Archive for February, 2012

Setting objectives: better than SMART is SMARTER.

“I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it.”

 William Thomson, also known as Lord Kelvin, Scottish physicist (1824-1907)


In order to execute efficiently on your company strategy while supporting the personal development of your staff, it is your duty as manager to set and share adequate team and individual goals. A commonly used management method recommends defining SMARTER criteria for your goals: the objectives must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound as well as Evaluated on a regular basis and Recognized/Rewarded when achieved or Revisited when not.

Download a one-page executive summary here (PDF or JPEG format): Team and Individual Goals: Be SMARTER



Setting team and individual objectives is a key process that allows your team to focus on a long-term unified direction by defining clear targets to reach and by measuring the progress towards those targets. It also helps to increase your staff engagement and their job satisfaction by offering them some personal rewarding challenges supporting their personal development. Obviously the goals that you set directly derive from your company strategy, match its values and take into account the missions and maturity of your team and each of its members.

The most classical management method for setting objectives proposes to follow “SMARTER” criteria. Your objectives must be:

  • Specific: the goal must be explicitly defined, without any ambiguity. It cannot be subject to individual interpretation but must explain specifically what has to be achieved and the type of outcome expected.
  • Measurable: the completion criteria and related quantitative or qualitative measurement method must be clearly described. In other words, you must be able to answer the question: “How will I know that the objective is attained and which evidences are required to confirm it?”
  • Attainable:  this criterion emphasizes the importance of setting an objectives that is challenging for your team but nonetheless reachable against the existing constraints. It also requests you to assess whether the objective is realistic taking into account the other objectives that you have already set for the same employee. If the target is out of reach, your objective will become meaningless. This criteria also poses the question of the resource, authority and means needed to accomplish the objective: confirm how the goal can be reached (specific skills to be acquired, training available, human or financial resources, level of authority…). An objective cannot be reached “by all means” but through method and means aligned with your company ethic and values.
  • Relevant: the goal must be tied to your organization priorities and to the employee maturity in his role. Goals that align to your company strategy, the team mission and the employee development and that do not conflict with other objectives are relevant. It also requires to check whether the timing for the objective is appropriate.
  • Time-bound: this criterion stresses the importance to specify an appropriate time frame for your goal: when is it supposed to start and to end? What are the steps and critical milestones to accomplish it? What are the intermediate outcomes expected and by when? Answering those questions contributes to define a sense of priority for your staff and helps them to organize their tasks around their various objectives.
  • Evaluated: as a manager, it is your responsibility to set challenging goals for you team but also to support your staff in reaching their targets by assessing the progress on a regular basis and by providing some recommendations or coaching session to overcome eventual obstacles. Define some specific checkpoints (at a predefined frequency or at critical milestones) and the related expected deliverables. Do not wait for the objective to reach its time-limit to deliver your feedbacks: this is counter-productive because it does not support the development of your collaborator and may even create frustration if the target is missed. The final evaluation result of the objective completion should not come as a surprise to your employee but should be the reflect of the intermediate reviews plus the evaluation of the last mile and its final output.
  • Recognized/Rewarded or Revisited: when reaching the end of the time frame defined for the goal execution, run the final evaluation to assess the success or failure in achieving the objectives. Ask your employee for the lessons learned while executing the objective. What would they do differently next time? Why? What could they manage easily? What were the main obstacles? How have they been able to overcome them? What have they learned? If the objective is reached, explain the type of reward that the employee can expect (impact of the evaluation on possible promotion or mobility, extended responsibilities and autonomy on similar activities at the next opportunity, monetary compensation…) and in any case recognize the accomplishment. It is important to praise the employee for his performance, especially when outstanding. On the other hand, if the outcomes are below expectation, it is crucial to run a full review with your employee to understand what went wrong and why. Ask penetrating questions to get to the essence of the issue and share ideas on what could have been done differently. This discussion allows you to revisit the objective in order to draw the appropriate conclusions and should become the basis for defining new goals that will help your employee to improve his weak areas.

What will make the success of your team and its members in achieving their goals is their capacity to own their objectives and focus on their execution regardless of the numerous distractions from their daily activities. From experience, in order to increase the sense of ownership, I recommend here to engage your team further by:

  • having your team member propose their self-defined objectives; review if they are compatible with the overall organization missions and priorities as well as relevant for the employee development within the company and include them if this is the case,
  • reviewing and agreeing together with your staff on the SMART criteria for the objectives you assign them; involve them especially on the means, resources and time frame definition,
  • making sure to explain how those objectives will support their personal development, the team mission and the overall company strategy,
  • asking your staff to print out their objectives once set and to keep them visible at any time in their work environment.

At the end of the goal setting exercise, each employee should be able to express clearly the following:

“My company objective is to XXX ; our team will support this goal by XXX ; my personal contribution to this mission is to XXX .”


