T is for time-bound: The key to SMART goals

SMART goals: No concept is more important to being an excellent manager of groups or individuals. SMART goals can set you free. They can set your employees free. They are the key to successful delegation. However, their misuse can lead to senseless micro-management, planning overkill and employee ennui. I thought I’d write a reliable guide to walking the fine line between using SMART goals to free you and your peeps, and rendering them listless with managerial overkill.

Over the years, a couple of the letters in the SMART acronym have taken on a life of their own. I’ll do what I can to trim them back a bit. Here are the versions I’ve come across:

S = specific

M=measurable, memorable

A=Achievable, actionable

R=relevant, realistic

T=timely, time-bound

I’m going to start with T. For one thing, it’s the easiest to do. Even more important though is this: It’s the key to managing energy, and managing energy is the key to performance. Without a deadline, even the most specific, measurable, important goal flops around like loose string on Itzak Perlman’s Stradivarius.

Nothing tightens up a team like a deadline. And, nothing ensures a deadline will be met like setting a follow-up date. That’s all it takes, really: Give a specific deadline, like “Saturday, 10:00am,” then set a follow-up date to check on progress: “Let’s talk on the phone in 3 days – how about 3:00 on Wednesday?”

You’ll be astonished at how quickly things start to move.

I can almost hear your objections: “But, Liz, isn’t that treating adults like children?” Or, “Why should I have to babysit my employees? They’re professionals. They know what to do – they should just do it.”

Except:  You don’t set follow-up dates for them. You set them for you. Setting and keeping follow-up dates are what allows you to manage a project without having to step in and do it yourself. Follow-up dates give you all the opportunities you need to manage well. Here’s what I mean:

  • Setting a follow-up date shows your commitment to the goal or task. Time spent is how you show people what’s important. When something is a high priority, you make time for it.
  • Setting a follow-up date shows your commitment to them. Time spent is how you show people that they are important to you.
  • Setting a follow up date gives you easy access to teachable moments. Regular contact makes this easier. The result is better alignment, early course correction and – best of all – the ability to express appreciation often.
  • Setting a follow-up date keeps you both current. Has there been change in the priority of this project? In relevant information?  Regular follow-up dates make it easy to pass this information along.

You see? All the critical tasks of a manager, there in easy, bite-sized pieces, built right into the fabric of your day. No inertia to break through, no big hill to climb to reach your goal. Follow-up dates enable you to tag on to the energy and momentum of the actual work while working your management agenda. They are a twofer.

But the primary reason you set a follow-up date may surprise you: It will give you instant feedback about how clear you were in the first place. And, take it from one who knows: You weren’t nearly as clear as you thought you were. You weren’t as comprehensive either. You may have forgotten some critical detail, or failed to think things through to a logical conclusion. Follow-up meetings show you this with painful clarity. It can be embarrassing to respond to questions that arise during a follow-up meeting, but it will be some of the best time you’ve ever spent.

Next week: S is for specific.

As always, I welcome your ideas, input and stories.

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