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Where’s the Challenge – beyond SMART Objectives?


February 28, 2014

How to build ‘stretch’ into really useful objectives.

Are you setting objectives for your team and yourself about now?  If so, you’re not alone.  This time of year is a peak period for objective setting in the annual cycles of many organisations. It’s a vital part of the systems organisations and employees can use to achieve their goals.  And yet it is a task that can be rushed, paid lip-service to, ‘box-ticked’ and done “because HR say so”.  Let’s change this.

A ‘good’ objective is often judged on the language that is used to express the goal – usually ‘SMART’ is the acronym that is referred to.  However, it is possible to write such objectives without identifying the level of challenge – and therefore development – that the performer might achieve in attaining the goal.  For example, I’ve seen annual objectives that have been a restatement of elements of a job description and tasks that roll over from one year to the next.  Let’s change this too.

We can make the objective setting process really useful, motivating and enjoyable!  Use the right language and build in some challenge.

The word ‘stretch’ is often used to describe the concept of building a level of challenge into an objective.  But what are the components of this stretch? Here are 3 elements I’ve identified and can be used to discuss and set really useful objectives:

  1. Learning: An objective will challenge the performer if they will learn something in trying to achieve it.
  2. Innovation: Finding a new way to perform a task or to make something happen will mean the performer has to develop their thinking and approaches in order to achieve the objective.
  3. ‘Going before Ready’: I take this notion from the film ‘Apollo 13’ where it is said that no space flight would have taken place if mankind waited to be absolutely ready.  In objective setting, it will be a challenge to be tasked to achieve something just before all the knowledge, skills, processes are in place.  I’m not talking about throwing people in ‘at the deep end’ to see if they can swim but I’m certainly saying that let’s not ask them to stay in the shallow end just because they feel safer.

So, motivate your team – and enjoy yourself in the process – by setting really useful objectives for both their performance and development by including learning, innovation and ‘going before ready’ in them.

If you would like to develop your approach to leading performance and development contact us at or call us on 07840 323585.

Image credit: NASA

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