  • exercise 1: Are the following objectives SMART? If the answer is “no”, what is missing and how can you correct them to make them SMART?
  1. To a Developer: Reduce the number of open critical bugs for Product P by 30% by the end of Q2
  2. To a Sales executive: Increase number of deals signed by 60%
  3. To a Service Desk engineer: Create a knowledge database that will list all critical incidents and their respective solutions and that will be accessible to all Service Desk members by the end of the year.
  4. To a Client Relationship Manager: attend training for Product P
  • exercise 2: Take one of your current objectives; is it SMART? If the answer is “no”, what is missing?
  • exercise 3: Review the objectives that you have set for your team members. Are they SMARTER? How can you adjust them if this is not the case?

So What?

In most of the cases, managers with teams set for success go really instrumental when defining and assessing the objectives for their teams and respective members. They define goals that not only reflect and support the organization strategy and mission but also that inspire and motivate their collaborators by making sure that those goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. Then they spend time providing regular feedbacks and intermediate Evaluation and make sure that the employee is Reocgnized/Rewarded when the target is achieved or that the objective is Revisited through adequate review when it is missed.

Answer to exercise 1: 1. yes – 2. no – 3. yes – 4. no

Last Revision: 2015 March 24

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When 20 means 80… Pareto principle to support managers in tactical decisions.

“The good-to-great companies did not focus principally on what to do to become great; they focused equally on what NOT to do and what to stop doing.” 

 Jim Collins, US business consultant and author (born 1958) in “Good to Great”


The Pareto Principle also known as “the 80-20 rule” or “the law of the vital few” simply stipulates that, in many cases, a minority of causes generates a majority of the effects. Representing your key business data in a simple Pareto Chart and identifying the “vital few” will help you to define the areas where to primarily focus (or not) the time and resources of your organization.

Download a one-page executive summary here (PDF or JPEG format): The 80-20 Rule (Pareto Principle) for tactical decision making



Vilfredo Pareto (1848 – 1923) was an Italian civil engineer, economist and sociologist who had great interest in studying various social distributions such as income and land ownership. After collecting and compiling a large number of data, he has noticed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. As Pareto studied other domains, he observed that the same non-linear distribution pattern was persistently reproduced.

This pattern, where a minority of the inputs is responsible of the majority of the outputs, was later called the “Pareto Principle” or “80-20 rule” and has been since then broadly observed in different domains. Note that, in reality, the distribution can obviously be different from a 80-20 joint ratio (As a matter of fact, following Pareto’s initial discovery and conclusion, those figures are commonly used to explain the principle itself).

The minority of the inputs leading to the majority of the results is called the “vital few”, as opposed to the “trivial many”.

In the graph below, also called Pareto Chart, you will see for example the number of client complaints related to a specific product, sorted per decreasing number of complaints, (left-hand side Y-axis) and the cumulative percentage of complaints per product (right-hand side Y-axis). What Pareto principle tells us here is simply that, in order to solve 80% of the client complaints, you need to fix your quality issues with Products A to I  also called the “vital few”. Investing your time and resource on improving the quality of the “many trivial”, ie Products J to T, will only reduce the client complaints by 20%…

It is then clear that Pareto principle becomes a simple but nonetheless powerful tool to support your investment decisions (resources, money, time, energy…): focus on the “vital few” and ignore the “many trivial” (that can be eliminated, delegated, postponed till further notice depending on the type of decision you are involved with).

Note though, that it is recommended to use this principle only when a large number of categories and observations data are available. Besides, interpreting the data under a Pareto prism must not prevent you from running a deeper analysis of the situation. What if Product L of the above chart is a strategic product for your company in the coming years whereas Product B is becoming obsolete? Focusing on improving the quality of the “vital few” products will for sure help increasing your client satisfaction on the short-term but what about your mid/long-term investment strategy? Shouldn’t you start now with resources working on enhancing Product L as well?


  • case 1 – in a Service Desk management role: how does the Pareto distribution of the incidents raised per customer look like? On which “vital few” customers will you focus first to reduce drastically the number of complaints?
  • case 2 – in a Sales or Business management function: draw the Pareto Chart of your organization profit generated per customer. Who are the customers that you will NOT put under a dedicated relationship management program aimed at reinforcing retention in a first stage?
  • case 3 – in a Quality Assurance  management position: What are the functionalities of your software used 80% of the time by your users? What can you deduct for your QA resources allocation and test automation initiative?

So What?

Defining the relevant long-term investment strategy for your organization usually requires an exhaustive, time-consuming analysis and interpretation of a large set of data. Nevertheless, for a short-term tactical allocation of your resources, interpreting your key data under the Pareto principle turns to be an efficient method to set quickly your priorities: identify and focus your effort on the “vital few” items/tasks that will give the majority of the results and disregard the “many trivial” others!

Last Revision: 2015 March 28

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