of the directors and can make or break architecture and architects. You have to play the long game, sometimes compromising on minor details to ensure that the major gains from architecture are not lost.

The users experience the results of architecture. They have the ear of their management, they too can make or break architecture. It is absolutely essential that solutions are usable when they get into the hands of users. You cannot blame the developers for poor implementation, you cannot blame managers for cutting the budget. If the solution doesn’t deliver for the users then the architect is to blame.

Architects don’t implement, other IT staff or contractors or consultants or outsource partners do that. They consume architecture and deliver applications and infrastructure solutions that should meet the needs of the business. Get architecture right and delivery is quicker, cheaper and higher quality.

Get a process
The keys to the process are:

  • Put the most effort where there is the most risk to the business – you need a triage procedure.
  • Get in at the beginning (or before that if you can) of a project
  • Understand project requirements
  • Ensure that the project is aligned to business goals (if you don’t do this then you are not an enterprise architect)
  • Guide the design so that it fits as best it can with the enterprise IT direction – make rational compromises, make sure that IT and business management understand the compromises (this also builds credibility as business aware pragmatists)
  • Keep tabs on delivery in a non intrusive, non obstructive, non policing way e.g. be available to give advice throughout delivery, be a “free” additional project resource
  • Be present at the post implementation review and benefits review (if your organisation doesn’t have them then organise them!)

Get some artefacts
In this case, we had more artefacts than we needed. We had to make them digestible, intelligible and interesting to our customers who were not architects. A three inch thick document making technical recommendations can be reduced to a single page with the decisions. Our work was finding the relevant facts for each of our customers at each stage of the process.

In other organizations, I have started with no artifacts. That didn’t stop us working with projects, we just delivered the key artifacts that we needed as we went along. You may have to work long hours but you don’t waste your time producing superfluous documents.

However many architectural artefacts you have there will always be a job to identify what is appropriate for your audience and to create or customise a deliverable to meet their needs.

How did we do?
We moved from academia to providing value to projects and securing service delivery inside 2 months. Five of the right architects were delivering more value than a team of 17 had previously. It’s not about numbers; it’s about the right people doing the right thing.

SMART Objectives Considered Harmful!

Introduction

Having been a member of staff, a manager and a consultant I have met SMART objectives many times and in many forms. Being faced with the need to create them for myself and help my team create once again, I feel the need to vent some frustration with the apparent obsession with something that I have finally come to conclude can be a harmful activity that is sometimes best avoided. This article explains why I consider SMART objectives should not be developed.

Apparently, the best order to consider your objectives is M-A-R-S-T: so let’s begin…

Measurable

Measurable is supposed to be the most important consideration. This allows you and everyone else know that you’ve achieved your objective.

But this creates a problem – not everything worth achieving is easily measurable.

Therefore you are left with the option of picking something easy to measure or you spend time creating a measurement scheme that accurately reflects what you are trying to achieve.

There are many tales of company activities being distorted by inappropriate measures. Staff changed their behaviour to reflect the measures that their performance was being judged by, “to hell with customer service, I’m measured on how many calls I complete inside 2 minutes”. The thing is that such measures seemed entirely reasonable when they were developed.

There are three basic approaches to measuring schemes that are often introduced when simple approaches fail. Measuring schemes that mimic balanced scorecards, those that have several measures that are in tension with each other, and surveys.

Balanced scorecard based approaches are often introduced without an understanding of how balanced scorecards drive performance. A complete set of objectives should be based on a strategy map i.e. a diagram showing the cause and effect relationships between the achievement of different objectives which ultimately result in the achievement of the financial objectives of the organisation. Without the understanding of cause and effect, the result is that objectives conflict and the individual’s contribution to the overall performance does not improve.

These strategy maps must be consistent throughout the organisation at all levels and across all functions to be effective. Without this consistency, all that results is a random set of activities that does not deliver improved business performance. My experience of getting this right is that is takes about 3 months at about 25% of managers time to get the scheme right, then it has to be updated every few months. The overhead is just not acceptable!

The tension approach requires that conflicting objectives (e.g. quality vs. timescale vs. cost) are formulated and the result is a creative balance. Again, such an approach requires significant management effort to deliver and, quite simply, most managers either are too busy or can’t be bothered!

The last resort of the manager required to measure the immeasurable is to “ask the customer”. On the basis that everyone has a “customer” and “customer service is a good thing” then it must be valid to “ask the customer”. Unfortunately, as the work of Kaplan and Norton on balanced scorecards and strategy maps shows, the customer is only one dimension in the equation. In addition, why is an internal customer’s subjective opinion of your service that is probably biased by politics a reasonable measure that drives corporate performance?

Inevitably, the measure becomes the managers gut feel back up with a reasoned argument based on some anecdotes.

Achievable

  • It’s measurable
  • Others have done it successfully before you
  • It’s theoretically possible
  • You have the necessary resources, or at least a realistic chance of getting them
  • You’ve assessed the limitations

This is pure cowardice, if you want to be successful, if you want to make an impact, you need guts. Making sure you can succeed before you start is for wimps! Leaders take risks, they attempt the impossible. Sometimes they succeed – and its fun to succeed. Sometimes they fail – where’s the next challenge?

As an interim manager I built a career taking on jobs that no-one thought could be achieved. In fact, no-one understood the jobs, they just knew something had to be done, and I was up for a challenge. My most satisfying and successful jobs have come by “going where angels fear to tread”.

Realistic

Apparently, you should be realistic because even if it’s achievable, it may not be realistic. You need to understand…

  • Who’s going to do it?
  • Do they have (or can they get) the skills to do a good job?
  • Where’s the money coming from
  • Who carries the can?

This is all about getting the resources to do the job. To me that’s just part of the job, you don’t start with the resources. You decide to do it, you get the resources, you deliver, simple!

The key is that what you are doing is important enough and that you can convince others of this.

Your conviction and passion are far more important than realism.

Specific

Apparently, the devil is in the detail. The guidelines say that you will know your objective is specific enough if:

  • Everyone who’s involved knows that they are involved – no, we’ll get going and win them over when we need to!
  • Everyone involved understands what we are trying to achieve – no, we’ll develop an understanding together as we progress.
  • Your objective is free from jargon – I’m all for writing it down, it becomes more real, but lets develop a language together that works for everyone.

In a dynamic environment, you start with an idea and only with an idea. Then you act on it and bring people along. Those that can help get involved and develop the idea further, it becomes a team thing, its not mine anymore, it belongs to all of us.

If we wait for the specific, then the enthusiasm goes and the best ideas, which are often the most difficult to conceive of as successful, never get started.

Timely

Timely means setting deadlines.

Time is money, so is quality – too many people get hung up on artificial deadlines that damage the business by riding roughshod over people’s private life and reducing the quality of delivery.

The only real deadline is one where someone dies if you don’t make it, so lets get the value of a timeframe into perspective.

This isn’t an excuse for procrastination or for delay, everything has an appropriate timescale. Often you can’t know it until after you start, if that’s the case then don’t create an artificial deadline.

There’s nothing wrong with having a hoped for timescale, a target can be useful to focus the mind, there’s nothing wrong with having review points, but if you don’t know when your objective will delivered that doesn’t mean you can’t start.

Conclusion

SMART objectives can create inertia and are sometimes an excuse for doing very little. They can damage businesses by stifling creativity, squashing enthusiasm and making mediocrity acceptable. They are a crutch for poor managers.

If you want to improve your bottom line, recruit leaders, encourage leaders, then give everyone the freedom to achieve.